A Mayor Runs Through It

With the determination of a Missouri mule, Mayor Mike Swoboda drags a $40 million development into the heart of Kirkwood

"Can this be the future of Station Plaza? It could. But it is the history of Pioneer Place."

"Pioneer Place" is the clincher -- Pioneer Place, where you go to pick up a package at the post office and come home swearing, where the traffic crawls at lunch and dinnertime, where Kirkwood is anywhere but Mayberry. Pioneer Place was built without a traffic study, Lynch tells them, without the supervision that should have been provided.

Lynch passes around copies of a Kirkwood business-district map to his fellow council members. He's marked areas where 5-acre parcels could be put together, if a developer had the money and the savvy, to create an area comparable to MLP's property. He's found five, counter to Hessel's conclusion that there aren't any. One of them is Pitman Place, Lynch says, although, like Ward, he does not mention that Swoboda is an owner of Pitman Place property.

Jennifer Silverberg
MLP project manager Chris Ho on the Station Plaza site. When he employs a phrase such as "new urbanism," some Kirkwoodians look at him as if he were selling shares in Enron.
Jennifer Silverberg
MLP project manager Chris Ho on the Station Plaza site. When he employs a phrase such as "new urbanism," some Kirkwoodians look at him as if he were selling shares in Enron.

The audience lets out a collective breath of astonishment. "If you want to see land-use planning as it has been proposed here," Lynch concludes, "drive south 50 or 60 miles."

Lynch has made the last stand against Swoboda. The mayor's antagonist passes out his proposed amendments to Bill 9272, which include a call for the city to hire its own traffic engineer on MLP's dime. Swoboda doesn't look at it.

Without debate, the mayor immediately calls for a vote on Lynch's amendment. A voice vote is inconclusive. Swoboda appears visibly rattled when the clerk calls for a show of hands. Swoboda's hand rises in opposition to the amendment, and the hands of council members Noonan, Griffin and McDonnell rise with it. Lynch, Ward and Godi vote in support.

Before many in the chambers are even sure what has become of Lynch's amendment, Swoboda calls for a roll-call vote on Bill 9272. Swoboda's 4-3 majority holds. The $40 million development is approved.

A tense air of anticipation had risen in the room during Lynch's speech. It slowly deflates.

With the rest of the council either exhausted or disgusted, in a meeting that has gone on for more than four hours, the Missouri mule plows ahead, proposing his own amendments to 9272; they're matters of small detail, but he wants them fixed tonight, and they are.

McDonnell, who has been silent throughout the evening, proffers an amendment of his own. A local grocer, McDonnell has an unfortunately meek voice, one that doesn't favor a councilman who seems to vote in accord with the mayor's will. He tries to mollify the crowd, whose frustration audibly bubbles forth with rude asides. Lynch's allusion to Pioneer Place was unfair, McDonnell tells them. Pioneer Place should be viewed as a success. "It's a mess, but it's successful," he says.

A few citizens of Kirkwood hiss.

McDonnell is visibly shaken, and his voice wavers even more. He wants to assure the citizens that sound decisions have just been made. He says the Planning and Zoning Commission studied the parking plan for Station Plaza and approved it. The council members all took a look at it, he says, and most liked what they saw.

Lynch is nonplussed. "I'm amazed that anyone would suggest that we decide this without a traffic engineer," he berates his fellow councilmen. The planning-and-zoning study, says Lynch, involved 17-year-old data.

McDonnell doesn't have the sense to quit while he's behind. He proposes a traffic study, done exclusive of MLP, to look into the possibility of widening Kirkwood Road.

Even more people are hissing now.

The long-silent Ward finds his way back into the political fray through McDonnell's amendment. As an amendment to McDonnell's amendment, Ward proposes that MLP's study must conform with any city-sanctioned traffic study. If it doesn't, MLP must change its plan.

Ho's on his feet. McDonnell looks more sheepish. Swoboda snarls. Ward, still upset with Swoboda for ignoring Lynch's proposal, accuses the mayor of being flippant.

"Flippant!" the mayor retorts.

"Yes. You were flippant," Ward says.

"How was I flippant? When was I flippant?" The mayor, now red-faced, quickly reins in his anger. He looks around at the other council members, chuckles. "Flippant. I don't think I've ever been called that before."

Swoboda calls for a quick vote on Ward's amendment, whereupon the confused Noonan votes the wrong way.

"Oh, Tom!"

Noonan is let off the hook. He wasn't fully aware of what he was voting on, he says. Swoboda calls for a revote, and this time three hands follow the puppetmaster's in unison.

Swoboda's glowing victory has been tarnished, though. As more debate ensues, he sighs loudly, his shoulders slump and he stares downward. Did Truman or Roosevelt have moments like this?

Surely they did, and he returns to the discussion, now admonishing McDonnell: "Art, you probably shouldn't have brought the issue up."

Ward, disgusted by Swoboda's maneuverings, chooses to abstain when McDonnell's amendment is brought to a vote. He's not going to vote on anything more tonight.

McDonnell's proposed traffic study passes, but MLP is not bound to any of its findings.

The meeting is adjourned, and Swoboda quickly retreats to his chambers. "That was unbelievable," says Godi, shaking his head. Ward is appalled. "The mayor went too far this time. He didn't have the decency to even look at Mike's amendment." Lynch takes things more in stride and considers the efficacy of nose rings for Swoboda's voting bloc to help the mayor keep its members in check.

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