Mange to address bluff residents' queries
County Councilman Skip Mange, R-Town and Country, recently assured some Oakville residents that he would delay final passage of legislation donating land to the county if he could not answer questions they had raised.
Oakville residents who live on the bluffs overlooking the Mississippi River have raised concerns about the legislation to accept riverfront land to be used as a county park.
But delaying the legislation would prevent the donors from using the gift as a 2003 tax write-off.
If Twin Hollow Associates, the company offering land to the county, is not able to donate the property by the end of the year, it will not donate the land at all, according to St. Louis County Department of Parks and Recreation officials.
Councilman John Campisi, R-south county, introduced legislation Dec. 9 that, if adopted, would authorize Twin Hollow Associates to donate to the county a 292.81-acre site south of Cliff Cave Park. Twin Hollow Associates is owned by George Foster of Jefferson Barracks Marine Service and Tom Rollins. The legislation also would allow Twin Hollow Associates access through Cliff Cave Park to haul fill material, or shot rock, for two years beginning March 31.
"A number of questions have been raised here today regarding the provisions of this bill and quite frankly I'm a little uncomfortable with some of the things I've heard and I need to make sure in my own mind that what we're doing here is the right thing," Mange said during a Dec. 16 County Council meeting, referring to the many comments bluff residents made during the meeting's open forum.
Mange agreed to represent Campisi, who was absent from the meeting, and introduce his bills while he was out of town and vacationing in Florida. Campisi met with bluff residents at Point Elementary School about a week before he left for vacation.
Twin Hollow Associates is donating the 292.81-acre tract, but it is retaining 285 acres immediately south of Cliff Cave Park and immediately north of the property that is being donated.
At the Dec. 16 council meeting, bluff residents voiced concerns over the legislation, praising additional park land to the county — but they also questioned the future use of the land situated between Cliff Cave Park and the tract Twin Hollow Associates wants to donate.
For nearly a year, residents explained, they have watched trucks raise this middle piece of property out of a flood plain. Trucks from Bussen Quarries have been hauling "overburden'' to the edge of Cliff Cave Park for two years, bringing that property out of a 100-year flood plain to protect future park developments, such as shelters and parking lots, during future floods. That section of Cliff Cave Park was under water during the 1993 floods.
Residents told councilmen last week, however, that in February they noticed the trucks were crossing the park property line and were beginning to fill the adjacent private property to raise it out of a flood plain.
Five bluff residents spoke during the meeting's open forum, asking councilmen how bringing property out of the flood plain would affect their property values, flood conditions further south and in Illinois, and the area's beauty and wildlife. They also were concerned that the easements in the legislation would give Twin Hollow Associates too much access through Cliff Cave Park, but mostly residents wanted to know how Twin Hollow Associates planned on developing the 285-acre section of property it will retain.
"I implore you to at least address the issue, postpone it, have a public hearing," Greg Schmittgens said Dec. 16, noting that councilmen were invited to visit his home and the property he was discussing. "It's a beautiful piece of property. It's a shame to see it destroyed."
After the second reading of bill No. 465 and the adoption of a substitute bill that corrected some surveying errors, Mange proposed that councilmen offer their preliminary approval of the legislation with the understanding that they need more information before the bill's final consideration, which was scheduled Tuesday morning — after the Call went to press. Councilmen agreed and offered preliminary approval for the gift legislation, 4-1.
Councilman Kurt Odenwald, R-Shrewsbury, voted against the bill's preliminary approval.
Gary Feder, an attorney with Husch & Eppenberger who represents Twin Hollow Associates, also addressed councilmen last week, asking them to support the legislation.
Feder told the Call he believed the residents' concerns were not legitimate because his clients have no intentions of developing the property adjacent to Cliff Cave Park.
"As far as what Mr. Foster and Mr. Rollins of Twin Hollows plan to do with their property (the 285-tract they would retain), first of all to make it clear, what currently is being done is to raise about 20 acres of this property out of flood plain and it appears ... there is no plan nor any amount of fill close to being enough to take the entire property out of the flood plain," Feder told councilmen.
"At the most, optimistically, perhaps a 100 acres will be brought up out of the flood plain. They have no plans for the property. At this time, their current plan is to again maintain its agricultural use. To the extent that they would ever do anything else with it, they would be subject to the zoning process, the public hearings ... In the meantime, we think this is a very significant offer of a very substantial amount being given to the county."
When asked why any of the Twin Hollow property needed to be raised out of the flood plain, Feder told the Call that Bussen Quarries has a surplus of overburden or fill that it needs to dispose of and filling the Twin Hollows property, which is adjacent to the Cliff Cave Park land that already was being raised out of the flood plain, was a "logical" way to get rid of the surplus fill.
Feder also said that he is concerned that the approval of the Twin Hollow donation could be postponed until next year, which would prevent his client from receiving a tax write-off. He said he gladly would answer any questions Mange had before Tuesday's meeting so councilmen would have enough information to approve the bill.
Mange told the Call that before he could support the bill, he needed to see project and site plans for the land that is being discussed. He said he wanted to understand what easements and access points the county would grant Twin Hollow if the legislation was passed and he wanted to know more about the fill the residents kept discussing.
As of last Friday, Mange said he discovered the projects had been approved by the the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. He walked down to the riverfront property and took some personal measurements to ensure Twin Hollow documents were matching what realistically was being raised out of the flood plain and what was being donated.
He and Lou Chiodini, Campisi's assistant, spoke with the owners of Twin Hollow Associates last Thursday and also met with parks department representatives Friday to gain more information about the properties in question. Bluff residents were invited to the Friday meeting in the council's conference room.
Mange told residents Friday that he would continue to investigate their concerns. He said he would speak with the Twin Hollow owners again and he also would consult with Campisi to see how he would further act on the situation. At that point, he said he still did not know what he would recommend at Tuesday's council meeting, but he had three choices: He could recommend to pass the bill, reject the bill or hold it until a January council meeting once all questions have been answered and all concerns have been addressed.
Chiodini told the Call Campisi has directed him to help Mange as much as possible, noting that it was not Campisi's intention to slip legislation by residents who obviously have concerns surrounding the proposed legislation during his absence.
"John (Campisi) never tried to hide anything," Chiodini said.