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Council delays approval of legislation accepting riverfront property for park

Final passage of legislation that would have allowed Twin Hollow Associates to donate 292.81 acres to be used as a new county park on Mississippi riverfront property in Oakville recently was delayed by the County Council.

Councilman Skip Mange, R-Town and Country, told Oakville residents opposing the legislation two weeks ago that bill No. 465 would be held if questions they had raised were not answered by the next council meeting on Dec. 23.

Twin Hollow Associates wants to donate the 292.81-acre tract, but it is retaining a 285-acre section of its property immediately south of Cliff Cave Park and immediately north of the property that it wants to donate.

Residents who live on the river bluffs south of Cliff Cave Park expressed concerns over the bill during a Dec. 16 County Council meeting. They questioned why the private land they overlook, adjacent to Cliff Cave Park and also owned by Twin Hollow Associates, is being filled with shot rock from Bussen Quarries and being raised out of a 100-year flood plain.

A previous agreement allowed hauling to continue until March, but under the proposed legislation, hauling over the properties could continue for two additional years.

Residents asked how the construction would affect property values and area wildlife, how the land being raised out of the flood plain would affect flooding further south and they questioned the permanent access Twin Hollow Associates would gain to the property it would retain.

To answer these questions, Mange met with bluff residents and representatives from Twin Hollow Associates, the Department of Parks and Recreation and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers during the week leading up to the Dec. 23 council meeting.

He said he discovered all the correct permits were in place to haul the fill onto the Twin Hollow Associates property, but he would contact Councilman John Campisi, R-south county, before asking councilmen to delay or consider the bill.

Campisi, who met with bluff residents Dec. 9 at Point Elementary School, was absent from both the Dec. 16 and Dec. 23 council meetings. He was out of town, vacationing with his family.

Chairman Greg Quinn, R-west county, announced last week that the council would take no action and the bill's final consideration would be held until the council's next meeting, scheduled for Tuesday, Jan. 6.

Councilmen had not yet decided whether to change the current proposal or consider the bill as written at the January meeting. This action has prevented Twin Hollow Associates from using the gift as a 2003 tax write-off.

Gary Feder, an attorney with Husch & Eppenberger who represents Twin Hollow Associates, told councilmen he was "disappointed" the consideration of his clients' donation could not have occurred by the end of the year.

"This is unfortunately typically one of those situations where a lot of assumptions are made incorrectly, simply because of miscommunication and lack of communication, none of which rests, in all honesty, rests with my folks," Feder said, referring to the residents' concerns that the middle section of property Twin Hollow Associates would retain would be rezoned for some type of industrial use.

"This is a very substantial gift," he added. "It is rare that a party who is willing to give so much free as a gift would be vilified the way my clients have been attacked based on misinformation, and I think that is an unfortunate situation."

Parks department officials indicated in a previous meeting with residents that Twin Hollow Associates would not donate its property if it could not complete the transaction before Dec. 31.

But Feder told councilmen Dec. 23 that he and his clients would be more than willing to meet with residents and address any concerns so the donation could take place early in 2004.

George Foster, co-owner of Twin Hollow Associates and owner of Jefferson Barracks Marine Service, echoed Feder's statements that he would like to meet with residents to assure them their property would not be negatively affected by the proposed agreement with the county.

"We have no hidden agenda on this property," Foster said. "We have no plans for it."

Once Twin Hollow Associates has fulfilled its obligations to the county, such as donating the land and constructing a 10-acre lake, the company has plans to turn the middle section of land that is being raised out of the flood plain into prairie land, according to Tom Rollins, co-owner.

The company currently is looking into grant opportunities to fund the project and has no intentions of putting the land to industrial use, he said.

"I would hope at the end, that this project would benefit those people that have the gorgeous homes on the bluff, that they would be able to look out, that they would be able to walk out on their back porch, or look out through their living room and say 'I helped to establish that,' and this is what we're doing," Rollins said.

Councilman Kurt Odenwald, R-Shrewsbury, voted against the bill's preliminary approval two weeks ago, but Odenwald told Rollins Dec. 23 that he would take the additional information concerning the company's intentions with the land into account.

"I appreciated your comments about being willing to entertain restrictions," Odenwald said. "I think one of the concerns or questions I have, I think all the residents have, is it's one thing to say something today ... but what happens in the future? Things can change. Things can happen. And I'd be interested in types of restrictions that would be binding so that everyone has an assurance that the prairie that you are talking about ... goes forward."

But bluff residents are not buying Rollins' explanation that the land they overlook will be converted into prairie land, according to Norm Curran, who lives on Susan Road and helped initiate an opposition movement against bill No. 465.

He is pleased the council decided to delay action on the legislation, but he still is convinced that sometime in the future Twin Hollow Associates will try to rezone the land, Curran told the Call, noting the company tried to rezone its property in the 1990s to put in a golf course, but the flood wiped away any plans.

"It's all a rock," he said, referring to the mass of shot rock that has accumulated on the land he overlooks. "How could they make it into a prairie?"

He added, "They've gone so far with just one year of filling. How far are they going to go with a two-year extension?"

Residents are not opposed to a park further south, John Eichorn of Bluff View Circle told councilmen, but they appreciate the extra time for their questions to be answered before the next council meeting.

Owners seemed to have honest intentions for the property based on their "public" explanations, Eichorn said, and bluff residents would be willing to meet with the owners to find a common ground.

Residents planned again to meet with Campisi, according to Curran, before final consideration of the bill. That time had not been set when the Call went to press.

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