University pulls out of Millbrook Plaza expansion plan

Puneet Kollipara

Washington University recently abandoned its plans to expand its Millbrook Plaza shopping area into the University City subdivision of West Portland Place.

The University recently purchased several large, single-family homes in West Portland Place along Pershing Avenue, just to the northwest of Big Bend Boulevard and Forest Park Parkway and near the Millbrook. The homes are intended for faculty, staff and graduate students for the short term.

The University has owned the Millbrook Plaza, a commercial strip at the northwest corner of the two streets, since 1991, according to a recent story in the West End Word.

The University then considered a further expansion into the area to remodel its holdings into a larger residential and commercial area.

Several University City residents, however, voiced their concerns about the expansion.

According to Julie Feier, city manager of University City, residents were concerned about the University “moving within the neighborhood and changing the nature of the neighborhood by buying up homes.”

Steve Givens, associate vice chancellor and executive director of communications, said that the University discovered several restrictive covenants in place in West Portland Place that may have posed legal problems for the University had it continued to expand.

“We didn’t want to challenge those neighborhood covenants, so we decided not to pursue the expansion of [the Millbrook Plaza],” said Givens.

The covenant in question was filed in 1908 with the county recorder of deeds, before zoning restrictions were put into place in University City. The covenant, according to Givens, requires 100 percent approval of residents in the area before West Portland Place property can be used for anything but single-family homes.

According to Feier, a University City resident brought the covenant to the attention of the University.

“He had mentioned it, and Wash. U. researched it and was able to locate a very old copy of the deed restriction,” said Feier.

A recent news release on West Portland Place’s Web site said that the University met with several city council officials in late December to tell them that they had discovered the covenants and to announce that the University would not acquire any additional property in the West Portland Place area.

The University can still renovate buildings within the area that it owns, but it will not attempt any further expansion.

“We’re still going to improve what’s there, but we’re not going to be expanding that because of the restrictive covenants,” said Givens.

At a Jan. 15 meeting of the University City City Council, the council passed a resolution supporting not only the residents of West Portland Place, but also those of neighborhoods throughout University City.

While the resolution acknowledged the positive consequences of further development of the Millbrook Plaza, it also called on the University to respect the desires of University City residents.

“The Council also particularly recognizes and supports the desires of the nearby property owners to retain the character and value of their historic single-family residential neighborhoods,” said the resolution.

The resolution, though not legally binding, also urged the University to maintain frequent discussion with the residents of West Portland Place and not to engage in house demolition without a near-term replacement plan.

The University will not expand any further, but it will improve its current holdings in the area. It has already begun to make improvements in the Millbrook Plaza shopping area.

“We’re still going to improve what’s there, but we’re not going to be expanding that because of the restrictive covenants,” said Givens.

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