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The SG Collaborative team went before the Webster Groves City Council on Oct. 5 to address a host of issues and concerns raised by the ambitious Douglass Hill development project.

Tuesday’s lengthy meeting represented the first public hearing before the city council on the major redevelopment proposal. SG Collaborative is requesting that the existing four zoning designations covering the 15-acre development property be reduced to a single designation of planned commercial district.

In a tie vote, The Webster Groves Plan Commission last month handed the rezoning request to the city council without recommending for or against the change.

The preliminary Douglass Hill plan calls for demolition of existing businesses and warehouses on the site, excluding a historic building at 49 N. Gore, the Old Community Missionary Baptist Church, and the Ameren substation.

Up to eight buildings and town homes are planned for the property, with north-facing buildings rising to seven stories, and those facing south built to a maximum of five stories. Eight town homes, with a maximum height of three stories, are planned along West Kirkham Avenue at the north end of the property.

The development calls for about 700 apartments, 48 condominiums, 16 units in the town homes, commercial, dining and retail spaces, an outdoor gathering space, public green space and a pedestrian river walk. The development allows for 10% of the residential units to be affordable for roughly the starting salary of a teacher in the Webster Groves School District.

The developer is seeking $35 million in tax increment financing, to expire after 23 years, to assist in property purchases. At Tuesday’s meeting, data generated by Development Strategies, a professional planning firm hired by the city, concluded that the Douglass Hill project would generate an additional $100,000 per  year — $2.3 million over 23 years — to the city’s coffers.

The Webster Groves TIF Commission will meet again on Wednesday, Oct. 27, and is expected to make its recommendation on tax increment financing to the city council at its meeting on Nov. 10.

Many of the questions from the council to the SG Collaborative team concerned new traffic generated by the development, particularly along Rock Hill Road, bordering the development to the west. 

“I am concerned about a traffic study that does not take train crossings into consideration,” said Mayor Gerry Welch, noting that she counted 122 cars at a recent train crossing. She said train crossings will have a “significant traffic impact” that are not taken into account in SG Collaborative’s traffic study.

Carrie Falkenrath, traffic engineer for SG Collaborative, said the railroad does not report when its trains come through and that the schedules are irregular, making it difficult to incorporate the data into a traffic study. 

She said common methodology looks at traffic patterns at a.m. and p.m. rush  hours. Falkenrath said the traffic study compensated for the possibility of fewer vehicles on the road due to COVID-19, but said a second traffic study would be commissioned as the pandemic begins to ease and more people take to the roads.

The traffic study indicated that Rock Hill Road was currently near its  traffic capacity, and recommended that light signals be installed at both Rock Hill Road and West Lockwood Ave., and Rock Hill Road and West Kirkham Ave.

George Stock, with Stock and Associates Consulting Engineers, Inc., spoke to another issue of concern for many living or working in the vicinity of the development’s footprint. Flooding is a current, ongoing problem in the area of West Kirkham Road and  Shady Creek. Critics say the development will only add to the problem.

Stock, commissioned by SG Collaborative, said there is no current stormwater management on the development site. He said new buildings will be constructed with roofs that direct water to box culverts located under the development’s main street. Collected stormwater would then be slowly released into Shady Creek. In addition, the project proposes to replace the existing arch culvert bridge at North Gore Avenue with a new, much wider box culvert “for improved flow capacity through the creek.”

The Oct. 19 meeting of the city council will allow for public comment. Citizens wishing to comment may attend the meeting in person or join the meeting on Zoom and use the “Hands Up” feature. Emailed letters will not be read publicly.