Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Land Rush in County Pits Bitter Residents, Builders

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Land Rush in County Pits Bitter Residents, Builders

Article excerpt

Behind Phyllis Shaw's house in west St. Louis County rises a hillside scraped bare to the red clay.

When it rains, a muddy mess bleeds into her backyard from the land cleared for a subdivision. The chocolate brown water has eroded the driveway, cracked the foundation and leaked into the basement.

"The water comes crashing down on us," complains Shaw, 31, who lives with her husband and three sons in the Indian Tree subdivision off Shepherd Road.

Shaw and her neighbors lost a zoning battle over development of the steep hills around them. Now they are suing the builder.

Such fights are springing up like wildfires across the county as the last outposts of green space meet urban sprawl. Some communities have tightened restrictions on development; other areas are considering incorporation as a means to control the influx of subdivisions.

Larry Maynes, who has built homes in the county for 25 years, calls such thinking "the elitist snob" attitude.

"Ever since zoning was initiated, it's been a way to keep out other people," he says.

Since 1970, nearly half of the county's undeveloped land has vanished; about 80,000 acres are left. The easily developed land went first. What's left is largely flood plain and steep hills.

Says Richard Ward, an urban planner: "St. Louis County now is very close to full."

Development has slowed since the 1980s, but those last pieces of land now meeting the bulldozer have neighbors who fear storm water runoff, soil erosion, crowded schools and congested roads.

"All of a sudden there's an audience," said Glenn Powers, county land use manager. "Ground gets graded, trees come down and people go `Oh, my gosh' " Is Wildwood A Solution?

The population of the metropolitan area as a whole has held steady at about 2.5 million since 1970, but thousands left the city for the countys. The rise of single-parent families and the elderly has boosted housing demand.

"The number of houses they soak up has increased," said Joe Cavato, the county's planning director. "It's a national trend."

A 1973 land-use plan zoned many areas in the county as "non-urban" because of steep hills or fragile soils. That limits development to one home for three acres.

Developers now are moving into those lands. Last year, the county had requests to change the zoning on 91 sites in its unincorporated areas, 35 of them zoned non-urban.

One of the biggest battles is occurring at Charbonier Bluff near Hazelwood. A developer wants to put 207 homes on an 86-acre strip of land adjacent to St. Stanislaus Park. A neighbor, Christy Love, has offered to donate 86 acres of her property if the strip is added to the park, creating 1,000 acres of green space along the Missouri River.

"The current non-urban zoning is all this land can bear," said Love. "This could end up being a storm water and sewer nightmare."

Love said the county ignores the value of open space in considering a developer's zoning request.

"People need some relief rather than being stacked cheek by jowl," she said. "These last green spaces are opportunities they won't ever regain."

Another battle is brewing in a 67-square-mile area of far West County. Residents will decide in a vote next month whether to form the city of Wildwood. Supporters say incorporation will control development; opponents say trying to replace county services is an expensive proposition.

The county is considering 14 zoning changes in the Wildwood area. If approved, they would add 1,999 homes or condominiums on 896 acres.

"The landscape that we all love is being chewed up," says John Guenther, an architect and homeowner who opposes a plan to put 102 homes on 69 acres near Rockwoods Reservation. "What you get is massive land clearance, followed by storm water runoff and siltation." Feuding Neighbors

Roger and Phyllis Shaw say their home is an example of Guenther's prediction. …

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