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Apartment complex proposed for Dardenne Prairie fought by nearby homeowners

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DARDENNE PRAIRIE • A 240-unit apartment complex proposed by prominent developer Paul McKee has run into strong resistance in a nearby neighborhood of upscale single-family homes he put together just a few years ago.

The city’s planning commission voted 8-1 last week to recommend that aldermen reject the 10-building, 11-acre project after more than 200 residents showed up to oppose it.

They complained that the plan, which aldermen will consider Wednesday, would spur traffic congestion, lower their property values and alter an everyone-knows-everyone else ambiance in their BaratHaven area.

“You’re changing the lifestyle by putting this many people in a small area,” said Norman Nieder, president of the Homeowners Association of BaratHaven.

McKee told the commission that the proposed Apartments at BaratHaven are needed to help St. Charles County continue to attract technology firms.

“This is the type of housing that high-tech employees want,” said McKee, who is teaming with home builder Greg Rolwes on the project.

“It’s very important, in our opinion, if we want to grow the county and we want to grow the job base, to have a place for everyone to live.”

Bob Koch, an architect on the project, said more and more young adults entering the workforce are renters these days.

He said the average age of first-time home buyers nationally has increased to 35 from 27 in the past five years amid a trend of harder-to-get credit and higher down payments.

The complex would have three-story buildings designed to look on the outside as row houses. Also included would be a clubhouse, swimming pool, dog park and garages for some units. Entry would be allowed only through security gates.

A rezoning is needed to allow the project on the vacant site, which is earmarked now by the city for commercial use.

Subdivision residents said when they bought their homes, they were told that the land eventually would be used by offices or small businesses.

“Had we known all of this, we wouldn’t have come,” said Andrew Burchett, referring to the apartment proposal.

Mickey Luna put it this way: “The residents bought (into) that community relying on a plan.”

McKee said the project, like his mixed-use WingHaven complex nearby in O’Fallon, reflects his view that neighborhoods should have a mix of various housing styles and businesses and “economic diversity.”

However, he also sought to dispel concerns he’s heard from some residents that the apartments would be aimed at lower-income people.

“That couldn’t be farther from the truth,” he said. “I have millions of dollars invested out here. That would be the last thing I would do.”

McKee added that the apartments would be “a step above” those available now at WingHaven.

Joseph Cyr, another member of the development team, said monthly rents at the complex would range from just under $900 to $1,800.

He said lower figures discussed at an earlier meeting were based on a more limited survey of market rents. Nieder, of the homeowners group, said developers had said that rents would start around $675.

In any event, Nieder said the project’s density is the key issue, not “the economics of the residents.”

One planning commissioner, Susan Fine, asked about the involvement of the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Cyr said a HUD division would provide mortgage insurance to the developers under a program used by over 180 apartment projects across the state, including some existing “luxury” complexes in St. Charles County.

Bruce Sandweiss, an executive with a mortgage company working on the project, said in a letter to Mayor Pam Fogarty that no federal subsidies would be provided to developers or tenants.

The HUD website says the program is for rental housing for moderate-income families, although no limit would be put on income.

Lee Cannon, a traffic consultant for the developers, said the number of extra vehicles on nearby roads due to the apartments would be only a third of what would occur if the site were developed commercially.

Nieder said the apartments would affect area streets all the time, not just during the business hours associated with commercial development.

It’s unclear now how aldermen will react to the planning commission recommendation or if the plan will be revised to try to deal with the complaints.

McKee wouldn’t comment except to say he intended to seek aldermanic approval.

Mayor Fogarty, a planning commission member, said before the meeting that she agreed with McKee’s concept but would judge the proposal for this site on its own merits.

“I would like to have a well-rounded city,” she said. “Where are our kids supposed to live? If they want to stay in Dardenne Prairie, they can’t; there are no apartments.”

She ended up voting against the proposal. Asked afterward by a reporter whether the developer needs to make changes to win aldermanic approval, the mayor said “they have to make the people happy.”

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