The Tower City Council needs to take the reins from a zoning administrator who is clearly unsure how to do her job and who threatens to embroil the city in a potential lawsuit— one that the city is likely to lose.
The troubles are most apparent with the city’s handling of the RV park proposed by Dave Rose, although a second pair of would-be developers, Gary and Charity Ross, have experienced the same frustrations with a ham-handed project approval “process” that is, actually, not a process at all.
Planning and zoning is serious business because it affects the ability of individuals and businesses to use their private property. Litigation is commonplace. That means the process has to be clearly laid out in advance and designed to be fair and to create certainty for developers within an efficient time frame. Unfortunately, the current process, under Zoning Administrator Linda Keith, is entirely undefined, with constantly changing demands, endless delay, and arbitrary decision-making that is ripe for legal challenge.
Back in 2016, Keith notified Rose in writing that the planning commission had rejected his RV park conditional use application and that it would not be reconsidered until he had completed an environmental assessment worksheet, a wetland delineation, addressed sewage discharge, and completed a density study to determine how many RV lots would be appropriate for the site.
Two years and many thousands of dollars later, Rose said he had completed those items.
Instead of considering a new CUP application, however, Keith provided Rose with an entirely new list of demands, including a complete site drawing with a list of materials, burial depths for utilities, details on planned docks, proposed rental agreements, campground rules, spill prevention plans, and more. Rose then paid an engineer more money to try to meet those demands.
Fast forward to last month, when Mr. Rose notified Keith by email that he was again prepared to move forward with his project and wanted to schedule a meeting with the planning commission. Just over an hour later, Keith responded with her longest list of demands yet, including a tree and brush removal plan, a runoff plan, a stormwater prevention plan, a dock plan, a complete survey and staking of all roads and proposed sites, a dust control plan, impervious surface drawings, full design drawings, grading plans, a Phase 1 Cultural and Historical assessment, building plans, and all regulatory permit approvals. And the coup de grace was in all caps “ANY OTHER DOCUMENTS THAT WILL BE DETERMINED TO BE NECESSARY.”
In other words, Keith is demanding that Rose spend tens of thousands of additional dollars before the commission will even consider a new application, at which time they may well reject it, having forced Rose to flush a small fortune for nothing.
This is not the way this works anywhere else. Take St. Louis County, for example. Anyone can submit a conditional use application at any time and the county has 45 days to hold a public hearing, at which time the application is typically approved or rejected. Approval of a conditional use permit does not mean a project is ready to go forward. The permit is called “conditional” for a reason. The CUP review seeks sufficient information to determine if the project complies with the ordinance, to assess its potential impact on the neighbors, and other factors. We’ve reported recently on the significantly larger BayView RV park project, which was approved by St. Louis County, based on a hand-drawn map and far less information than Rose has already provided to the city of Tower.
Once the application is approved, the applicant then needs to obtain all of the other relevant permit approvals and meet any other conditions before they actually receive their permit. But by granting the initial approval, the applicant understands that if they take all those required steps, they have a project. In the city of Tower, developers are being forced to do all that work in advance, and only then will the city consider an application.
To call it “unfriendly to development” is putting it kindly.
Here’s the reality. There is real interest in bringing development to Tower. But it is all but impossible given the disastrous state of the city’s planning and zoning “process.”
Whether one supports Mr. Rose’s RV park plan or not, it is undeniable that the man has been treated in a completely arbitrary and capricious manner by the city’s zoning administrator. And no one on the planning commission seems willing or able to straighten it out. They need the city council to step in and help the commission establish a viable and fair process.
Bring in a consultant or ask St. Louis County for help. Until this mess is fixed, the city itself will continue to serve as the number one impediment to development in Tower.