GREEN ACRES

How the Page Avenue extension has been good for influential road-builder Fred Weber Inc. -- through construction contracts, profitable land sales and a sweet deal with St. Louis County to expand its golf course

In early 1991, the state took out a $3.5 million loan from the Federal Highway Administration to start buying land for the extension's second phase, in St. Charles County. When the state requested the money for the buyouts, it argued that it needed to buy the land early on to discourage any speculative development, thereby saving the state money in the long run.

The state did not start buying mitigation land in St. Louis County, however, because the route for the extension had not cleared all official hurdles. In the meantime, as the state began its buyouts in St. Charles County to save money, St. Louis County land adjacent to the park was still changing hands — private hands. In July 1991, Fred Weber made a second purchase of land adjacent to the 40-acre tract that the company bought from the foundation, this one a 69-acre tract bought from Tom E. Glosier of the Amherst Partnership for $204,729. Weber now owned 109 acres of land along the southern boundary of the park — all slated for mitigation by the transportation department.

Then, in May 1992, Fred Weber made another purchase of land, a third lot south of the park consisting of 16 acres abutting the 109 acres it already owned. This third lot, bought from Timothy Gamma and adjacent to the other two lots the company purchased, cost Fred Weber $139,000. It, too, was land the state wanted to buy for mitigation.

In all, Fred Weber paid $568,729 for 125 acres of land, according to records from the St. Louis County Recorder of Deeds. It now owned most of the property to the south of the park that the state transportation department had marked as mitigation for the Page Avenue extension. It constituted the state's entire Priority 3 Area.

At this point, however, the Page Avenue extension still had a major federal hurdle to overcome. The state transportation commission had approved its construction, but, years before, the county had accepted a $1 million federal grant to enlarge the park, and under federal rules no highway could be built through a park bought with federal funds. Though the highway commission approved the concept of extending Page Avenue, it still hadn't garnered federal permission to do so.

The problem was resolved in 1992, when Missouri Sen. John Danforth attached an amendment to the Pipeline Safety Act that absolved the Page Avenue project from the requirements of the federal regulations. In exchange, the state agreed to substantially increase the number of acres that would be acquired for mitigation.

That same year, Fred Weber petitioned the city of Maryland Heights to enter into a joint venture with golf-course developer Hale Irwin and construct a golf driving range and miniature-golf course on the property. Despite the fact that the state was scheduled to soon buy the property, the city approved the plans. In 1994, the National Park Service concluded two years of negotiations about mitigation land in order to comply with the Danforth amendment. As a result of the negotiations, the state agreed to expand the number of acres that would be acquired for mitigation. Bob Anderson, program leader for the Park Service, says the agency didn't dictate which land would be acquired by the state. "It was just a supplement to what had already been done," Anderson says. "The project sponsor, in coordination with other agencies, came up with the proposal, and ultimately that proposal was accepted by the Park Service."

After looking at the different proposals, the park service determined that the 265 acres originally slated as mitigation land chosen by the state highway department — the "priority areas" to the north and south of the park — should be included but enlarged by 729 acres.

In 1994, the entire proposed mitigation area was valued by state and federal officials at about $3.4 million, according to a supplemental environmental-impact statement issued by the Park Service. The "priority area" south of the county park, which included Fred Weber's 125 acres, was valued at $1.8 million, according to the Park Service, which based its estimate on appraisals performed by the Missouri Department of Natural Resources.

Added to the Park Service's report was its "Conceptual Master Plan," which indicated that the mitigation land originally proposed by the state agency to the north of the park should be used for recreational purposes. The plan also stated that the mitigation land south of the park, owned by Fred Weber, should be converted to a wooded wetland habitat.

The Park Service's report came out in 1994, and on April 17, 1995, the official record of decision was signed. In other words, the entire mitigation package was officially chosen on April 17, 1995, and, indeed, later that year the state bought the first two pieces of mitigation property — an 11-acre lot to the south of the park bought for $7,290 per acre and a smaller 2-acre lot bought for $8,450 an acre.

Both lots were adjacent to Fred Weber's property, which wasn't acquired until 1997. According to MoDOT, additional purchases of mitigation land were delayed for a couple years because improvements to the Howard Bend Levee, which protects the bottoms area from flooding by the Missouri River, caused property values to increase, complicating negotiations with property owners.

But Fred Weber executives didn't just sit and wait for the land to be acquired.

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