UNIVERSITY CITY — Nichole Angieri has found little peace since overnight construction of a Costco kicked off behind her home a few weeks ago.
She can’t sleep at night, and she can’t enjoy the sanctuary she’s created in her Mayflower Court backyard where she’s seen hummingbirds, eagles and, for the first time last summer, a brown-headed nuthatch. Angieri, who took a day off work last week to catch up on sleep, has had few moments of respite from flood lights and the constant noise from trucks and rock crushing behind her house.
Then, this week, work stopped. Two University City councilmen saw and heard the nighttime noise for themselves.
Angieri and her neighbors on this cul-de-sac received no notice from the city or developer that construction crews would work from late in the evening to 5 a.m. to avoid disrupting daytime Olive Boulevard traffic. The crews transport dirt from the north side of Olive where Costco will go to the south side of the four-lane road on land that abuts Mayflower Court.
The work is the first phase of Webster Groves-based Novus Development’s nearly $190 million Market at Olive project, poised to reshape the northwest entrance of University City with apartments, offices and, potentially, a hotel, all anchored by the big-box discount retailer Costco. The disruption to Mayflower, slated to be demolished eventually, is just the latest controversy to beleaguer the project, which has been fraught with criticism since plans arose in 2018.
First, business owners were angry when Novus said it wanted to use eminent domain to seize land from businesses in the footprint. Then residents alleged the city wasn’t transparent about the project, or how it would proceed. And they argued leaders overestimated the taxes that the development would generate.
“It’s clear that the city no longer has residents’ health at top of their concerns,” Angieri said, wiping away tears.
A few Mayflower Court residents like AJ Jacobs told the Post-Dispatch the noise hasn’t bothered them and that, thankfully, it hasn’t woken her baby. But Mary Gaines called the construction “inconsiderate,” especially because it began without warning.
Bernard Lee said he supports the city’s desire for new development and the additional revenue that it will bring. But he feels that the city has treated him and his neighbors unfairly. He invited Councilmen Stacy Clay and Bwayne Smotherson, who represent the neighborhood, to his house this past week to witness the construction.
“We’ve been suffering all this noise and nobody wanted to listen to us, and they assumed it was OK,” Lee said. “It’s not OK.”
Smotherson declined to comment. Clay confirmed they visited and referred questions to Gregory Rose, the city manager. Novus Development President Jonathan Browne did not respond to a request for comment.
Rose said the city gave “broad approval” for Swansea-based Holland Construction Services to conduct overnight work on behalf of Novus and its partner Seneca Commercial Real Estate. The city published this information in a weekly project report to residents, but said the construction company or the developers were also supposed to send letters or leave door hangers at homes impacted by the work.
However, Rose said rock crushing that the councilmen observed “was not in the spirit of the agreements” and that University City has worked with Holland and the developers to resolve the issues.
Work has stopped since the councilmen’s visit, though Rose said that was not at the request of the city. He doesn’t know when work will resume. The contract for overnight work is set to expire on Oct. 31, he said.
“I think any construction work is going to have a degree of noise. If residents are living close to a commercial property and there’s construction, that’s just exacerbating that problem,” Rose said. “We’re working hard to minimize the impacts of the construction on the residents.”
Seneca CEO Larry Chapman acknowledged resident complaints but said the Post-Dispatch “should be celebrating a project that is going to help the community.”
“It does not matter what we do or how we try to accommodate the neighbors, somebody is always going to complain,” Chapman said in an email. “There is no really great thing that can come without some inconvenience. This is one of those things.”
Seth Akakpo-Lado has lived in the apartments in the footprint of the new development for two years. He was never notified of overnight construction, but the noise didn’t bother him much; he’s said he’s accepted what’s going on and that there’s nothing he can do to stop development.
But he said the companies and the city could have been more considerate of residents.
“Communication,” Akakpo-Lado said, “goes a long way.”