By BRIAN FLINCHPAUGH
Rising water and a rising tide of opinion among some officials against certain uses of tax subsidies prompted the St. Charles County Council to go on record in opposition of development of 1,800 acres of Missouri River flood plain in Maryland Heights.
The council voted 6-0 at its Feb. 29 meeting on a resolution opposing the redevelopment of the “Maryland Park Lake District” on the flood plain as a shopping, retail and entertainment center. Councilman Terry Hollander [District 5] was absent. The Maryland Heights City Council had approved a resolution on Feb. 4 to seek proposals for developing the tract.
Councilmembers and County Executive Steve Ehlmann said they are particularly worried that more levee construction in the Maryland Heights area will raise water levels during future flooding.
The resolution states that the council “opposes any proposal to develop flood plain in an area that will most likely flood again.” It adds that St. Charles County residents experienced major flooding in December that “raised higher and faster than previous floods.”
“The St. Charles County Council hereby opposes any proposal to develop in flood-prone areas or continuing a pattern of development that can be expected to divert flood water onto other areas, which includes the present proposal for redevelopment of the Maryland Park Lake District in the city of Maryland Heights,” the resolution states.
It also says that the council “wants to protect the beauty of this unique area,” which sits near the confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi rivers.
The possible use of tax increment financing [TIF] for the development – which would give tax breaks to a developer aligned with Los Angeles Rams owner Stan Kroenke – brought out the ire of one councilmember.
“So our friend Mr. Kroenke, he’s already kicked us in the crotch once, right,” said Councilman Joe Brazil [District 2]. “So now what we’re going to do is give this guy tax money for one of his investments to kick us in the crotch twice.
“If someone does that to you once, shame on them. If someone does it twice, shame on us. Maryland Heights should be ashamed of themselves. This is an insult; this is wrong to your neighbors.”
Alan Bornstein, a business partner and attorney representing Kroenke, has met with Maryland Heights officials to discuss, among other things, the city providing tax incentives for the project. The city also may look at other development proposals for the site.
The resolution was amended at the council’s Feb. 29 meeting to add opposition to using TIFs for the project.
Ehlmann has long opposed some use of TIFs by local municipalities, saying the use of “unfair tax subsidies” has deprived schools and other taxing jurisdictions of revenues. TIFs for retail development have created few jobs and have tended to prompt the movement of businesses between municipalities, rather than create new business, he said.
“It’s the argument many of us have made about TIFs for a long time,” Ehlmann said.
Councilman Michael Klinghammer [District 6] said at first he was uncomfortable about supporting the resolution because some TIFs can be a tool to encourage good redevelopment, but he did vote in favor of the resolution. He said there is a need to be cautious about redevelopment in the flood plain.
“Anything that happens on one side of the river affects the other side,” Klinghammer said. “It’s just common sense.”
Brazil said building levees higher in St. Louis County has had that effect on the St. Charles County side of the Missouri River already, adding that the issue was “very personal.”
New FEMA flood plain maps have raised the once in 100-year flood heights in Defiance, Missouri, which is requiring more residents to buy flood insurance. Brazil said he has commercial property in the area that was once in the 500-year flood plain. It’s now in the 100-year flood plain area and cannot be developed, he said.
“Our neighbors are building levees downstream to appreciate their property values, meanwhile decreasing property values for everyone upstream,” he said. “This is actually what they call insanity – people doing the wrong thing over and over again and expecting a different result.”
Brazil said flooding in December and over the years has become increasingly severe.
Between 1996 and 2010, the 100-year flood height in the county has been raised two feet and may continue to rise, said Ehlmann and Wayne Anthony, the county’s community development department director.
“At some point, if the present trend continues, it doesn’t matter how high the levee is, it’s not going protect property,” Ehlmann said. “That levee puts more water on our people on this side of the river.”
The council has no authority over development in St. Louis County, but the resolution will put the county on record in opposition. “We’re not going to let them [Maryland Heights] do it,” Brazil said. “I’ll tell you that we’re going to stop them. This is crazy, crazy.”