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Council drops consideration of legislation accepting donation of 300 acres to county

After nearly four months of public opposition and revisions to legislation that would have permitted a donation of about 300 acres of riverfront property to St. Louis County, councilmen no longer will consider the bill.

Instead of approving or rejecting it, councilmen unanimously agreed last week to drop bill No. 465 from consideration.

Hovering on the agenda since last December, the legislation would have permitted Twin Hollow Associates to donate the land to be used as a county park.

Final action on the bill originally was scheduled at the end of 2003, but Oakville residents living on the Mississippi River bluffs, just south of Cliff Cave Park, posed concerns over Twin Hollow, worried about land that was being raised 17 feet out of the flood plain. Residents questioned that the adjacent land Twin Hollow Associates would have retained after the donation— which is immediately south of Cliff Cave Park and immediately north of the nearly 300 acres that would have been donated — was being prepared for industrial use.

County Councilman John Campisi, R-south county, was out of town during final consideration of the bill last December and facing resident opposition to the donation, councilmen agreed to hold the bill until Campisi could address the residents' concerns.

Despite numerous negotiations and deed restrictions Twin Hollow Associates voluntarily would have imposed on its property, prohibiting the certain industrial developments, Campisi asked councilmen to drop the bill.

In a different agreement with the county, Bussen Quarries had until March 15 to complete improvements at Cliff Cave Park. Some of the improvements included the development of trails along the river, parking lot work, the re-establishment of vegetation, building the area up out of the flood plain and the construction of a culvert.

The work was not completed by March 15 and the company had to put up a $50,000 security bond — the second bond the company has had to produce to guarantee it would complete the work, according to Gerard Biedenstein, a senior projects manager for the parks department. A 45-day extension was granted to Twin Hollow Associates, Biedenstein said, so the company could complete the culvert, re-grading around the culvert, seeding for the re-establishment of vegetation and removing the access road used for Bussen Quarries trucks to haul fill.

Access to the property through easements soon will be terminated, according to Campisi, and workers from Bussen Quarries no longer will be able to fill the adjacent property with "shot rock" and raise it out of the flood plain.

Norm Curran, who lives on Susan Road overlooking the property line between Cliff Cave Park and Twin Hollow Associates land, told the Call he and other bluff residents are pleased with the council's decision to drop the legislation.

"We're all feeling elated right now, but we know we have to keep our eyes open and watch what goes on ... There's a lot of things they (Twin Hollow Associates) can do right now."

Curran said he expects Twin Hollow Associates owners to continue to push the donation of the land.

Campisi said that the owners have a right to keep pursuing the donation, but as far as he is concerned, he is "done with it." After visiting the riverfront land that would have been donated, much of which is made up of wetlands, he said he realized it was time to drop the bill.

During a January meeting with bluff and other south county residents, Campisi said he would support the bill, but since has changed his mind, he told the Call.

"I was under the impression ... that the parks department would be able to develop all of that area (the donated land) when in fact, they can't," Campisi said. "They can only develop a small piece ... probably about 10-15 acres ... and so whether the parks department would take over or not, (the rest of that) area would stay the same. And people were just mad about it. And for 10-15 acres, it's just not worth it."

Gary Feder of Husch and Eppenberger, an attorney representing Twin Hollow Associates, told the Call he and his clients are disappointed they were unable to make the donation to the county.

"My guys are trying to figure out, at this point, what they want to do," he said. "They could go back to Councilman Campisi and talk about it some more, but the situation is they own the land ... They need to figure out what they want do with it. The current zoning does permit some uses. I'm not certain they will do anything. If the county doesn't want to work on this thing, there are uses permitted on all the acreage ... They may just decide, at this point, to develop the property."

It was unfortunate there was so much opposition to the donation, he said, because the revised legislation would have included deed restrictions that would have prohibited the very uses the bluff residents were fighting against.

However, Twin Hollow Associates owns the land, he said, and now those deed restrictions do not apply.

He described the residents' efforts as "self-defeating" because the uses that would have been prohibited in the deed restrictions are "back on the table," he said.

He added his clients have made no indication of their future desires for the land and currently have no immediate plans for it.

"Probably 15-20 people who live on the bluffs are controlling what happens there. The county is denying residents 320 acres of property and it is doing all that for 15-20 people, not the constituency Campisi thinks he is representing ...," Feder told the Call. "Obviously I feel this is very unfortunate ... but the bottom line is my guys own the property. Their intent from the beginning making it a gift revolved around the parks department because they wanted trails, but we can't build them without the fill. Without the ordinance, we won't get the easements and we can't build the trails.

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