Third time’s the charm for Maryville University and its development partners, KEAT Properties and Keeley Construction, at least as far as the city of Town & Country’s Planning and Zoning Commission (P&Z) is concerned.
On Jan. 18, Greg Yawitz, CEO of KEAT Properties, and Dr. Mark Lombardi, president of Maryville University, presented their third site plan for the 11.58-acre parcel, located at the intersection of South Woods Mill Road/South Outer 40 and Woodlake Drive, known as Woods Mill Center.
After hours of discussion and public comments, the commissioners voted 8-1 to favorably recommend, to the city’s Board of Aldermen, the rezoning of the project from a commercial zoning district to a planned non-residential development district with major education and commercial uses. Those uses will be limited to the university’s indoor sports, esports and educational uses. Concerts, which had previously been a concern for residents, are no longer an acceptable use. P&Z akso approved the project’s proposed site plan.
Those votes left nearby Manderleigh and Cedar Springs residents less than charmed.
Originally, the Maryville project was presented as a 3,000-seat esports and events venue, a 400-bed residence hall, a 1,168-car garage and a mix of retail and restaurant space. That site plan, presented in April 2022, did not fly and the development partners were sent back to the drawing board with “homework” from P&Z.
After months of postponed meetings, the team returned to the Oct. 19 P&Z meeting with site plan number two. In that version, the dorm was replaced with a proposed hotel along and dedicated retail/restaurant building. The square footage of the event center was also slightly reduced along with the size and height of the garage. After extensive discussion about the proposed development’s impact on neighboring properties, parking requirements, noise and light mitigation, and use of the event space, the design team was given additional homework.
In the site plan presented on Jan. 18, the hotel was gone. In its place was a one-story, 6,500-square-foot restaurant with patio.
Yawitz noted that seating in the multi-purpose event space, now labeled as an athletic center on presentation slides, also had been reduced to 2,200 fixed seats with capacity for an additional 600 temporary floor seats. The parking structure had been reduced to three levels with 774 parking spaces, down from four levels and 1,168 spaces.
According to a memo from City Planner Ryan Spencer, AICP, “The removal of the hotel and elimination of 200 fixed seats from the event center, based on analysis by (traffic engineers) CBB, will reduce weekly peak hour trips and event peak hour trips slightly, but because there is minimal excess capacity with the existing roadways the current proposed offsite improvements are still necessary.”
Proposed road improvements
With traffic being a primary concern, CBB has proposed the following:
• Improve the existing single-lane roundabout at South Woods Mill Road and southbound Route 141 off ramps to provide two entering lanes on each approach and two circulating lanes.
• Maintain full access at South Woods Mill Road at Manderleigh Woods Drive with a side street stop.
• Maintain full access at South Woods Mill Road and Cedar Springs Drive with a side street stop.
• Provide 3/4 access (no left-turn from side street) at the proposed redevelopment’s east access and South Woods Mill Road.
• Convert existing signal at South Outer Forty at South Woods Mill Road/MoDOT Transportation Management Center to a roundabout with two circulating lanes for the northbound left-turn, two eastbound through lanes, a free-flow eastbound right-turn lane, and a free flow northbound right-turn lane.
• Construct a new two circulating lane roundabout at South Outer Forty at the proposed redevelopment’s access/relocated office access.
• Provide 3/4 access (no left-turn from side street) at Woodlake Drive and South
Outer Forty Road.
• Provide right-in, right-out access at the west office access to South Outer Forty.
• Construct a roundabout at South Woods Mill Road at South Outer Forty
Road/Eastbound I-64 off ramp with two circulating lanes for northbound and a free flow eastbound right-turn lane.
During public comments, Manderleigh and Cedar Springs residents voiced their concerns that the suggested improvements would do anything to offset the anticipated increased traffic on South Woods Mill Road.
Residents also pointed to the reduction of buffer space between the proposed development and nearby neighbors as a reason for P&Z to vote against the development.
Failing to meet city code
Neighboring residents also noted that the development failed to meet requirements set forth in city code. Specifically, they said, and Spencer’s memo confirmed, that the development fails in the area of:
• Minimum required green space – the project comes in at 29.34 % green space (3.24 acres); the city requires at minimum of 50%. The existing green space percentage on site is 20.13%.
• Minimum setback of 50 feet per building story. The proposed parking garage setback is 45.2 feet at its closest point. However, if the parking garage is built to a maximum of three stories above grade, the required setback will be 150 feet.
• Maximum height of two stories, up to 40 feet. The parking garage, if built to maximum extent, will be three stories, 34.5 feet from grade.
One of the most impassioned pleas in regard to the reduced buffers between the proposed road improvements and residents came from Angela Alt, who lives in Manderleigh.
“My backyard abuts the (existing) roundabout,” Alt explained. “The two-lane expansion of the roundabout will significantly decrease my buffer. It will also decrease that walkway or it will significantly cut into the berm hill. I feel like my kids cannonballs will be hitting cars as they go through that roundabout.”
Alt and other speakers reinforced their opinion that the project will result in considerably more traffic using South Woods Mill Road for access to and from the site. Pointing to her trips to venues such as The Fox Theatre, she noted that she tries to avoid the main arteries because of the traffic.
“Unfortunately, this project is bringing that main artery to the event center past my neighborhood, literally into my backyard,” Alt said.
Kathy Bridges, who lives in Cedar Springs, said the distance between the proposed development and her property was reason enough to reject the project. The parking garage, she said, will be just 46 feet from her property line.
“Next to the parking garage is the 26-foot main circulation drive. It is 20 feet away from my property,” Bridges said. “This circulation drive is also referred to as the east (access) driveway.”
Bridges said four of her neighbors will be similarly affected in terms of boundary buffers and that all of Manderleigh and Cedar Springs will be affected by increased traffic on South Woods Mill Road.
But not everyone is against the idea of a few more roundabouts.
“I am a huge advocate for (roundabouts). I hope that doesn’t upset anybody,” Town & Country Police Chief Calvin James said, turning to the crowded room of residents.
He called the traffic circles “true traffic assets” in terms of reducing accidents and moving traffic efficiently. He added that the most severe accidents, ones in which one vehicle is “T-boned” by another, become “almost nonexistent” with the use of roundabouts.
One commissioner’s assessment
Before taking a vote on the zoning and site plan, commissioner William McKnight (Ward 2) said, “I again struggle with this because when I first looked at this proposal I saw 29% screen fits, I saw rear setbacks that don’t fit beyond 50 feet and I thought, ‘Yeah, this doesn’t make any sense.’ But then I drove by (Woods Mill) Center several times again and it is an eye sore.
“And what we have in front of us is a development plan and a requested (rezoning) that makes it so that we can address concerns that are in this property that have been plaguing the city … the traffic has been a concern for years. We can argue one way or the other but we’ve had professionals come in an look and they say, ‘We’re going to add a lane that’s going to make the through-put better.’ That’s something we have to look at as a commission. We have to pay attention to that. It’s going to help this space the entire year, and (the roads) will be overloaded for 15 events (based on Maryville’s projected large event use of the facility). I give all of you that.”
Along with other commissioners, McKnight said he understood the residents concerns.
“But overall when you look at what proposals we have that come to the board, we have to decide whether there’s more good than bad. And in this case, I think there’s more good.”
Whether or not the city’s board of aldermen will share that assessment remains to be seen. Those elected officials have the final say on development matters; however, at press time it was uncertain as as to when the matter will appear before them.