March 30, 2005 - Staff Report
Two challengers are attempting to unseat a longtime Sunset Hills Ward 1 alderman in a race that centers on the proposed Main Street at Sunset development project, financial growth and honesty, according to the candidates.
Franklin Hardy Jr., Douglas McGuire Jr. and Michael Sawicki are vying in the Tuesday, April 5, election for the Ward 1 seat Sawicki has occupied since 1993.
The terms of three other Sunset Hills aldermanic seats also expire this year, but Aldermen John Littlefield of Ward 2, Jan Hoffmann of Ward 3 and Donald Parker of Ward 4 are unopposed in their bids for re-election. All seats carry two-year terms.
Hardy and McGuire are concerned with Novus Development Co.'s $42 million tax-increment financing request for a $163.9 million shopping center. They're against forcing residents out of their homes through eminent domain.
Sawicki, however, supports eminent domain for the project and wants to build the financial strength of the city.
Asked to identify the most important issue in the race, the candidates gave these written responses to a Call questionnaire:
• "I believe the most important issue in any good relationship is to have open and honest communications," Hardy said. "I would want to have that between the city officials and the residents and businesses of Sunset Hills. This is the foundation for a thriving community. I am a businessman and a resident of this community so I understand both perspectives. By having community input on any particular subject, it is only then that I can effectively represent my ward. I would do this by using Sunset Hills' Web site and email to inform the residents and businesses of what is happening in the city and asking for their opinions on those matters in both written and verbal formats. I will be a visible and easily accessible representative to all of my constituents."
• "The Main Street at Sunset project as this concerns residents' homes, students' education, finances for a school district, an increase in traffic to an already overcrowded intersection," McGuire said.
• "I would like to help ensure the city of Sunset Hills remains in a financially strong position," Sawicki said.
Hardy, 57, 421 Rayburn Ave., is an Internet consultant. He and his wife, Phillis, have one adult son.
A political newcomer, Hardy seeks election "to give a true voice to the people of Sunset Hills' Ward 1. To have honest and open communications with all of the residents and businesses that I represent. To make Sunset Hills a better place in which to live and work."
McGuire, 55, 12501 Maret Drive, is an optometrist. He and his wife, Judy, have two school-aged children.
Seeking election for the first time, McGuire hopes "to offer new leadership to the citizens of Ward 1."
Sawicki, 52, 1498 Royal Spring, is director of facilities for Villa Duchesne and Oak Hill schools. He and his wife, Michele, have three children.
Sawicki is seeking re-election to "continue fiscal responsibility for the city while maintaining services."
The candidates gave the following responses to a Call questionnaire:
What is your position on tax-increment financing?
Hardy said, "When tax-increment financing is used for its original intent and under its original restrictions, then I think it can be used well as a revitalizing tool for a community. In recent years, however, I feel that tax-increment financing has been abused from that original purpose and has become a tool in a land grab as many cities vie for tax dollars. City improvements, both business and residential, are fine, but not at the expense of people's rights and respect."
McGuire said, "TIFs, as they are being used most of the time, are corporate welfare. This was initiated to bring new developments to areas in need of economic influx. This is another example of a good plan being used by corporations other than how it was intended to be used."
Sawicki said, "I am in favor of TIF when used properly. I feel the last two city projects using TIF are great examples of how the financing mechanism can work."
What are your thoughts about the Novus Development Co.'s proposed Main Street at Sunset?
Hardy said, "I believe that this development at the location Novus wants to put it is wrong for several reasons. This area does not need another shopping center at this location. There are vacant stores up and down Watson Road and Lindbergh Boulevard that could easily house prospective retail clients without having to spend $167 million on this development of which $42 million is tax-increment financing money, the largest TIF in St. Louis County. That's $42 million of taxpayer money that could be spent in other areas besides building another shopping center, which just is not needed at that location.
"If Sunset Hills truly wants this development, then there are other areas in the city limits that this development could be built where it would better serve the community and, at the same time, would not displace 255 homes and 18 businesses. This $42 million of TIF money does not even include the additional $18 million in transportation development district (funds) for road modifications around this development ... I also feel that an outdoor type shopping center just would not work well in the St. Louis climate. This has been proven by other shopping centers that were of the outdoor type and have done poorly because of the extreme heat and cold in this area. Simply put, people prefer to shop in comfort, which an outdoor shopping center just does not provide year round."
McGuire said, "The Main Street at Sunset project has certainly been proposed at an inopportune time with the Lindbergh School District asking for a 65-cent (tax-rate) increase. Most residents don't see a need for another mall, as we have ample shopping opportunities within 10 to 15 minutes in any direction. Novus' procurement of property policies have been called into question. I have yet to hear or read why the budget for the project increased dramatically from $120-plus to $160-plus million."
Sawicki said, "It appears to be an ambitious project and I feel Novus has provided answers to the TIF Commission's questions. If the project moves forward, it would diversify the city's financial base."
If Novus Development seeks eminent domain for its proposed Main Street at Sunset, would you grant this request?
Hardy said, "Eminent domain was intended to be used for property acquisition for the purpose of public use, like schools or roads, and with just compensation to the property owner for his property. In this situation, Novus Development is not proposing to use this land for any public use. Their proposal is for pure private use and profit, which goes against the original definition for eminent domain. Novus Development also is not negotiating with all property owners to achieve a fair and just compensation for their property. In many instances, I have been told by property owners that Novus has given them a "take-it-or-leave-it offer" with the implication of otherwise taking the property with eminent domain.
"That is not negotiating. That's strong arming a property owner into unwanted submission. Property rights for an individual are a basic principal for all Americans, regardless of socioeconomic level. These rights are clearly not being considered or protected here. No, under its current operation practices and the use for the development, I would not grant Novus Development's request for eminent domain,'' Hardy said.
McGuire said, "No. Eminent domain should only be used for civic projects, i.e. roads, schools, etc."
Sawicki said, "Yes."