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Sunset Manor residents' suit alleges city won't enforce housing, sign codes


September 28, 2005 - By LAURA UHLMANSIEK

Staff Reporter

A group of Sunset Manor subdivision residents on Monday filed a lawsuit against the city of Sunset Hills that seeks to compel the city to enforce its safety and maintenance standards for housing.

Sunset Manor is the site of the Novus Development Co.'s proposed MainStreet at Sunset, a $165.2 million lifestyle shopping center at Interstate 44, Watson Road and South Lindbergh Boulevard. The project will raze 254 homes and several businesses. Only the Hampton Inn and Denny's res-taurant will remain.

Five Sunset Manor residents filed the lawsuit against the city and City Engineer Ronald Williams that alleges the city has refused to enforce its Housing Code and Sign Ordinance in the subdivision.

"In the last few weeks, city officials have specifically told relators and other residents that they would not perform inspections and/or enforce the Housing Code and Sign Ordinance until after Sept. 30, 2005, which is Novus' self-imposed deadline to obtain financing and close on properties it intends to purchase," according to the suit.

Residents filing the petition are Kathryn Tripp, Judith Post, Kenneth Hernton, Con-nie Kitchel and Roseanne Stein. Tripp and Stein are both members of Stop the Sunset Hills Land Grab, a group of residents and business owners opposed to Novus' proposal.

The lawsuit lists 24 properties, including a home owned by Novus, that the residents have complained about to the city. The petition alleges several code violations, including abandoned cars and trailers, overgrown vegetation, debris in the yards, fallen tree limbs, homes in disrepair, sewage backups and excessive signage.

Williams told the Call that the city has been checking the neighborhood on a weekly basis to see which properties are in violation of city code. The city has sent out several notices and residents must comply or be sent to municipal court.

"We just sent out notices last week for weeds and junk and there were a number of homes with signs on them," Williams said.

The petition alleges the condition of the properties have deteriorated since Novus announced Aug. 18 that its lender, Regions Bank, had withdrawn its funding for the development. Closings on more than 200 homes were scheduled to begin Aug. 22 and many residents who had signed contracts were in the middle of packing when they heard the news.

Novus said it would have to delay closing on the homes until a new lender is secured and extended the closing date on the contracts until Sept. 30.

The Sunset Hills Board of Aldermen in May approved Novus' request for $42 million in tax-increment-financing, or TIF, assistance and $20 million in transportation development district, or TDD, reimbursements to help fund the shopping center.

Paul Ferber of the Brasher Law Firm is representing the five residents and is also representing several other residents in two other lawsuits relating to the Novus proposal.

"Since this TIF project has gotten started, this area has become terribly deteriorated," Ferber told the Call. "The entire area, and it consists mainly of three streets that run east and west, and lots and lots of building code violations, from the exteriors, weeds, signs, trash, boarded up homes ...

"It has just become a horrible, horrible neighborhood with reference to the condition of the properties and we're asking the city to enforce its building codes, that's all there is,'' he added.

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