From the Circuit Court of St. Louis County; Civil Appeal; Judge Robert W. Saitz.
Before Snyder, P.j., Dowd, Gaertner, JJ.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Gaertner
This is a proceeding for judicial review, pursuant to Rule 100, arising from the approval by the Webster Groves City Council of an application by Webster College for a special use permit to construct a Fine Arts Center, Studio Theatre, an addition to an existing building for a restaurant, and a parking lot. Following the action of the City Council, the matter was presented to the trial court for judicial review under Chapter 536, RSMo 1978. The trial court affirmed the decision of the Webster Groves City Council approving the special use permit for Webster College. Appellants appeal here from this order.
In 1963 the Webster Groves City Council granted Webster College a special use permit for the construction of the Loretto Hilton Theatre, a classroom building and two art studios. As the reputation of the Fine Arts Department of Webster College has gained national recognition, enrollment has increased creating a demand for additional facilities. Consequently, Webster College applied to the City Plan Commission of Webster Groves for an amended special use permit and an additional special use permit for the purposes of constructing a Fine Arts Center, Studio Theatre, an addition to an existing building for a restaurant, and a parking lot. Pursuant to the Zoning Ordinance of Webster Groves, Webster College filed with the City Plan Commission its application for a special use permit, a site plan, and necessary descriptive material relating to the intensity and extent of use. The City Plan Commission is an advisory body to the City Council of Webster Groves. The Commission is required to investigate the effect upon traffic or fire hazards, upon the character of the neighborhood and the general welfare of the community. The Commission hears all applications for special use permits made in accordance with the Zoning Ordinance of Webster Groves and forwards these applications together with its recommendations to the City Council. The City Plan Commission conducted two public hearings concerning Webster College's application on February 9 and April 13, 1981. Participants at these public hearings were Webster College officials in support of the proposed special use permit, the Greater Garden Avenue Area Association in opposition to the special use permit, and individual citizens pro and con. The City Plan Commission on April 17, 1981, voted unanimously to recommend City Council approval of the Webster College application for a special use permit subject to six conditions.
Upon receipt of the City Plan Commission report and recommendation, the Webster Groves Zoning Ordinance requires the City Council to hold a public hearing in relation to the matter. After the public hearing, the City Council must determine whether such building or use will:
a. Substantially increase traffic hazards or congestion;
b. Substantially increase fire hazards;
c. Adversely affect the character of the neighborhood;
d. Adversely affect the general welfare of the community;
e. Overtax public utilities.
If the City Council's finding is negative as to all of the subjects referred to in a, b, c, d, and e above, then the application for the special use permit shall be granted.
The Webster Groves City Council conducted the required public hearing on May 5, 1981. The public hearing, which lasted over 4 1/2 hours, began with a formal presentation by representatives of Webster College who explained their plan in detail. Speaking on behalf of Webster College was Dr. Leigh Gerdine, the President of Webster College; Albert Michenfelder, Jr., an attorney representing Webster College; Peter Sargent, the Chairman of the Theatre Arts Department of Webster College; and Gordon Forsyth, a member of the Board of Trustees of Webster College and Chairman of its Facilities and Property Committee. Speaking in opposition to the Webster College proposal included Miss Shulamith Simon, an attorney representing the Greater Garden Avenue Area Association (appellants here); John Hottle, a real estate appraiser; John Bailey, a resident of the City of Webster Groves and a qualified engineer; and Dick Leary, a member of the Greater Garden Avenue Area Association and a resident of Garden Avenue. Following the formal presentations the City Council questioned the various parties concerning the Webster Groves application. After the questioning by the City Council, the hearing was opened for public comment. Numerous citizens of Webster Groves presented their views both in favor and in opposition to the Webster College proposal. The City Council did not adjourn the public hearing until all persons who wished to make their views known had an opportunity to speak - long past midnight. The minutes of this public hearing run 47 single-spaced pages.
At a meeting on May 14, 1981, the City Council discussed the application. Some council members had questions regarding certain details of the proposal. It was decided to hold an executive session at the next Council meeting for the purpose of addressing these questions to Webster College officials. This executive session was open to the public and opponents of the application were given notice thereof. However, they were advised there would be no further public participation at the meeting. This session was held on May 19, 1981. No new facts or details of the proposal were raised, although a cross-sectional diagram was presented to the Council which reflected a line of sight view of the proposal previously submitted in flat surface form. This "post-hearing" consisted of questions by Council members and responses of college officials regarding matters disputed at the public hearing.
On June 16, 1981, the City Council read its proposed findings of fact and Conclusions of law and asked for public comments. Again numerous residents of Webster Groves expressed their opposition to the Webster College proposal. After all the public comments were heard, the City Council voted unanimously to adopt the findings of fact and ...