St. Charles County Executive Steve Ehlmann has a public policy presentation that includes dark outlines of the county’s major municipalities suggesting an inkblot or “Rorschach” test.Take the test here.
In stark relief, these outlines trace uneven boundaries, fingers of incorporated area reaching into other areas and small islands of unincorporated area within city boundaries
The boundaries are largely the product of annexations brought about by the county’s booming growth since the 1950s. Cities got bigger as more residents and businesses moved in. How those annexations came about is a result of public policy decisions that continue to evolve. [Editor’s note: You can try your hand at identifying each community by its outline online at midriversnewsmagazinenetwork.com.]
Some these maps will change after April 7, when voters in St. Peters and Lake Saint Louis will be asked to approve annexation proposals for their cities by a simple majority vote.
In St. Peters voters will be asked to approve four propositions that would annex three small undeveloped tracts with no residents. They are:
• Kuhlmann tracts (Propositions A & B), which are on the east and west sides of Mid Rivers Mall Drive, north of Interstate 70. The tracts total 5.28 acres and would be zoned industrial for either industrial or commercial use.
• Jinkerson tract (Proposition C) is a .21-acre site on the southeast side of Harvester Road at Caulks Hill Road that would be zoned commercial to be compatible with the surrounding area.
• Kiely Tract (Proposition D) is a .42-acre site on the north side of Mexico Road, west of Belleau Creek Road that would be zoned commercial if annexed.
In Lake Saint Louis, voters are being asked to approve:
• Proposition 1, which involves a 102.4-acre parcel north of Hwy. N and east of Duello Road. City officials say the property may help with developing more park property.
• Proposition 2 is a 1.6-acre parcel north of Hwy. N and east of Duello Road.
• Proposition 3 is a 2.27-acre parcel north of Orf Road and east of Duello Road.
Annexation can be voluntary or involuntary. Residents or businesses can voluntarily agree to bring their property into a city, often attracted by tax breaks or services that cities can offer.
Involuntary annexations require a majority vote in favor by residents in both the city trying to annex a property and the people living in the proposed annexed area. But many involuntary annexations skirt that requirement if no one lives on the property.
For involuntary annexations, a city must also develop a plan of intent to provide services and state how it plans to zone the property. Another step is obtaining a declaratory judgment from Circuit Court that the annexation is reasonable and necessary and the city can provide city services. Voters from the city also have to approve an involuntary annexation.
Annexation has been a loud, controversial and complex issue in the county for decades.
At one point, St. Peters tried to annex 2,500 acres in 28 different subdivisions, annexation “battles” raged between cities over plum commercial parcels, and there were “leap frog” annexations over unincorporated area boundaries.
State legislation and voter-approved changes to the county charter, which allow the county to intervene in annexations if they are not compact and contiguous, have calmed things a bit. In recent years, these rules have made it harder for cities to annex residential areas. Much annexation activity these days centers on industrial or commercial property that can provide jobs in the community and sales tax revenue for city coffers. The courts also have tended to rubber stamp involuntary annexation petitions, Ehlmann said.
“The only thing they (cities) could do without people saying it’s OK is commercial,” he said. “So that’s why when you look at it (maps), it’s so screwed up. Instead of orderly growth, it’s a tax grab.”
But cities argue that people and commerce are attracted by more city services and annexations provide needed tax revenue for those services to a growing population.
Since 2010, the city of O’Fallon, the county’s largest municipality, has annexed 277 acres – a mix of voluntary and involuntary annexations, said Tom Drabelle, communications director for the city.
Cities have also adapted with open and desirable space around city boundaries dwindling as city boundaries expand.
“There isn’t as much out there,” Dardenne Prairie Mayor Pam Fogarty said in regard to the prospect of future annexations.
Still, annexations will happen if the promise of sales tax revenue is involved, Ehlmann said.
But public opposition to some annexations may be limited.
“People aren’t going to pay thousands of dollars to lawyers over something like this; they will accept the fact and pay hundreds of dollars in more taxes,” Ehlmann said.