Administrator reflects on redevelopment moratorium
Crestwood city officials started 2003 with an aggressive approach to redevelopment, but by early fall had placed a moratorium on such efforts largely in response to what City Administrator Don Greer terms "a very significant misinformation campaign.''
Greer, who has served as the city's police chief since 1990 and continues to hold that post, was named city administrator by the Board of Aldermen in December 2002.
Greer succeeded Kent Leichliter, who had served as Crestwood's city administrator since 1978.
During a recent interview with the Call, Greer reflected on his first 12 months as Crestwood's city administrator and discussed a number of issues, including the moratorium on redevelopment, which he initially proposed in a Sept. 5 memorandum to Mayor Jim Robertson and the Board of Aldermen.
Besides calling for a moratorium on the redevelopment of the Watson/Grant Redevelopment Area and Watson Plaza, Greer proposed a series of forums to begin "an accurate, truthful series of discussions with Crestwood residents'' about redevelopment.
"Consider for a moment the concept of establishing a moratorium on RFP (request for proposals) consideration for the areas of Grant and Watson and Watson Plaza. These are the two areas that we have aggressively pursued by issuing and reviewing RFPs. By instituting a moratorium, the board will be lifting the veil of redevelopment from these sites,'' Greer wrote, paving the way for discussions with residents about redevelopment.
A month earlier, Greer had issued a new request for proposals to redevelop the 18.79-acre site that is comprised of two parcels at Watson and Grant roads. The larger of the two parcels contains Value City and is owned by Joe Grasso, while the smaller parcel contains the Creston Center and is owned by the Boegeman family.
Members of the Boegeman family repeatedly have told aldermen they will not sell their property and have vowed to fight any efforts to acquire their property through eminent domain.
The new request for proposals was issued to satisfy a recent amendment to a city ordinance regarding the use of urban redevelopment corporations. In response to the city's original request for proposals issued in April 2002, two proposals were submitted — one from the Jones Co. and one from Mills Properties. The Jones Co. later withdrew its proposal and the Board of Aldermen voted last March to name Mills Properties as the preferred developer of the site. Mills had proposed a $37.1 million development that would include about 240 luxury apartment units and 19 luxury condominiums.
Regarding Watson Plaza, aldermen had voted in December 2002 to issue a request for proposals to redevelop the plaza.
One proposal was received by the Feb. 28 deadline — from G.J. Grewe Inc., which owns 92 percent of the property within the redevelopment area. The total cost of Grewe's redevelopment project was estimated at $12,527,025. The estimated cost included a request for $2.5 million in tax-increment financing assistance, but excluded the costs of bond issuance and the creation of a transportation development district to fund the actual costs of transportation improvements.
The only parcel within Watson Plaza not owned by the company is the former Service Merchandise site. Service Merchandise filed for bankruptcy in 1999 and the rights to the Crestwood site are owned by Developers Diversified Realty, a real estate investment trust based in Cleveland, Ohio. In June, the board voted to reopen for 60 days the request for proposals process to redevelop Watson Plaza after representatives of DDR told aldermen they had not received the request for proposals and asked that the process be reopened so DDR could submit a proposal.
However, at the end of the 60-day period, no additional proposals were received.
In September, the Board of Aldermen voted to withdraw the request for proposals for the Watson/Grant Redevelopment Area and to establish the moratorium on redevelopment. The board's action also ended consideration of Grewe's proposal for Watson Plaza.
Asked about what led to his decision to propose the moratorium, Greer told the Call, "I was disappointed. It was not an easy recommendation to make to the board that we do that, but, as I'm sure you're well aware, we were put in a position of being on the quiet end of a very significant misinformation campaign. I don't know what else to call it.
"The information that was being and continues to be put out by the Crestwood Smart Growth Alliance — whoever that is — is not accurate. It's very biased and I don't know what their motivations are. It's not my place to guess what their motivations are ...
"They seem to be against everything. I don't know what they're for and I always look to see what people are for. It helps me understand what their motivation is and where they're going. When you're against everything, I don't know what your motivation is except to be against everything. It's very negative and this world is negative enough today,'' he continued.
"So it was not an easy decision, I was not comfortable doing it other than I felt it was more important for the city to be in a position where we could discuss the rationale behind why we do what we do, and I didn't feel like we could do that as long as those proposals were pending,'' the city administrator added.
In July, two representatives of the newly formed Crestwood Smart Growth Alliance began voicing concerns to the Board of Aldermen about Mills Properties' proposal to redevelop the site at Watson and Grant Roads.
Crestwood Smart Growth Alliance Chairman Kelley Isherwood, an Oakville residents, says the membership of his organization numbers in the hundreds, but on several occasions has declined to provide the Call with a membership list.
The organization's attorney, Mary Schultz, also represents the Boegeman family's Crest Development Co., which owns the Creston Center. The Boegeman family is in the final stages of spending $150,000 to $200,000 to renovate the Creston Center.
At the time the board approved the renovation plans late last year, aldermen warned members of the Boegeman family they were taking a risk in proceeding because the Creston Center is situated in a proposed redevelopment area.
Both Isherwood and Schultz have addressed the Board of Aldermen several times to voice their concerns about the redevelopment proposal submitted to the city by Mills Properties.
In conjunction with the moratorium, the city has sponsored three forums to discuss redevelopment and related issues with Crestwood residents.
"We're taking a break from aggressively pursuing things and I think that's important to remember that we chose to take a break to better educate our residents and to listen to them,'' the city administrator said. "That should never be construed to think that what we were doing was inappropriate or wrong or not in the best interest of the citizens of the city of Crestwood ... I fully expect we'll be back to that. This is a good, aggressive board. They want to see things happen ...
"The reality is, regardless of what Mr. Isherwood or anyone else wants to believe, the fact of the matter is that Crestwood is a redevelopment city. We are built out. In order for something to happen, almost exclusively something's going to have to change ...,'' Greer continued. "It's absolutely absurd to think that with everything going on in this region, that the city of Crestwood can sit back and say we're such a good destination that people are just going to flock to us.
"That's just not real. That's not happening. You know, maybe in the '70s when we had the only mall, something like that, it was easy. We could be that way, but we can't be that way (now). The shopping dollar has shifted down Watson Road toward Kirkwood and Sunset Hills, further away from the mall (Westfield Shoppingtown Crestwood) than it was.''
The first three forums have been a great success, according to Greer.
Roughly 60 people attended the forums that took place in October and December, while about 35 people attended the third forum in December.
The fourth forum, scheduled for 7 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 20, at City Hall, 1 Detjen Drive, will focus on redevelopment from a business perspective.
The forums provide "an opportunity for us to answer questions and discuss things and educate the public and answer their questions,'' Greer said, noting that he originally had planned to conduct six forums, but aldermen wanted to see the process completed sooner "so we could get back to business because they kind of feel like there's a compelling need for us to be aggressive.
"I applaud that. It's nice when you've got a board that is very eager to see things happen. I think it's time well spent. The time that we've taken and the time that we will take yet is well spent, but I fully anticipate that the Board of Aldermen will want to see us get back to the whole plan of addressing some of these areas that are problem areas.''
After the final forum on Jan. 20, Greer said, "I would fully expect that we'll be talking to the board to see what direction they'd like to see us take ... I'll go in whatever direction the board chooses to go.
"We continue to — in almost any conversation we have with some of these areas — we continue to look at the placement of alternative housing, condominiums, quality housing opportunities,'' the city administrator concluded.