Members of the St. Charles Planning and Zoning Commission on Monday considered the question: What impact would banquet and meeting centers have if they were allowed in historic St. Charles?
South Main Street business owners say the banquet centers would aggrevate the problems with drunk people in the area.
In the end, the commission pushed off a decision to change the zoning laws to allow banquet centers and meeting facilities in the Historic Commercial District, an area that runs along South Main Street from Madison Street to just before Ameristar Blvd.
The change is being considered because Sheri Steffens, owner of Heart of St. Charles Banquet Center, would like to build a chapel and a space for events and banquets at 1106 South Main Street, in an area that's not currently zoned for banquet centers.
She said she's interested in creating an 'intimate, smaller one-room space' for meetings and events. Steffens opposed the notion that a banquet center is similar to a bar. She said 90 percent of the events at her current facility start between 6 and 7 p.m. and end by 10 or 11 p.m.
"Our proposal is wholesome and good for the community," she said. "We appreciate your favorable consideration."
Merchants Speak Out
Several Main Street merchants spoke out against the change to the zoning laws, which would ultimately need approval from the city council.
Holly Haddox, president of the South Main Preservation Society, said her concern is not about Steffens' proposal specifically but that the change would legalize "party centers' in the district. She said the example of what late night drinking can do to an area is plain and that property values can decline.
"The odds are against a positive outcome in the long run," she said.
Vi'Anne Mydler, who opened Boone's Lick Trail Inn in 1971, said allowing the change will open a flood of change to the historic area.
"We have struggled to protect this historic district that all agree is the keystone of our great city because it is low-intensity, restricted-use district," she said.
Laura Sprehe has cut back on the hours she offers horse-drawn carriage rides through North Main Street because the patrons of restaurants and bars in the area sometimes spook the horses. She said she's worked evening wedding receptions and has seen how people behave.
"Sometimes it's unbelievable how people can act after a reception after they've been drinking for a night," she said.
Gary Haddox, who owns the Conservatory, said most of the problems downtown stem from people walking from one establishment to the next.
Steve Powell, who lives at 322 South Main Street, said he has police on speed dial and calls nearly every weekend because he sees people damaging property or urinating in the street.
"My wife and I are constantly talking about how long we stay because there comes a point at which these things continue to increase they become exponential and respectable businesses go away," said Gene Wood, owner of Cobblestone Cottage. "Property values decrease and low-rent places come in and we’re right back where we are when Main Street was a ghetto."
Daryll Yahl, the architect who is working with Steffens to build the proposed banquet center, said this project would not be like a bar and would not cause the types of problems described.
"This type of facility is going to be definitely an asset to this community and help bring business into this community and help make it much more viable and progressive," he said.
Commissioner Lindsay Devereux said possibly creating a business on two properties that have been vacant for a long time is a good thing.
"They are not concerned about this one business, they are worried about the ones that follow," she said. "If we get two more requests down the line, how do we say yes to one, and no to the others?"
Members of Planning and Zoning opted not to make a recommendation for or against the change, but asked city staff to organize a meeting with members of the South Main Preservation Society to discuss the issue.