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ST. CHARLES COUNTY • After twice delaying final votes on an unpopular proposal to build a subdivision in forested Missouri Bluffs area, the St. Charles County Council gave the project the go-ahead on Monday night in front of a crowd that was vocally opposed.

The council voted 5-1, with one member abstaining, to approve developer Greg Whittaker’s plan to build 140 single-family homes and up to 136 multifamily units in a hilly, forested area on the edge of the Missouri Bluffs Golf Club near Highway 40 (Interstate 64) on land he plans to buy from the University of Missouri. The number of multifamily units could vary depending on whether developers decide to build condos, town homes or villas.

The plan faced fierce opposition from residents, the Missouri chapter of the Sierra Club, Trailnet and other groups concerned the subdivision would mar the Missouri Bluffs landscape and detract from the experience of people using the nearby Katy Trail.

The council members who voted in favor of the project said the plan for it had been heavily revised to address the concerns of environmentalists and nearby residents.

“This subdivision has more restrictions than any other subdivision we have platted,” said Councilman Joe Brazil, who joined the majority in backing the plan.

The lone dissenter was Councilman Mike Elam, who said he had heard from more citizens about this project than on any other one in his five years on the council and that they were overwhelmingly opposed.

“Once the land is disturbed, it’s disturbed forever,” Elam said.

Councilman Joe Cronin abstained after saying he had concerns about the plans for the project despite the changes that had been made. “While I think this plan is a lot better, I don’t think it’s there yet,” he said.

The council’s vote was met with a chorus of boos from the crowd of several dozen in the council chambers. One person shouted: “Shame on you.”

UM spokesman Christian Basi declined to disclose the sale price for the property. He said that was confidential until the sales contract was finalized.

Basi wouldn’t speculate on what the university would have done with the property had the plan for the subdivision not been approved, but he said the university was pleased by the council’s vote because it gave the county control over the fate of the site.

The council had twice delayed final votes on the proposal, in part to give developers more time to revise the plan in response to the opposition.

Developers had already reduced the number of proposed units and added extra space between homes to make the property less dense; the original proposal in December included 315 single-family homes and 120 multifamily units.

Bluffs development gets final vote

A cyclist enters a section of the Katy Trail in St. Charles County on Monday, June 25, 2018, near the Weldon Spring Conservation Area very near a piece of property where a controversial proposed Bluffs housing project of up to 276 homes would be placed near two state conservation areas land overlooking the Missouri River. Photo by Christian Gooden, cgooden@post-dispatch.com

In a new concession to those worried about the subdivision’s impact on the area, the developer set aside 62 acres between the housing tract and the Katy Trail for conservation.

Brad Goss, Whittaker’s attorney, said developers would also ban non-native plants from the property and prohibit residents from using pesticides and fertilizer, to help preserve the natural landscape. Other changes include measures designed to reduce storm water damage.

Mike Kaiser, a Weldon Spring resident and former alderman there, said that despite the revisions there were still glaring concerns about the project. He urged the council to consider other possibilities for the land that would preserve it, and he expressed confidence that those options were available.

“Vote ‘no’ knowing this land will be protected by stewards who will preserve and care for it,” Kaiser urged the council.

Despite the vote in support of Whittaker’s plan, a spokesman for the Sierra Club of Missouri said the group would continue to fight the project because of environmental concerns, including its potential impact on wildlife in the nearby Busch and Weldon Spring conservation areas.

Bluffs development gets final vote

A cyclist rides on a section of the Katy Trail in St. Charles County on Monday, June 25, 2018, that abuts a section of property where a controversial proposed Bluffs housing project of up to 276 homes would be placed near two state conservation areas land overlooking the Missouri River. Photo by Christian Gooden, cgooden@post-dispatch.com

The proposal needed approval from five of the seven County Council members to pass because the Planning and Zoning commission voted overwhelmingly in March to recommend that the council reject Whittaker’s plan, questioning the street layout and size of the roads on the steep terrain.

The proposal submitted in March called for 289 single-family homes and up to 73 multifamily units. County council members have said the plan then was “drastically different” than its current version.

The University of Missouri owns the property as part of the Missouri Research Park that has developed along Highway 40 over the last 30 years.

The university received the 8,000 acres for $1 as federal surplus property in 1948. After fulfilling the stipulation that the land be used only for research for 20 years, the university gained the right to sell it.

Whittaker heads the company NT Builders LLC, the company behind New Town St. Charles — a development known for its “new urbanist” design.

Reporter covering breaking news and crime by night. Born in Algeria but grew up in St. Louis. Previously reported for The Associated Press in Jackson, Mississippi and at the Wichita Eagle in Wichita, Kansas.