Belleville alderman wants city attorney to investigate handling of Lindenwood housing

Ward 2 Alderman Mike Buettner, who lives next to Lindenwood University-Belleville students near the West Main Street campus, on Monday night called for an investigation into how Mayor Mark Eckert’s administration allowed Lindenwood students to move into homes before the college obtained special-use permits for the students.

Eckert said the issues raised by Buettner will be examined by City Attorney Garrett Hoerner.

Lindenwood last month withdrew an application for special-use permits for 36 homes and apartment buildings and Eckert said it is possible additional sites will be added to an amended request. This new application has not yet been filed.

For the third consecutive City Council meeting, several residents who live near the college complained about the number of students who have moved into homes purchased by Lindenwood. One person spoke in favor of the college’s expansion.

“I have witnessed and have been informed of some actions by the administration of the city which I believe the city attorney should present a legal opinion as whether or not the actions are legal,” Buettner said as he read from a two-page statement.

“Several houses owned by Lindenwood University have been occupied by students for several years without a special-use permit. How does this happen?” Buettner said. “This is either gross negligence, incompetence or a cover-up. Furthermore, I have grave concern over the potential liability these actions expose the city to. This situation needs to be investigated.”

He said code violation and citations should have been issued.

Hoerner said he had not yet read Buettner’s statement but he expected Eckert to release a comment after the statement was reviewed.

Alderwoman Janet Schmidt, who also represents Ward 2 where Lindenwood has purchased homes from students, questioned whether Buettner could raise these allegations without more documentation.

Schmidt said she believes Lindenwood’s home purchases have improved the area around the college and that some of the people opposing Lindenwood’s request to put more than three students in a home are upset that their home was not purchased by the school.

“I would move there in a heartbeat,” Schmidt said of the neighborhood around Lindenwood. “Most people like it.”

An ordinance approved in 2012 allows Lindenwood to house up to 16 students in a building but city officials have proposed capping that at 10.

Eckert said Lindenwood’s request for special-use permits may be heard by the city’s Zoning Board of Appeals at the end of the month but a date has not yet been set.

Buettner asked that the city place Lindenwood’s request on hold until Hoerner finishes his report.

He also said that students living in homes owned by Lindenwood should be subject to the city’s crime-free ordinance.

Eckert said this topic was discussed when the crime-free ordinance was approved but he said if a student is involved in criminal activity, he or she would face expulsion from the college.

“They’re going to be packing up their bags a lot quicker than we could do it in our process,” Eckert said.

Buettner noted some people may view his concerns as “personal,” but “all of us took an oath to uphold the law and that is my concern. He said aldermen need “to demand answers and ensure if any illegal activity occurred that those responsible answer to the proper authorities.”