The Belleville City Council voted 11-5 Monday to approve Lindenwood University-Belleville’s request for more than 50 special-use permits for students living in homes and apartment buildings purchased by the college.
Last week, the city’s Zoning Board of Appeals unanimously recommended the aldermen approve the plan.
In a mirror of the zoning board meeting, about 20 people gave heartfelt arguments both for and against Lindenwood’s request.
This was the fifth consecutive City Council meeting that residents who live near the campus have raised complaints about the number of students in their neighborhoods. But the council on Monday also heard from area residents who said they enjoy having Lindenwood students near them.
And after the public had their say, the aldermen weighed in with their opinions.
These people feel like they’re being sacrificed.
Ward 3 Alderman Scott Tyler
“These people feel like they’re being sacrificed,” Ward 3 Alderman Scott Tyler said of the residents who live near the West Main Street campus. Tyler voted against the Lindenwood request.
Ward 2 Alderwoman Janet Schmidt urged the council to vote for the permits.
“I think Lindenwood has been a good neighbor and done a lot for that area,” Schmidt said.
I think Lindenwood has been a good neighbor and done a lot for that area.
Ward 2 Alderwoman Janet Schmidt
The Lindenwood request was supported by Ward 1 Alderman Ken Kinsella and Joe Hazel; Ward 2 Alderwoman Janet Schmidt; Ward 4 Aldermen Johnnie Anthony and Raffi Ovian; Ward 5 Aldermen Phillip Silsby and Ed Dintelman; Ward 6 Alderman Paul Seibert; Ward 7 Alderman Phil Elmore; and Ward 8 Aldermen James Musgrove and Roger Wigginton.
It was opposed by Ward 2 Alderman Mike Buettner; Ward 3 Aldermen Kent Randle and Scott Tyler; Ward 6 Alderman Bob White; and Ward 7 Alderman Trent Galetti.
Noah Bruemmer, a West A Street resident who opposed granting the special-use permits, said he saw “writing was on the wall” before the vote was taken.
“This was adopted because of a compromise that doesn’t really bring about any meaningful change based on the research that’s been done on a property by property basis,” Bruemmer said.
He added that a lot of the issues “could be resolved simply by limiting the number that are in the homes.”
Brett Barger, president of Lindenwood’s Belleville campus, said the council’s vote “reinforces” the support the school has received from residents, business owners and government officials.
“We’ve just been grateful and thankful to have such support from day one,” Barger said.
In response to residents who said they have not seen Lindenwood handle their concerns, Barger said he finds that “troublesome” because he believes the university has acted on the concerns as they have been brought forward.
The aldermen had seven conditions tied to their vote:
▪ Cap the number of students per home at 10, which is down from the current maximum of 16 allowed by an ordinance passed in 2012.
▪ Require annual inspections by the city’s fire and building departments. Fire Chief Tom Pour told the council he has met with an official from the State Fire Marshal and Lindenwood has agreed to put in fire-supression sprinklers in the homes and apartments it has purchased near campus.
▪ Have quarterly meetings with Lindenwood and city of Belleville staffs to review property inventory, occupancy permit compliance and public health and safety issues.
▪ Have annual end-of-school town hall meetings with Lindenwood officials, city staff and area residents to identify concerns “well before” the fall semester begins.
▪ Lindenwood should submit an acceptable parking plan to the board within 90 days. Barger said that some gravel lots will be paved but the actual number has not yet been determined.
▪ Lindenwood should find a way to safely light properties but not have the light intrude on neighbors. Barger said the lights that have been installed have been approved by city officials.
▪ All front yards should remain as green space.
Randle has proposed delaying a decision for two weeks but that motion failed.
The council also addressed two other Lindenwood issues:
▪ Buettner introduced a motion for the St. Clair County State’s Attorney’s Office or a special investigator to review the actions of Mayor Mark Eckert and his administration and how the Lindenwood special-use permit application was handled. This motion died for lack of a second.
Buettner, who lives near the campus on West A Street, had called for a special City Council meeting on Oct. 26 to discuss a possible investigation, but that meeting was immediately adjourned because of a lack of a quorum.
▪ The aldermen also voted to release a report prepared by City Attorney Garrett Hoerner in response to Buettner’s request that Hoerner review the mayor and his administration’s action. Buettner wanted to know if the city was liable if a “tragedy” occurred in a Lindenwood home. Hoerner said the city “enjoys absolute immunity from liability” from any claims filed in connection with Lindenwood homes that did not have special-use permits.
The city did not release the report last month but the News-Democrat obtained a copy.
In other business
The council voted unanimously to approve a plan to spend up to $450,685 to extend a sewer line to a site for a proposed upscale subdivision near Belleville West High School near the intersection of South 11th Street and Frank Scott Parkway West.
The plan also calls for paying about $21,000 to Thouvenot, Wade & Morechen for engineering costs.
Developers plan to sell homes worth $500,000 to $1 million in the Parkway West Estates.
Parkway West Development LLC also wants to build six professional office buildings in front of the more than 70 homes. The entire project is valued at more than $50 million.
The Parkway West site could produce an estimated $273,000 in tap-on fees, city officials have said.
Last week, the City Council’s Finance and Master Sewer committees unanimously voted to extend the sewer line.