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Long-time city administrator reflects on his career, predicts changes for St. Peters

St. Peters City Administrator William Charnisky

St. Peters City Administrator William Charnisky

St. Peters may have to confront that it will no longer be the place were shiny new homes seem to sprout in former farmer’s fields much like the corn that they replace. Instead, St. Peters may become more a place for new commercial and industrial development and remain an extremely desirable place to live because of the quality of life it offers, says long-time City Administrator William Charnisky.

Growth will continue for some time, Charnisky said, but the city eventually will have to concentrate on protecting that quality of life, including its neighborhoods and housing stock.

Charnisky, 69, is retiring at the end of July after 19 years as St. Peters’ city administrator. On Feb. 25, the city’s Board of Aldermen approved the appointment of Russ Batzel, the city’s director for transportation and development services, as Charnisky’s replacement.

Since 1997, Charnisky has directed the day-to-day business of a city government that has served a growing community – from 486 residents in 1970 to an estimated 56,000 now. While St. Peters once was the epicenter for the residential development explosion that has engulfed St. Charles County for decades, that growth now has shifted west to places like Wentzville, where a large amount of land still is available for residential development.

In January, St. Peters officials said the community may have reached its capacity for single-family residential development. The city has just 68 single-family residential lots available for new homes.

“We’re going through a transition period, although it looks like 2016 is going to be one of the biggest years we’ve had here in the last 20 years as far as commercial and industrial growth,” Charnisky said. “We have a lot of projects coming down the pipe.”

Much of the city’s future development activity may involve pockets of land in the city that remain undeveloped and possibly land along part of Route 364, also known as the Page Avenue extension, whose final leg opened in 2014.

“Infill, that’s exactly the kind of development we have going on, we don’t have that raw virgin land that builders like – hundreds of acres to build homes on,” Charnisky said. “[But] don’t count St. Peters out yet because it’s still got quite a few years of development ahead of it.”

Charnisky added that once that infill land is gone, St. Peters will move “into maintaining the city and maintaining property values. “We’re moving in that direction,” Charnisky said. He noted that the city will have to be “very concerned about maintaining its neighborhoods, maintaining its housing stock and code enforcement.”

That housing stock and the city’s quality of life now are high and remain attractive to people buying homes, Charnisky said. He noted that the city remains a desirable place to live because of low taxes, housing values that are going up, good schools, an extensive park system, and easy access to highways that provide quick transportation.

“People want to live here,” Charnisky said. “This is a very desirable region to live in and St. Peters is in the middle of it.”

Some of the major development activity that may occur might also involve redevelopment, he said. He said he already is seeing older commercial and even residential development being removed to make way for new businesses and homes.

The city also has been extremely active in encouraging commercial development, particularly at the sometimes embattled Premier 370 Business Park and at Arrowhead Industrial Park. In January, the city announced that RB, formerly known as Reckitt-Benckiser, is planning to build a 715,000-square-foot warehouse on 48 acres in the 900-acre Premier 370 Park. The warehouse is the second major tenant for the park and is expected to generate about 300 jobs.

The park lies along the Mississippi River flood plain, which has generated fears about encroachment. But Charnisky said that in this case those fears are “just an argument that has no merit.” Premier 370, he said, is three miles from the Mississippi River and protected by levees. “Some of the areas are safer than the city of St. Louis.”

With retirement looming, Charnisky said he is most proud of the city government’s management system, which he sees as unique in the area.

“We treat employees as very important commodities, and, in turn, they treat our customers, which are the residents, in the same way,” he said. He credits the system with helping the city to provide high quality services at low cost. He noted that the city’s aldermen and Mayor Len Pagano have supported the system.

“If they didn’t trust me, or my staff, none of this would have been successful,” Charnisky said.

The city has about 700 employees of which 400 are full-time.

Still, trust isn’t the word to describe all aspects of St. Peters’ relationships, particularly its relationship with St. Charles County. County councilmembers and County Executive Steve Ehlmann have had vehement disagreements with the city over issues such as the city’s use of red light traffic cameras and development in the flood plain.

“We still have philosophical differences with St. Charles County,” Charnisky said. “They think they run us, and we don’t think they run us.” But Charnisky said the city’s relationship with other local government entities is good.

Before coming to St. Peters, Charnisky spent 25 years working for the city of Bolingbrook, Illinois, a suburb outside Chicago. He was hired as a city police officer there in 1973, served 14 years as its chief of police and six years as city administrator. But Charnisky liked Missouri. For years, summer vacations with his five children meant trips to Branson.

“I thought it was a beautiful state. I was a St. Louis Cardinal baseball fan all my life. I just liked Missouri,” he said.

So he applied for positions in St. Peters, Clayton and O’Fallon and decided to accept an offer from St. Peters.

“I just liked the city, it was kind of a growing city and I wanted to be part of that,” Charnisky said.

Now he’s retiring to spend more time with his family, travel and expand on a hobby – breeding and raising thoroughbred horses, which he said he’s been doing for seven or eight years. He has 12 horses at a farm near Edwardsville, Illinois.

But while retiring, he said he isn’t going way.

“I love it here,” he said. “I’m staying here. I plan on staying here the rest of my life.” He said the region reminds him of a “mini-Branson” with attractions like downtown St. Charles and wineries that are close by.

“And the weather’s not bad, it’s not terrible,” he said. “It’s better than Chicago.”

 

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