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Red Light…Green Light
by Ron Davis
Missouri’s courts have given a green light to a shopping center project in a St.Louis suburb despite bitter opposition by local officials and merchants there.
The project, as proposed by the developer--Lenette Realty & Investment Co.--has been slated for construction in the town of Chesterfield since 1990. Along with specialty retail shops, the center would include a Walgreen’s drug store and a Bank of America branch.
Several neighboring homeowners initially raised concerns about the project, however. In response, the developer pacified them by including in the plans more "green space," increased building setbacks, a high masonry wall, and several other aesthetic improvements that the homeowners sought. And the city planning agency subsequently found that the developer’s proposal was consistent with the city’s overall comprehensive plan. Therefore the agency recommended rezoning the property to allow construction of the shopping center.
Apparently, some of the merchants located near the proposed project felt that competition from the new shopping center might adversely affect them. They therefore urged the Chesterfield City Council to deny the developer the needed zoning change. And in 1997, when the developer formally petitioned for the rezoning, Council members unanimously voted against the change, citing traffic and "density" problems that might arise.
The developer refused to concede defeat, however, and gathered evidence that the proposed project would have no significant impact on traffic. The developer also pointed out that recently approved local neighborhood retail centers adjacent to residential areas had far greater densities of stores than the developer’s proposed project.
City Council nevertheless refused to budge. And the developer therefore sued to force the rezoning of the property.
A Missouri appellate court ordered the Chesterfield City Council to approve the rezoning, explaining, "Administrative tribunals vested with power and authority to implement zoning laws may not use such power and authority as a ruse to regulate business and restrict competition.... Given the lack of any plausible public interest and the orchestrated campaign against the zoning change in this case, it is reasonable to infer that city officials were swayed by the anticompetitive outcry of area business owners. After a thorough review of the evidence, it is obvious that the alleged public interests advanced by the city are purely pretextual and that there is little, if any, viable public interest that militates against this proposed development." (Lenette Realty v. City of Chesterfield, 35 S.W.3d 399 [Mo.App. E.D. 2001])
Decision: February 2001
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