Plans for Centene Corporation’s redevelopment of the Maryland School property will move forward despite pushback from concerned neighbors.
The Clayton Board of Aldermen Tuesday night rejected an appeal from Protect Clayton Neighborhoods, a watchdog group trying to reinstate the Clayton Plan Commission’s original recommendation that Centene provide the public access to the greenspace on their proposed daycare and corporate education facility at 7501 Maryland Ave. during non-business hours, and for the plans to be in compliance with zoning laws.
“Clearly we’re disappointed that they didn’t actually hear out the appeal and revote on whether to include that condition,” said attorney and Westmoreland resident Steve Rosenblum. “It sounds like had they done it that way it would have reinstated the condition to require access to greenspace. It’s a pretty complicated, narrow view of the law that doesn’t jive with the wording of the ordinance.”
Economic development staff stood by its original recommendation that the appeal be rejected, citing that the neighborhood group did not prove it was being aggrieved. The Board rejected the appeal by a vote of 4-2 with Alderman Mark Winings recusing himself due to a conflict of interest.
“The appellants have not established that any one or more of them is an aggrieved party, specifically, the claim that they will suffer a loss of property value has not been substantiated in their request,” Clayton city attorney Kevin O’Keefe said. “Therefore, the appellants have not met the requirement to identify a “demonstrable and material adverse effect” they would suffer because of the Board’s decision. Consequently, it is staff’s opinion that this appeal be denied.”
O’Keefe also cited that the residents opposed to the Board’s decision have access to alternative, public spaces near the disputed property.
“There is an existing city park 120 feet to the west of the subject property. The city has invested substantial resources in expanding and enhancing that park property for public, recreational use,” he said. “We are proud of it and hope residents will take full advantage of what that facility gives them.”
Centene agreed in July to buy the building from the School District of Clayton. A conditional use permit was granted to Centene at the Sept. 12 Board meeting.
About two weeks later, Protect Clayton Neighborhoods appealed the decision. Following two delays, the group argued the redevelopment will have demonstrable and potentially significant adverse impact on their residential property values at the Nov. 14 meeting.
Following hours upon hours of discussion between Mayor Harold Sanger and the Board of Aldermen in between those meetings Alderman Michelle Harris said she now side with the residents, despite her original vote to grant Centene a conditional use permit.
Alderman Ira Berkowitz was the only Board member to vote against the passage of Centene’s conditional use permit back in September, and stood by his original assertions Tuesday night.
“The problem we have here is that we have basically contorted and shoehorned an acceptable use, which ends up being completely and totally contrary to the purpose intended by the zoning code,” Berkowitz said. “I disagree with the premise for the resolution, I disagree with many of the conclusions made in the resolution and I particularly take issue with the provision in the resolution that says the Board has full authority to issue the (conditional use permit).”
Centene’s redevelopment plans of the Maryland School property must still get approval from the city’s Plan Commission and Architectural Review Board (ARB), which will still require the nation’s largest healthcare provider to provide a service to the neighborhood. Alderman Joanne Boulton, who sits on the Plan Commission and ARB, said that discussion could come as soon as the Dec. 18 meeting if Centene submits its revised site plan in time.
“We have to determine through the process of Architectural Review what other services to the residents might be available,” Alderman Alex Berger said. “But unfiltered or unfettered access of private property is not something I can support.”
Protect Clayton Neighborhoods, meanwhile, is considering what legal action, if any, it will take next.
“We need to reconsider and see whether or not we want to take this further,” Rosenblum said. “We will regroup and see.”