Residents Protest New School Citing Traffic, Improper Notification and Commercial Property
Some Town and Country residents do not want a new school moving in on Mason Road. They said it will create a traffic hazard, they were not properly notified of the plan and they don't want a commercial property in a residential area.
Last week, despite a handful of residents speaking out against the project, the Town and Country Planning and Zoning Commission approved the preliminary development plan for a new Raintree Learning Community to be built at 2000 to 2016 Amonte Drive. The plan will now go before the Town and Country Board of Aldermen at its next meeting on Sept. 10.
As previously reported by Town and Country - Manchester Patch, Raintree Learning Community is a private school currently located in Ballwin. The school's owner, Ilya Eydelman, wants to build a new 7,310-square-foot school for 70 preschool and kindergarten students Town and Country. Eydelman provided the city with a petition of 20 households he said are in support of the construction. He said the signatures are from residents immediately adjacent to or within a half mile of the property. However, most residents at last Wednesday's planning and zoning meeting spoke out against the project.
Charlene Schawacker tells Patch that she's concerned that the proposal has not been communicated to residents properly and said the signatures on that petition are not those of residents living directly next to the proposed school site. She said most of those residents live north of Highway 40.
"The guy turns in petitions that were flawed. He paid for a traffic study and the planning and zoning commission approved it," Schawacker tells Patch. She said only a few people are aware of the proposal to build the school and they spoke against it last Wednesday, but the planning and zoning commission passed it anyway. "This is the worst example of urban planning you could ever, ever do. It seems like democracy at its worst."
Most of the residents who spoke out against the plan to move the school into the Mason Road location live along Mason Road. They believe the new school will create significant traffic and safety issues in that area where Mason Road intersects with Manchester Road.
Sudie Shinkle said a new school with students being dropped off and picked up five days a week would create a "huge bottleneck" that would likely require Town and Country police to direct.
"That is nuts for our mayor and our aldermen to approve such a traffic headache. You start with construction and you start with a new school year," Shinkle said. "It's nothing personal. I don't know them at all, but I know Mason Road and I know Manchester."
Eydelman reiterated the findings of a recent traffic study conducted by outside firm Crawford, Bunte, Brammeier, Traffic and Transportation Engineers that showed the new school should have "little impact" on traffic in the area.
Alderman Fred-Meyland Smith, who also sits on the planning and zoning commission, supported the traffic study.
"This proposal has undergone the highest degree of traffic study that this city does," Meyland-Smith told residents. "It was conducted by a third party, which the city contracts out to, and then it was reviewed by the city engineer as well. According to two sets of experts. The traffic impact is of "little impact."
Some residents still don't believe it won't impact traffic and cited previous situations where they were told projects would not increase area traffic, including MICDS and the Manchester Meadows shopping complex.
"The (Manchester Meadows) traffic study said the same thing, it wouldn't impact Mason Road and we all saw what happened there. We can barely get in and out of our driveways at night," said Mary Sertl who's lived in Town and Country for 25 years.
"If they say there's no impact, I simply don't believe it," said 30-year-resident Scott Martin. "I've never seen an educational institution where there is no impact on traffic."
"We're not out to build a mega school here. Our philosophy is to stay small," Eydelman told residents. He said the school is not trying to grow in size, it is simply trying to grow in the service it can offer and the almost 11 acres in Town and Country is ideal for its nature-based curriculum. He said there is a flood plain on one side of the property so there is not a lot of building they can do.
"Being compared to Manchester Meadows and a major development is a much larger scale," Eydelman said. "If you look at the difference of what we're proposing and what was already approved here, we're talking about a tiny fraction of a difference from what was proposed."
That school would be built on what is now a vacant lot that was previously approved to be the Amonte Subdivision. The neighborhood was never built and the lot sits empty with cliff-like drop-offs, however was to include seven residential lots and some of the pavement and services are already in place. Town and Country's Planning Director Sharon Rothmel tells Patch the city approved the preliminary plat for the subdivision in 2004 and all of the improvements were installed for the subdivision by 2008. The lot has remained in its current state since that time.
In addition to convenience, residents said they felt increased traffic would create safety and emergency service concerns with a fire station located near the intersection on Manchester Road.
Martin said he supports the new school moving to the city, but not at that location.
"A non-residential facility in a residential area is also my concern," Martin said. He's concerned the area will never again be able to be residential if they build a school in that location.
"We do not feel this business is suitable for a residential site in our community," added William Schawacker. "There are lots plotted with services installed."
Schawacker and other residents encouraged the city to seek out developers to build homes on the site so the area would remain strictly residential.
"I think we have not given this plot of land enough time," said Sharon Marsh, a former broker who worked with real estate. "Why don't we give this property some more time?"
However, most commissioners did not feel the land needs to sit vacant any longer. Commissioner Gary Omell said he does not think the lot will become a successful residential development.
"I think this is a good project as a substitute and I would be in favor of that rather than waiting for an indefinite period of time for someone brave enough to try and develop this piece of property" Omell said before he voted to approve the site plan. He also pointed out the school will be more than 90 percent green space and said that is what is favored in Town and Country. "I think that they have gone to great lengths to try to make this a safe project for this age group and for these children."
Omell also said he has seen numerous traffic studies done by the same firm and feels they are reliable. Commissioner Dennis Bolazina said no one on the commission thinks there will be no impact on traffic, they think it will be minimal as the traffic study indicated.
"I don't think it's going to be as significant as feared by the community," Omell said.
Tim and Didi Noelker who have lived in Town and Country for 26 years agree with Omell. They said their driveway is the closest to the property where the school would be build and they see the project as an asset and not a safety hazard.
"We are the immediate neighbors, most affected and we favor the use of this property," Tim Noelker. "I don't see the huge problems that are going to be increased allegedly by the use of this property."
The Noelkers also said they are not concerned with a traffic issue or a safety issue. In fact, Didi Noelker said the property is currently overgrown and she feels removing the brush will actually make the area safer for residents.
"I think the lack of use of the property has affected us in very negative way...because there has been very little maintenance on that property over the last few years," she said.
She also said she understands the "nervousness of having a commercial use for that space," but welcomes a school moving into the community.
"I'm astonished that people would say that schools don't belong in residential neighborhoods," Tim Noelker said. "We like schools, but not in our neighborhood. That's what I'm hearing."
Other issues brought up by residents last week were that, although a public hearing notice was posted on the property, they did not feel the July public hearing on the project was communicated properly to neighbors and they want time to gather signatures against the proposal. They also said they heard rumors of the bank having offers for residential developments on the property. Eydelman said he has checked with the bank which has told him there are no viable offers on the land.
Eydelman's goal is to have the new school open in Town and Country for the 2013-2014 school year.
The plan will now go before the Town and Country Board of Aldermen for discussion at its next meeting on Sept. 10. A vote could come as soon as two weeks later.
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