The has again postponed a decision on approving a conditional use permit for .
The lengthy public hearing was the second on the issue and included an impassioned speech from Eden President David Greenhaw, concerns from lawyers representing Eden and Webster University, continued worries from several residents and numerous questions from city council members.
The discussions centered primarily on two issues:
- The that will be leased or sold under Eden’s 2012 master plan;
- and the expansion across Lockwood Avenue of Webster University, which has already purchased 5.3 acres and several buildings from Eden and is set to lease additional office space from the seminary. Webster University and Eden completed the deal for the three vacant buildings to change hands, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in August 2010. The deal had Webster paying $5.3 million to buy 5.3 acres and the library and two other buildings.
With such a “host of issues” to be discussed, Mayor Gerry Welch asked that the public hearing remain open. The council then voted to table it until its July 17 meeting.
Council member Anne Tolan summarized the difficulty of the issue by explaining the concerns the city must balance in granting the conditional use permit.
“I personally don’t want to create a hardship for Eden with any ordinance we propose, but that being said, I think it’s in the best interest of the city and community for us to have a say,” she said.
President Defends Eden’s Mission
Between his own remarks and answers to questions from city council members, Greenhaw discussed many of the details surrounding the philosophy of the and attempted to alleviate concerns raised by residents.
He said its purpose is to ensure Eden remains a "lively center" for religious education by consolidating its campus and allowing organizations that share a smilar mission to use its facilities. Greenhaw and Eden's lawyer, Gary Fader, both argued that the regulations present in an updated version of the ordinance granting the conditional use permit would set an onerous precedent for religious groups in the area.
"Please, be mindful that you don't set a precedent that discourages churches from using their buildings as a community asset," he said. "If you pass an ordinance that requires a three-step legislative process every time a religious community enters into a relationship with a partner in the community for ministry and service, you will harm our common lot."
In response to questions about the specifics of the seminary’s tenants, Greenhaw said they included 10 groups, such as the Missouri Men's Health Conference, the Episcopal School for Ministry, the Church World Service, Chalice Press, the Ecumenical Catholic Community and the religion department of . The amount of rent paid by the organizations varies depending on what they can afford.
By increasing the space leased to Webster University, Greenhaw said an additional $580,000 would be raised to help support the seminary’s $5.4-million operating budget. Without it, Greenhaw said he would be forced to lay off several employees.
Greenhaw said the leases help support the first phase of 2012 master plan, which involves substantial renovations to the core campus buildings. In the long term, he said the seminary hopes to reduce its number of tenants.
He also dismissed concerns that there would be a substantial increase in activity on the campus that would necessitate paving more parking spaces.
“I am the only higher education official on the planet without a parking problem,” he said.
As for the 7.5 acres of green space that some residents are seeking to protect, Greenhaw said he would also like to see it remain that way. However, he acknowledged that exactly how the land would be used or divided remains unknown.
“Just because there is a change of ownership doesn’t automatically mean there will be a building,” he said.
Concerns Remain for Residents
Several residents voiced concerns about the impact of Eden’s master plan on the larger Webster Groves community at Tuesday’s hearing. Chief among them was a worry that the sale or lease of land would alter the aesthetics of the area.
Tom Schawang told the council that he was motivated to move to Webster after observing the scenery along Big Bend and Lockwood avenues.
“We loved what we saw here. We thought, ‘This is like an oasis here in the city,’” he said, then implied that it could change if the council wasn’t careful. “The things you are going to do now are going to set a precedent for quite a while.”
Unable to attend in person, Frank Janoski penned a letter to the council that was read by Mary Ellen Scheetz. In his remarks, Janoski implored city council members to carefully examine the differences between Eden’s 2000 and 2012 master plans.
Janoski stated that Eden is positioning itself more as an office park and commercial enterprise than a center for religious education. As evidence, Jankoski points to differences in the language between the two documents, noting that the 2012 version emphasis Eden’s involvement with Webster University, the lease of its parking spaces and no provisions for what would happen to the green space it plans to sell or lease.
“There is a lot of change,” he stated in the letter. “There should be a collective effort to address the needs of Eden Seminary as well as the needs of Webster Groves and its residents in order to maintain the character of this property.”
The letter also stated that part of Eden’s purpose in increasing its partnership with Webster is that it is moving more to an online-based educational model.
This point was later disputed by Greenhaw, who said Eden remains focused on providing a residential experience. He acknowledged that Eden was using Webster’s expertise in that area to launch six new Internet courses, but said they are available to non-degree students only.
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Editor's Note: This story was updated to include that Webster University purchased 5.3 acres and several buildings from Eden for $5.3 million in 2010.