At a time when social media flash news across the globe in a
matter of seconds, it appears that more than a year passed before
most Oakville residents discovered St. Louis County had approved the
construction of a senior citizen residential housing facility in
Never mind that the rest of the world communicates
instantaneously counties and municipalities remain bound to 20th-
century methods to inform the public of zoning issues with the
potential to change the character of neighborhoods and business
"That is a weakness of our system," acknowledges St. Louis County
Planning Director Glenn Powers.
St. Louis County in early 2012 advised 166 Oakville residents and
businesses via postcard of a public hearing to weigh the merits of
the senior living complex Ohio-based National Church Residences
proposed to build on Telegraph Road.
The county also placed a notice in the St. Louis Countian a
legal newspaper which state Rep. Marcia Haefner, R-Oakville,
correctly notes "is not even sold in the community" and a 3-by-3-
foot sign at the proposed building site.
The public hearing agenda was also published on the county
Oakville residents nonetheless say they learned of the project
only when construction began in May.
More than a year after the County Planning Commission and County
Council signed off on the proposal, residents are now demanding the
county rescind its approval.
Their grievances range from accusations that the building is too
large for the lot to the proximity of the 45-unit facility to a
neighboring preschool. They are also concerned about traffic and
fear that National Church Residences the nation's largest operator
of low-income senior housing won't honor its commitment to limit
residency to tenants 62 or older.
But the bulk of the outrage is directed at what critics contend
is the county's failure to provide them with advance notice of the
public hearings for the project.
"This was not due transparency in government, and the people at
the absolute minimum expect transparency from government," Haefner
Patricia Salkin, dean of the Touro Law Center in Central Islip,
N.Y., defends the policy, noting that counties are legally obligated
to use a notification system used by every state in the union.
"Until a court says the statute can be interpreted to use social
media or a state legislature says it's OK to use social media, it
will invalidate" alternatives to notifying constituents by means
other than postcards, letters, legal advertisements and signage,
The Oakville situation may spark at least one state to address
the notification process Missouri.
Haefner said she hopes to introduce options to the current
process during the 2014 Missouri legislative session.
The outcry has also forced St. Louis County to evaluate its means
of communicating important information to the public methods that
have been in place since Powers began working in the planning
department 30 years ago. …