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Green Park to celebrate 10th anniversary of incorporation


June 22, 2005 - It may have had a rocky start, but as the city of Green Park prepares to celebrate the 10th anniversary of its incorporation, residents say things have smoothed out for the city.

Green Park's 10th anniversary community celebration will take place from noon to 3 p.m. Saturday, June 25, at the City Hall, 11100 Mueller Road.

The day will include demonstrations by the Mehlville Fire Protection District, the St. Louis County Police De-partment and the Show Me State Martial Arts and Fitness Academy. A variety of activities for the family will be available, including performances by a bluegrass band, a clown magic show, children's crafts, a cake walk and a free lunch provided by local businesses.

Parents also may choose to have Kid Safe of St. Louis create a digital identification record containing the fingerprints and a digital picture of their child.

"I would really like to see a lot of kids come," Mayor Steven Armstrong said. "If they come up here for nothing else, at least come up here to do that (Kid Safe)."

The event will provide residents an opportunity to meet neighbors, as well as community leaders, including the mayor, the Board of Aldermen, City Hall personnel and members of the Green Park Chamber of Commerce, which is sponsoring the event.

"I want the residents to come up, mingle, hopefully get to know their neighbors, get to know our boards and commissions, you know, just to get out and meet everyone in the community," City Clerk Diana Mize said.

The campaign to incorporate the city started in 1994 with Fred Hoehn, a south county resident who organized the Citi-zens Committee to Incorporate Green Park, a group of residents who wanted Green Park to be its own city and to let its residents decide how their taxes were spent. Ron Moss, who later served as a Green Park alderman, said he became involved in the campaign after Hoehn contacted him about organizing a meeting.

"There were some people that wanted to incorporate this whole area — south county — and he (Hoehn) didn't think that was a good idea for this area (Green Park),'' Moss said. "So, instead of being a part of another incorporation — we have a strong tax base here — he thought we should incorporate ourselves. A lot of people thought it was a good idea, and we wrote up a petition and got a lot of petitions signed."

The committee faced opposition from other residents who believed the incorporation would mean higher taxes or did not want to see the county fragmented.

"We had some ups and downs, but you know, after a lot of people realized what a majority of people wanted in this city, things settled down," Moss said.

The committee also faced competition as other groups were working toward incorporation. The Citizens to Incorporate South County were working to incorporate the entire south county area into the city of South Pointe and they said the incorporation of Green Park would take away financial resources that would be needed for the whole area. A group also was working to incorporate the Affton area and another group was working to incorporate the Sappington-Concord area. Only the South Pointe proposal made it to the ballot and it was overwhelmingly defeated by voters.

The Green Park group presented a petition with over 600 signature to South County Council in October of 2004. The County placed the initiative on the ballot for the April 4, 1995 election so that voters could choose whether they wanted to incorporate the 1.3 square miles that now make up Green Park, an area bounded by Gateway Trailnet, Tesson Ferry Road, Lindbergh Boulevard and Interstate 55.

Sixty-nine percent of voters supported the incorporation of Green Park, with 900 of 2,400 residents voting. The city officially was incorporated at a ceremony June 1, 1995.

The city's first leaders were named by St. Louis County Councilwoman Deborah Kersting of Oakville. Bill Gerdemann was named as mayor, and Bob Cawein, Patricia Gang, Trudy Hoey and Larry Kuban as aldermen. Cawein resigned from the post before the official incorporation ceremony, and the County Council appointed Kuban to replace him and chose Tim Tierney to fill the empty alderman position.

The new city leaders were faced with the task of building a city from scratch. They had to draft ordinances, establish a line of credit, contract with the St. Louis County Police Department and St. Louis County Department of Highways and Traffic and place initiatives on the ballot, including one seeking a 5 percent utility tax.

"What we (Board of Aldermen) did was we visited other cities — fourth-class cities, charter cities — and had to learn, really under fire and under a short period of time, about how a city functioned and ran and what you needed," Kuban told the Call. "That was a lot of work — a tremendous amount of work. When I was mayor, I spent at least 60 or 70 hours a week for the city."

When the city did not have a road services department, Kuban said he had to fix a large pothole himself.

"It kept me up all night, and I didn't want the city to get sued, and I said: 'How am I gonna get this pothole filled?'... At 8 o'clock in the morning I was up at Home Quarters. I waited for the doors to open and bought four bags of asphalt patch and poured that into the hole and drove my car back and forth over the pothole," he said.

One particularly large bump in the city's development was a move by city leaders to provide up to $4.5 million in tax-increment financing assistance to Home Depot, which planned to build a store on Yuma Drive and turn 11.97 acres of residential area to commercial. The proposal had divided both the Board of Aldermen and the city.

During a meeting Dec. 9, 1997, the Board of Aldermen voted 3-0 with two abstentions to approve the TIF ordinance, with Ward 2 Aldermen Richard George and Moss, the Ward 3 Alderman, abstaining. Kuban requested the rules be suspended and the vote held open until the Dec. 22, 1997, meeting so that Ward 1 Al-derman Reney Howe, who was absent Dec. 9, could vote.

When Howe also abstained, Kuban changed the three abstentions to "no" votes to create a 3-3 board tie before casting the deciding vote in favor of the measure.

A flurry of lawsuits ensued that took a couple of years and courts to untangle.

Eventually, a judge ruled the TIF ordinance and the ordinance approving the site-development plan were never lawfully enacted because abstentions cannot be counted as votes and denied any requests for relief by Home Depot.

"I guess the time when that TIF came, that was a chaotic time, a lot of people were totally against it from the very beginning because it was corporate welfare, and I guess I was for it, for the betterment of the community," Kuban said. "We lost a lot of money because Home Depot didn't move in and since then St. Louis County is getting all that money."

Moss, one of the aldermen who abstained from the TIF ordinance, said the city has learned from the past.

"I guess while I was in there — the Home Depot for the Yuma Drive property — that had the city tore up," Moss said. "We had a change in administration from that. I think the elected officials realized they need to proceed as the residents wish."

Now city leaders say the city is cruising. The city is in the process of replacing its older asphalt streets with concrete streets and has minimized truck traffic on Green Park Road. The city also has not spent more than it earned in revenue since 1999, and has an estimated surplus for 2005 of about $1.9 million.

"I think we're moving in a very positive direction," Armstrong said. "Residents are seeing streets being replaced now that we've got the capital improvements tax in place ... Things are moving in a good direction and residents are seeing the benefits of being a city now."

With the first 10 years past, residents say the next 10 years have strong potential for the city of Green Park.

"In 10 years this city has gone from this rocky start and front-page headlines to a city where just about any other city could come here and learn about how to run a city without controversy, without deficit spending, without overtaxation," said Jim Smoot, a local business owner and president of the Green Park Chamber of Commerce. "I think a lot of cities should come down to Green Park and see how it's done."

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