The St. Charles County Council and county officials are beginning discussions on transforming much of the land the county has acquired for future parks. And, that discussion comes at a time when the county has other decisions on its plate about acquiring still more park land – including 152 acres that once was the New Melle Lakes Golf Course. The course has been closed since 2011.
At the council’s Nov. 30 work session, discussion of a three-year development plan for the county’s unused park land stalled when councilmembers and County Executive Steve Ehlmann asked for more financial and other information.
About 2,500 acres of land the county has acquired for parks since 1997 is in public use. The county currently has 11 open public parks, with five more parcels of land that can be developed as parks, and another two parcels that cannot be developed at this time. In all, the county has 3,156 acres of park land. The park acquisition is funded through a local use tax.
Ehlmann’s 2016 budget recommendations include $13 million allocated from the parks and recreation fund for continued development of and improvements to county parks including the development of a park a Pitman and Kisker roads, known as the Sammelmann Farm and Homestead, and the renovation of the historic Hays House at Matson Hill Park near Defiance. The county acquired the 116-acre Sammelmann property for $6 million in 2014.
As in past budgets, there also is $3 million available for purchasing park land. If no land is bought, the funds will be used to open additional parks, Ehlmann said.
He also noted that it’s time for the county to develop the property it has – particularly land close to areas of larger populations.
“I guess I’m just getting to the point in my career [where] I’d like to get it developed,” Ehlmann said during the work session. “I think to [acquire] the New Melle property is great; it’s just a question of whether you want to buy more land.”
The council toured the New Melle property in November, but has made no decision on acquiring it.
Meanwhile, the county has developed a concept plan for the Sammelmann property that suggests recreational amenities that include a lake, disc golf course, picnic areas and possible soccer fields. Joann Leykam, the county’s director of administration, said the projected cost for developing the Sammelmann property may be as high as $10 million, making it more expensive that other parks. The park also may take several years to develop before its open to the public.
On Nov. 30, some councilmembers said they wanted to look at existing plans for parks and prioritize their development. Councilmember Joe Brazil [District 2] and Mike Klinghammer [District 6] said they wanted more financial information than what County Parks and Recreation Director Bette Yahn-Kramer and Leykam, along with parks department staff, had prepared for the work session.
“This quite frankly is nothing but pretty pictures and maps,” Klinghammer said. “It doesn’t answer the questions I’m looking for. I want to see what we’re approving in the budget related to the future development of our parks.”
Brazil said more detailed information is needed to judge the impact of buying more land on developing park property.
Councilmember Joe Cronin [District 1] said he particularly wanted information on the number of people living within a certain radius of park properties. Cronin said there is little county park land north of Interstate 70 and in the O’Fallon area.
Councilmembers and Ehlmann agree that one factor in park development and land acquisition is how many people live near park properties. To that end, the Sammelmann property has more people living near it than the New Melle property, which is in a more rural area.