EDWARDSVILLE - The Edwardsville City Council voted unanimously to deny a Special Use Permit sought by a Catholic student organization at SIUE for a “religious institution” at 1631 Yellowhammer Crossing. SIUE Chancellor Dr. James Minor, Cougar Catholic representatives, area neighbors, and more offered mixed public comments both opposed and in favor.
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Council members said both sides presented good cases, but they ultimately couldn’t justify approving the Special Use, citing disapproval from the majority of the neighborhood residents and other factors. The council ultimately denied the Special Use request 7-0.
The property in question is a house currently sitting vacant in a residential neighborhood between the SIUE campus and State Route 157. The proposed use was for the campus organization “Cougar Catholic,” or the SIUE Newman Catholic Community, to turn the home into an “office space for the staff and a meeting and worshipping space for students in the house and garage.” Chancellor Minor said SIUE welcomes any “community organization” wanting to host events or rent space on campus.
“The university has not taken an issue on the resolution that will be before the city, and I want to make that especially clear,” Minor said. “The university has [been] and remains available to community organizations - religious or secular - and that has been the case certainly since the time that I’ve been there and during the history of the organization.”
Newman Catholic Community Director Robin Black-Rubenstein clarified that they are not seeking to build a church, but to recreate the house into a “home away from home” for the campus organization.
“We seek to make a positive difference - we hope to help the neighborhood at 1631 Yellowhammer Crossing in the same way,” Black-Rubenstein said. “We are not asking to build a church or school … we’re just simply asking for a home away from home where our students can walk, bike, or take a bus from campus for prayer and spiritual direction.
“In a world where students can walk across campus and get a tarot card reading, we hope that they can find a place to walk across campus for simple prayer and bible studies.”
Black-Rubenstein said their current location on campus is set to be turned into more student housing, and without the approval for this request, the organization is unsure of where they would relocate once their lease is up in January.
Local resident Joe Weber said he surveyed the neighbors of the area, and out of the 48 residents surveyed, 42 residents - a total of 88% - were opposed. He stated concerns about increased traffic and a lack of parking in the area, as well as pedestrian safety and the effect of “changing the neighborhood,” potentially affecting home values.
Barrett Larkin, an SIUE Student who uses the current Newman Center, said he believed the proposal for the institution would create the “perfect transitional space” between zoning classifications, and that its intended use would align well with the City of Edwardsville’s Comprehensive Plan, which includes interconnectivity, diversifying, and retaining young people. He also said property value speculation is premature until a professional appraisal has been made.
Resident Mike Pellock emphasized that he wants his neighborhood to stay the way it’s been for decades, adding that converting the house into an office/meeting space could make it harder to resell or convert back into a residence.
“It’s a residential neighborhood. It’s been a residential neighborhood for at least 50 years, and we think that it’s a community neighborhood that we’d like to remain as a residential area,” he said. “Nothing against the students that would be there … but I think in the long run for our neighborhood, it’s best to stay residential.”
When the item came to a vote, Alderwoman Elizabeth Grant noted that it was previously and unanimously voted down by the Zoning Board of Appeals and Administrative & Community Services Committee.
“This is a hard one because as you’ve heard, there are compelling arguments on both sides, and it has never been my intention to stand in front of a faith-based organization - but 88% of the neighbors have registered their disapproval of this,” Grant said.
Alderman Jack Burns agreed that the decision was a difficult one to make given the arguments from both sides, and said he’d like to see the organization find a home.
Alderman William Krause said the campus organization had provided much more information to the council, but still didn’t think their proposal was “all the way there” in terms of planning for parking and abiding by the city’s Zoning Code.
Alderman S.J. Morrison said he would “stand by the residents” with his opposing vote.
“For me, zoning is a promise that we make to our residents,” Morrison said. “There’s a promise being made on behalf of the city that it’s zoned this way and it’s going to stay this way, presumably - until it’s not - and if it’s ever proposed to change, then they have a right to come and to make a case.
“In this case, this is my ward. I’m going to stand beside my residents and back them up. Although I do think it’s a fantastic organization, I support the cause - I’m a product of a campus ministry myself - I am going to vote ‘no’ tonight in support of the residents.”
Ultimately, the council voted 7-0 to deny the special use permit for the religious institution. A full recording of the July 18 meeting is available at the top of this story or on the City of Edwardsville Facebook page.
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