An Unlawful Proposal

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Those of us who have been around Ferguson for a few years may remember that the building which now has Papa John’s Pizza on the main level, and loft apartments above, was once a daycare. In 2010, city council considered a proposal to convert the building to an adult daycare. The proprietors had already leased the building, and invested some $20,000 in improvements. Unfortunately for them, they did this without first obtaining a conditional use permit from the city.

When the city council took up the measure to grant them the permit, which would have allowed them to complete development and open the business, opposition was strong from both residents and council. Aside from the proprietor, who lived in Olivette, and the owner of the building, who lived in Bel Nor, there was no public support for putting the business at that location. The council voted against the development 6-1. The property foreclosed in 2013, having been financed by a west county “hard money” lender, and was subsequently sold to Mike Palmer, who turned it into the attractive asset you see today.

The council is now considering a proposal which is even worse. Hoosman Realty, which recently moved from an office at 15 S. Florissant to the former paint store adjacent to Montrey’s, is asking the council for authorization to turn their former office into an adult daycare. This proposal is wrong for many reasons.

First of all, the location is completely unsuitable for a decent adult daycare. Without any windows except those facing the street, it couldn’t help but be a sad spot to leave your elderly parent. There could be no fresh air, no sunshine, no opportunity to go outdoors. A further and more serious difficulty is that there is no parking lot, nor even street parking, serving that building. Elderly people, who are too infirm to remain in their own home, would have to be brought to the Victorian Plaza lot, and walk to the nearest crosswalk to access the facility. We see it as more likely that vehicles would just illegally stop in front of the business to discharge and pick up passengers, creating an ongoing hazard. While we in fact support a road diet with street parking in this area, we emphatically do not support a business here which would cause frequent unlawful stopping in the absence of such changes.

More important, though, is the undisputable fact that this business is not permitted in that building, under any circumstances. The building is located in the DT-1 zoning district, which encompasses the Downtown Core business district. Our zoning code enumerates the types of businesses which are permitted there, some of which can be established without any special measures, others which require specific development standards or a conditional use permits, and others which are entirely prohibited. According to our zoning code, an adult care center is entirely prohibited in the Downtown Core business district. City council lacks the authority to permit this use.

Of course, the details of our zoning code are not random or arbitrary. Rather, they were developed at great cost to the city, with the detail required to guide development in a particular direction. And while the city has not been particularly effective at bringing tenants to the north end of downtown, the hope remains that this area will be developed to a standard comparable to the area just north of Suburban, albeit with different types of businesses. An adult daycare is not compatible with such development, and would in fact be a substantial obstacle to progress, just as it would have been had we allowed one between Cork and Montrey’s.

Hoosman, which has been a vocal support of Mayor Jones, may believe they have sufficient political clout to push this through. But our council has never subscribed to the view that any development is better than nothing. We have turned away businesses that, while they may have earned a profit for the proprietor, were in violation of our zoning laws or a detriment to our community. This proposal is both of those things. It is a disappointing reflection on the mayor and her allies that such a proposal is being made to council, without any regard for the historical and legal facts.

Since the granting of a special use permit to put an adult daycare in this building is in fact unlawful, there is no reason for council to spend another minute on the issue. The public hearing, and the corresponding bill, should be removed from the agenda, and an invitation extended to the proprietor to find a different location in Ferguson for their business.