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Not in My Backyard: Emotions Run High About New Lake Saint Louis Group Home

A representative from Emmaus Homes answered questions about the planned Lake Saint Louis facility, which the Board of Aldermen approved in a 4-1 vote.

The  has given the green light for Emmaus Homes to bring a group home to a house on Rue Grand Drive.

Members approved a special use permit for the home at its Tuesday meeting after Lake Saint Louis residents aired their views for and against the home.

"I have lived here for nine years," said Roger Richert, a resident of Hawk's Landing Drive. "My daughter Laura will be one of the four people who will live in that home." 

Richert explained that his daughter currently lives in a home with seven other women, six of whom are in wheelchairs. The new facility would allow her to enjoy more activities, Richert said.

"These four people are developmentally disabled. They are not mentally ill, they are not criminals," Richert said. "I will be 80 years old in March. I would really like to see our daughter settled in with an organization like Emmaus with a 100-year record. The house on Rue Grand is much nicer than where she lives now." 

Against the home

William Strotjost was among the residents at the meeting who strongly disagreed with Richert.

"I'm 91 years old, I've lived here 44 years. I helped set up this city called Lake Saint Louis. We had problems with it," Strontjost said. "Apparently we still do. I do not want group homes in my area. I live on Rue Grand. I don’t think we should have anything but single family homes."

"If you can turn down this request, I would appreciate it," Strotjost said.

Robert Benne joined in the remarks against the group home, pointing to the single-family nature of the neighborhood.

"When I bought out here , I made sure I didn’t buy next to a car wash or filling station or liquor store. I bought in a single-family community. I wanted to keep my property values up," he said. "Everyone says you can’t do anything about it, you've got to live with it. But I’m the guy that’s got to sit in the backyard, 28 feet way from the Emmaus home."

Benne also expressed frustration about the process leading up to the approval of the special use permit.

"This was brought to us, and nobody said anything. In the dark of night, it was slid under the table, and we had to deal with it," he said. "You’re the people that are here to represent us. What happens if you vote no? Will they put you all in jail? You are put here to look out for our well-being. Make a stand," Benne said.

Dot Burgardt, who also lives on Rue Grand, spoke next.

"I moved here in 1973, started selling real estate here in 1976. This particular plat is single-family residences," she said. "I own more than one house. I have a rental home. I would not be able to lease to more than one family unit in my rental home. I definitely feel from a real estate standpoint that this would be hard on our property values."

The city's response

When the comment period was over, Mayor Mike Potter tried to explain that the city's hands were tied when it came to issuing the permit.

"State statute requires that a group home is part of single-family zoning," he said. "We are allowed to control two items: the group home can’t be any different in appearance, and we can regulate the distance between group homes,"

Potter then asked the city attorney, Jay Summerville, to provide legal perspective.

"The state of Missouri says, without any wiggle room or ambiguity, if you have single family zoned, that includes group homes for eight or fewer unrelated mentally or physically handicapped persons," Summerville said. "If we turned down the application, it would put (the city) in violation of state law and subject the city to civil, and potentially, other types of sanctions."

Ward 1 Alderman Larry DeGroodt then asked several questions of Emmaus Homes Chief Operating Officer David Kramer concerning the lease and who would be responsible if any problems arose with the group home. Kramer assured him that the home manager or anyone at the agency could be contacted.

More heated opinions

Potter gave the gathered residents one more chance to speak.

It’s good to hear that the city recognizes what the law mandates," Rue Grand resident Jim Ruedin said. "As far as property values, I live across the street from a single family (home) that has had no one in it for 15 years. It’s allowed to remain empty and it looks terrible. It’s in terrible shape. Anyone can let their house go."

Ruedin defended the role of most group homes.

"Most of them (group home residents) are very good neighbors, and they have to work extra hard to fit in. People see them as second class citizens. That’s a crime. They're the most under-represented group of people that we live with."

Burgardt asked to speak again.

"I have not been satisfied," she said. "Is there a provision for a sub-lease, if someone decides to leave? There are some unanswered questions. You have to make sure it (the lease) has a beginning and an ending." 

The vote

After the comment period the board approved the resolution for the special permit. Ward 1 Alderman Ralph Sidebottom cast the only nay vote.

"I took several different oaths for this office," Sidebottom said. "One was to abide by state rules and regulations. But the first oath I took was to my constituents, that I was to be your voice. If I go by my first oath, I should listen to your voice. I know it is symbolic in nature, but I vote no," Sidebottom said.

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