The Low Road

Hazelwood officials cast their lot with the developer of a controversial project in the flood-prone Missouri Bottoms. Their gamble is tearing the North County community apart.

The infrastructure problems to which Owens alludes include the absence of an interchange at the junction of Highway 370 and Missouri Bottom Road. Then there's the lack of sewers. Because the land is mostly flat, the Metropolitan Sewer District is requiring that two pumping stations be constructed. In addition, 150 of the 450 acres that Tristar is seeking to develop sit squarely in the floodplain. Much, if not all, of that land has been inundated twice since 1993. The developer intends to rectify this problem by excavating dirt from an adjacent hillside and elevating the flood-prone part of the property. Finally there's the complicated matter of somehow mitigating the destruction of about 30 acres of federally protected wetlands.

The $17.2 million in TIF funding allocated by the city of Hazelwood for the Tristar development would go toward making these and other improvements on the property. Typically the developer obtains financing for the deal and then is paid back with interest through the bonds issued by the city. The bonds, in turn, are paid for through subsequent increases in property taxes, which would otherwise go to the school district and other local taxing bodies. In this case, Hazelwood and the develoer optimistically anticipate paying off the bonds within 13 years, a little more than half the time allowable by law.

One giant gap in this grand scheme is a levee. Maps prepared for the city by EDM Consulting Engineers Inc. in January 1997 included two possible alignments of levees that, if built, would have protected both RPA 1 and RPA 2. The city tabled consideration of the levee after the Yellow Ribbon Committee began actively opposing the project. In a letter dated May 14, 1998, city manager Ed Carlstrom told residents: "Because of the ruckus which has been caused, I have no choice but to recommend the removal of the levee, utility extensions and road improvements in RPA 2 from further consideration. I do this with regret for those of you who would have realized enormous profit from the levee construction and those of you whose crops could have been protected from flooding and would have benefitted from water and sewer extensions.

Leon Steinbach of the Yellow Ribbon Committee: "The city should have taken action on our petitions; they ignored them."
Jennifer Silverberg
Leon Steinbach of the Yellow Ribbon Committee: "The city should have taken action on our petitions; they ignored them."

"I also regret the loss of this one time opportunity. Without the development, which will occur in RPA 1, acting as an engine to fuel the levee construction, I do not in the future see a similar way of funding the levee. Believe it or not, I am interested in the future of this city for the next generation. If we squander one time opportunities like this, that future will not be as bright."

Charles DeLaPorte, one of the Yellow Ribbon Committee members who is part of the current lawsuit against the city, questions the city manager's vision for the future: "Mr. Carlstrom would like Hazelwood to have a golf course more than anything I know. Frankly, he would prefer that the ninth green be where my house is sitting."

Earlier in the decade, Hazelwood hired a golf-course consultant to dream up some fairway designs. A scrapbook of newspaper clippings on display in the lobby of City Hall attests to the fact. Although more than one golf-course idea has been floated, DeLaPorte's property is situated down the hill from an existing city park. Furthermore, references to a golf course in either RPA 1 or RPA 2 can be found in a 1997 feasibility study of the project.

According to the executive summary of the feasibility study: "Development of a 600-acre or 1,200-acre flood-protected area for a golf course and for office/commercial, industrial and residential use is feasible and practicable.... Water bodies planned within the 180-acre golf course proposed for the site can be utilized for stormwater detention. Such use of golf course land will partially satisfy stormwater detention requirements and thus increase the useable land area...."

Rita Wurm calls the city manager's removal of the levee from the city's plans "political blackmail." It's clear from her comments that she'd rather take her chances with the unpredictable nature of the Missouri River than trust the current city administration in Hazelwood.

As Leon Steinbach limps to the lectern, murmurs fill the Hazelwood City Council chamber. Most of the audience has seen this confrontation before. A flash of consternation passes across the face of Mayor David Farquharson. Carlstrom, the city manager, glares sternly at the retired military consultant as he readjusts the microphone. By now, the room is silent.

Steinbach, the acknowledged ringleader of the Yellow Ribbon Committee, begins by waving a copy of the redevelopment plan in the air. He complains that it cost him more than $40 to buy a copy of the plan from the city. He says the price is unreasonable. He then reprimands city officials for not listening to the will of the people. Citizens would not have filed the lawsuits if the city had been responsive to their concerns, Steinbach says. When Steinbach turns to walk away, the room erupts in applause.

And yet the brief showdown is anticlimactic. The overflow crowd came to the Aug. 4 council meeting to hear the second reading of bills 3163 and 3164, which relate to the two Hazelwood TIF projects. The first bill applies to Tristar's Park 370 development. The second concerns a retail development on Lindbergh Boulevard. The latter proposal is near Steinbach's house, and this is how he became involved with the Yellow Ribbon Committee.

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