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Tuesday, July 28, 2009

A Sprawling Casino Next To A Conservation Area?

Posted By on Tue, Jul 28, 2009 at 12:22 PM

The Columbia Bottom Conservation Area - PHOTO BY KEEGAN HAMILTON
  • photo by Keegan Hamilton
  • The Columbia Bottom Conservation Area
Located at the confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi rivers just north of St. Louis, the Columbia Bottom Conservation Area is among the last stretches of undeveloped riverfront near the city. The Missouri Department of Conservation, the state agency that manages the 4,300-acre area, describes the land as "a mosaic of bottomland habitats that includes shallow wetlands, bottomland hardwoods, prairie, and cropland. These habitats attract a wide variety of resident and migratory wildlife for the enjoyment of all of our state's residents and visitors."

If a local development group has their way, the number of visitors enjoying the area will increase dramatically. Only instead of nature hikes, the tourists will play golf, hit the spa, and pump money into slot machines.

On August 10, the St. Louis County Board of Zoning Adjustment will hear a proposal from North County Development LLC to rezone 376 acres of land immediately south of the Conservation Area for use as a massive "Riverview Casino."

Plans for the casino (available after the jump), include:
  • 8,000 parking spots
  • An 18-hole golf course with two artificial lakes
  • Convention center
  • Theater
  • Steakhouse
  • Spa
  • Wind farm to power the operation.

The proposal has raised eyebrows at the Department of Conservation and prompted criticism among the area's residents, with both groups questioning the long-term environmental impact of the proposal.

"It seems a little out of place," says Doyle Brown, a policy coordinator with the Department of Conservation. "There are other parts of the state where urban development comes right up against our areas, but it's hard to say if it's the same magnitude of something like this...I guess at this point we'd want to understand the project better because it certainly could have an impact on things we're trying to do with the area."

The Spanish Lake Community Association also opposes the project, calling it "totally inconsistent" with the county's recommendation for low-density development in the municipality.

"There are so many better ways to use this land," says Renata MacDougal, whose home is about a mile away from the area. "They need to understand that what they do there affects generations, maybe even for the next 100 years or more -- it affects wetlands, wildlife habitat, flood plains. That's a precious resource."

The developer, however, maintains that any ecological concerns could be mitigated.

"They're the typical types of environmental issues and development and construction issues that concern any development at or near a body of water," says Ed Griesedieck, the company's registered agent. "We reviewed, with our engineers, the location and the potential issues that are there. They're not more significant than you'd find at any place in the flood plain, which is where you have to put a casino [in eastern Missouri.]"

Griesedieck also points out that the project is along way from becoming a reality. If the Zoning Board gives the proposal a favorable recommendation at the upcoming public hearing, it will still require a review before the County Council, additional hearings, and an ordinance approving the re-zoning.

There's also the issue of who would operate the casino and whether those operators would be able to obtain a license from the state's gaming commission. The number of gaming licenses is capped at thirteen, with twelve casinos currently operating and one under construction in Lemay. Griesedieck says an existing license holder would have to relocate to the Riverview location or the state would have to approve additional licenses.

There's also the possibility that an existing casino could close (the most likely candidate is the struggling President Casino on the Admiral Riverboat) and free up up another license.

Griesedieck says the relationship between North County Development LLC and a casino operator has "yet to be determined," though interest is strong despite tepid casino profits nationwide and five other casinos already operating the in area

"The operators are proceeding cautiously," Griesedieck says. "They are seeing this as first indication that the county and state are behind them as indicating that this is an appropriate location for a gaming casino."

Below are plans for land-use in the casino development area, which will be presented at a public hearing on August 10 ("St. Louis County Planning Commission will hold a public hearing at 7:00 P.M. on Monday AUGUST 10, 2009 in  the County Council Chambers, Administration Building, County Government Center, 41 South Central Avenue,  Clayton, Missouri 63105.") Or, you can download the entire document here.


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