The Webster Groves City Council on July 6 reviewed code amendments to allow for multi-family housing in its business districts. 

The city defines multi-family housing as apartments, apartment hotels, residences over storefronts, townhouses and condominiums.

At its July 6 meeting, the council backed a plan to raise the allowable height of buildings from three to four stories. Also, requirements for front, side and rear setbacks on a building in the commercial district were decreased to allow more flexibility in building options, according to city officials.

Mara Perry, director of planning and development, said the city’s first zoning code in 1923 formally separated future development by use types – commercial, industrial, multi-family and single-family/two-family residential.

“It allowed multi-family use types within and near commercial districts,” she said.

Perry said that the city’s zoning code has included multiple family residential uses in commercial districts under various regulations since 1956.

“Over the years, amendments have been made to the zoning code, changing how multiple family residential can be developed within commercial districts as both permitted and later conditional uses,” she said.

The 1978 comprehensive plan recommended multi-family and apartment uses within and near existing commercial areas, and in the redevelopment of large institutional land, Perry added.

Likewise, the 2006 Development Foundation Plan strongly encouraged mixed multi-family and commercial uses in commercial districts. Perry said that a 2017 comprehensive plan map amendment designated significant portions of the city’s commercial districts for mixed use development.

Perry said the benefits of allowing multi-family housing include more affordable housing options, such as for “empty nesters.” She said that between 1970 and 2019, the city’s population of those under age 18 has decreased, while the percentage of those over 65 has increased.

The code amendments would allow for multiple family dwellings to be built in Old Orchard, Old Webster, Crossroads, along Watson Road and in some small pockets around the city. The changes would allow these multiple family dwellings without the need for a conditional use permit or a rezoning to planned commercial, according to Perry.

Front, back or side setbacks have been decreased for a building in a commercial district, except in limited circumstances. Front entry attached garages would not be allowed on multi- family dwellings.

“We are considering multiple family housing within existing commercial districts only,” Perry said.

Mayor Gerry Welch praised raising building heights from three to a four-story maximum. Perry said potential developers of multi-family dwellings have shown interest in the city’s actions.

Discussion on the changes will continue at the council’s Aug. 3.