LADUE — At a special meeting held Thursday afternoon, the board of trustees of the St. Louis County Library District voted 5-0 to approve a $20 million plan to build a new administration and genealogy building in Frontenac.
The project, near Clayton and South Spoede roads, has faced strong opposition from some area residents, who’ve complained about the potential impact on traffic and other issues.
“I don’t think the library understands that this plan will be a lifelong torture to the residents, which we will have to live with forever,” said Paul Abrams, one of several Frontenac residents who joined Mayor Kate Hatfield and other city officials at the meeting. Abrams said he lives on South Forty Drive, a dead-end offshoot of Spoede and Clayton roads.
“I’ll never get out of my neighborhood. It will be next to impossible,” he said.
The library board was expected to move forward with the project because it had already paid $6.1 million for four homes on Spoede. The board’s vote came two days after the Frontenac Planning & Zoning Commission unanimously rejected the library plan at a meeting that drew about 150 residents, many complaining that the 81,574-square-foot building will increase traffic on Spoede by adding 170 weekday library employees, as well as visitors and genealogy researchers.
Several residents also said they were skeptical because the library did not obtain an appraisal before it acquired the four Spoede properties, including the residence of a Frontenac alderman. The city issued a news release Wednesday, saying the library proposal is not “in keeping with zoning ordinances or the intent of the comprehensive plan of the city.”
But the library district, as a political subdivision of the state, isn’t subject to Frontenac zoning ordinances, and its board of trustees, by resolution, can overrule the city with a two-thirds majority — or four of the five trustees.
“We want to be good neighbors, but we obeyed the process that they had,” Board of Trustees President Lynn Beckwith Jr., said after the special meeting Thursday. “They declined to approve the project, and so we took advantage of the statutes that the state provides for us.”
Beckwith said the purchase of the homes was also a consideration in the vote.
“I understand the angst of some of the residents of Frontenac, but at the same time we have a fiduciary responsibility to the library district,” he said. “We bought those properties in good faith and we need to move forward with this.”
Hatfield, Frontenac’s mayor, said the board’s vote was “unfortunate” and that the city is considering what action, if any, it can take.
“I think it’s a very unfortunate situation that the library has not come to the table and that they did not consider the residents’ really significant issues that were brought to them,” she said.
The board met in executive session to discuss legal matters and confidential communications with attorneys before reopening the meeting to the public and voting on the project. Notice of the special meeting was posted on the library website Wednesday afternoon, a spokeswoman said. The board’s next regular meeting is July 15.
Frontenac residents complained that the notice was not enough warning for opponents of the plan.
“It wasn’t really published so that everyone could find it,” Abrams said during public comment. “It was hard to find out about this meeting. And it’s almost as if there was a foregone conclusion that we were having this meeting just so we could have this meeting.”
Abrams was the only person opposed to the plan to speak during 30 minutes of public comment. Three board members with the St. Louis Genealogical Society spoke before him to express support for the plan, saying the project would provide much-needed room and better facilities for an all-volunteer group that maintains a renowned collection, drawing visitors from around the world.
“It needs to continue to be nurtured and grown and treated with the respect that it needs to be treated with,” said Viki Fagyal, the board treasurer.
The new administration and genealogy building will replace the current headquarters. That building on Lindbergh will stay open while the Spoede building is under construction, and will eventually become a new library branch.
The library had considered 22 other sites and lost a bid to buy the Ladue early childhood center before buying the Frontenac homes, Kristen Sorth, library director, said during the meeting. The new administrative and genealogy building will house essential staff and computer equipment for the library’s different locations, she said.
“Without the people that work there, the library does not function,” she said. “This is the heart and soul of the library.”
Abrams, the Frontenac resident opposed to the plan, was escorted out of the meeting after he stood up and repeatedly said he wanted to ask Sorth a question about part of her comments as she continued talking. Beckwith told Abrams several times that he was only allowed to speak during public comment and that he would be asked to leave if he did not stop. Abrams continued to talk but left when Beckwith asked him to leave.