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Clayton Clashes with Developers Over Bank Drive-Throughs

Attorney Gary Feder said two proposed facilities on Maryland Avenue would not bring the noise and traffic found at a fast-food restaurant. His first priority: Get the city to add a line to its zoning code permitting the structures.

A proposal to bring two bank drive-throughs to a stretch of western Maryland Avenue in has city staff and an attorney for developers at odds.

wants to turn an empty surface parking lot at 8321 Maryland Ave. into a banking facility for customers that would complement its Clayton corporate office, said attorney Gary Feder, who is representing the developers. He spoke Tuesday during a public hearing before the Clayton Board of Aldermen.

Meanwhile, Green Street Real Estate Ventures is pursuing a mixed-use development at 8455 Maryland Ave., where Mini of St. Louis is currently located. The . The development would include four users, including a high-end restaurant, an exercise facility and a different bank with an ATM and limited drive-through, Feder said.

But neither Fifth Third nor the real estate company can submit a development proposal unless Clayton chooses to add a line of text to its zoning code permitting "drive-through establishments for financial institutions" in the area.

City staff aren't inclined to approve the change. A report prepared by city planning director Susan Istenes states that staff recognize the need to consider projects on their individual merits. But in light of the city's Downtown Master Plan, "drive-through uses, in general, are not in harmony with the intent of the Plan which is to encourage pedestrian accessibility, walkability and small retail scaled development that will protect the integrity and character of adjoining residential neighborhoods.Furthermore, these properties along Maryland Avenue function as a significant buffer between the residentially zoned properties to the north and Maryland Avenue."

At a meeting Aug. 6, the Clayton Plan Commission voted 2-2 on the proposal to update city code. That means at least five aldermen must vote in favor of the code change for it to take effect, a memo from City Manager Craig Owens states.

This week, Feder contested that statement. He said that several members of the Plan Commission were absent during his presentation and that the 2-2 vote does not constitute a recommendation. According to his reading of the law, he said, only a simple majority of aldermen is needed to enact the code change.

He said the request to update the zoning code is generic and will simply allow developers to apply for a operating permit that can then be reviewed by the city. Other banks in downtown Clayton maintain drive-throughs and appear to have been grandfathered in, he said.

"I think flexible is part of what we're talking about tonight," he said.

The memo by Owens states that drive-throughs "attract automobile traffic on a 24- hour basis, thus increasing noise and odors from idling engines, noise from speaker systems and light intrusion from vehicular headlights." Feder said that he has represented companies with drive-throughs like McDonald's and Walgreens in the past and that the Maryland Avenue proposals aren't like those. ATMs are quiet, he said, and bank drive-throughs operate on bankers' hours as opposed to meal schedules.

Feder indicated it is ironic that his remarks came on the same night as a presentation by Clayton economic developer Gary Carter about ways the city can recruit retail businesses.

During the hearing, a Green Street representative showed two concept drawings for the Mini of St. Louis site. Feder and representatives of Fifth Third were expected to meet with planning director Istenes on Wednesday to review preliminary plans.

Only one audience member spoke out during the hearing. The North Central Avenue resident asked that the city keep its code intact without permitting drive-throughs for banks.

No aldermen spoke about the issue despite an invitation to do so from Mayor Linda Goldstein, prompting her to quip: "This is uncharacteristic."

The public hearing will be continued Sept. 11. Ward 1 Alderman Joann Boulton could not attend Tuesday's meeting but is expected to be present for a final vote at that time.

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Harold Sanger August 31, 2012 at 12:57 PM
A text amendment to Clayton's zoning rules is clearly the wrong way to go as there would be unintended consequences for every Clayton residential neighborhood that borders a C1 commercial district. What Gary Feder really wants is "spot" zoning for these properties but spot zoning is by law not permitted. The Mini Cooper site may very well accomodate a drive through bank as a part of it's overall concept and still be appropriate in context to the Master Plan, but a text amendment is the wrong approach to it. Hopefully the applicants will work with the Clayton Planning Department to come up with a better approach.

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