Guest editorial by S.M. Wrenn
Recently, the St. Charles County Planning and Zoning Commission (“P&Z”) and the County Council have reviewed at least 2 rezoning applications for acreage in our area looking to rezone the land from Agricultural A District to Rural Residential District (“A2RR”).
The applicants want to rezone to build single-family houses on minimum 3-acre lots instead of the 5-acre minimum that has been in place since 2006.
A REZONING PRIMER
St. Charles County’s Unified Development Ordinance (“UDO”) sets out local laws governing land uses. The UDO provides for several zoning districts – the two that are important here are the Agricultural A District and the Rural Residential District. Compare their purposes below:
Now, take a red pen and circle the words that are meaningful to you as a resident in our area. I’m betting you’ve circled many more words on the A District side than on the RR District side. If so, you should be concerned about rezoning –an A2RR application intends that the land is no longer zoned to preserve agricultural related benefits but instead for single-family houses.
Neighbors in the area have worked diligently to educate the County Council on their opposition to these A2RR requests. Many have appeared multiple times at the County Council meetings on the 2nd and last Monday evening of each month to express the near-universal objections to A2RR rezoning applications. Others have sent emails and/or signed a petition addressed to Council members reinforcing residents’ objections to A2RR rezoning which include the lack of public water and sewer systems, potential for flooding, erosion and other damage to neighboring property and farm land, the clearing of trees and other natural water controls, the substantial burden on area roads, bridges, schools, fire and police services, and the loss of wildlife habitat, to name a few.
THE 2030 MASTER PLAN
The P&Z recommended approval of these recent A2RR applications, in part, because its Master Plan 2030 proposes that our current A District be zoned Rural Residential ten years from now. But history shows the Master Plan is changed routinely and we can be confident that in the next 10 years, the Master Plan will change again. Importantly, the Master Plan does not control zoning. The Council will decide whether to approve these applications when the time comes.
The pointed question is whether developers will be held to the current A District 5-acre zoning minimum and not be given special treatment – treatment that will prematurely sacrifice legitimate agricultural interests so that developers can make more money and place greater burdens on the inadequate public resources in our area. A tour of this part of unincorporated St. Charles County shows that the 5 acre minimum is wholly reasonable given the current state of our infrastructures and the overwhelming support current residents have for preserving agricultural uses. Most importantly, St. Charles County government is in no position to pump monetary and other critical resources into this area to accommodate rash residential expansion. Said simply, there is no reason for special treatment here -- since 2006, the 5 acre minimum has worked; preserving the legitimate agricultural interests of area residents while allowing for measured residential development.
TWO DEFINITE NO VOTES
Council Members Joe Brazil and Joe Cronin have been clear and definite in their opposition to these A2RR applications at this time. You can see and hear their respective reasons recently explained at the Council meeting on February 10, 2020 on the St. Charles County Council webpage https://www.sccmo.org/AgendaCenter/County-Council-1.
ANNEXATION DOWN THE ROAD
As Member Brazil said in that meeting, there may be reasons to consider 3-acre developments in the future to ease the growth in this area, but currently residents don’t want them, and the infrastructures are not in place for such growth. Member Cronin agreed. He further cautioned area residents NOT to presume that all future 3-acre homesite development should be rejected. As he pointed out, the expected growth in our area can lead to local municipalities seeking to annex property near their borders. If a municipality annexes property in our area, that municipality’s zoning regulations would almost certainly control how our land could be used. More troubling, the land might be rezoned for denser residential development, e.g., 4 houses per acre.
The points by Members Brazil and Cronin are well-made and should cause area residents to proactively consider what kind of district do we want to live in now, 5 years from now, 10 years from now? Development is coming. We can wait until it arrives and sweeps us away or we can begin to discuss among ourselves how to accommodate growth in a way that preserves why we live in an agricultural area. There is no doubt that developers have our land in their sights, but they should be required to meaningfully preserve the community’s interests in exchange for the profits they take and the burdens they place on the value, use, and enjoyment of our land—and on the public infrastructures. Those burdens will remain long after developers move on to their next deal. Similarly, if we wait until a municipality seeks annexation, we risk losing basic agricultural uses that we’ve taken for granted. For example, last year Wentzville’s Board of Alderman considered whether to allow residents to keep chickens in Wentzville’s city limits. Ironically, the Board looked to a Clayton ordinance to guide its discussion!
FAVORABLE ZONING AND MEANINGFUL COOPERATION CAN PRESERVE OUR COMMUNITY’S AGRICULTURAL INTERESTS
By being proactive, residents can find ways to better preserve our common interests against disorderly and disruptive growth. Every resident can watch for A2RR zoning requests on the Council’s agendas which are published online before each meeting. Residents can keep the Council informed of our concerns by appearing at Council meetings or emailing Council members. Most importantly, area residents should come together to discuss zoning and/or development options that will preserve the Agricultural District priorities but accommodate respectful growth. By getting ahead of the “here-it-comes” development, we will be in a better position to protect our agricultural priorities and manage the growth as it arrives.