Blighting bill attracts Sunset Manor citizens

By Robert Chalupny

Consideration of an ordinance authorizing the city of Sunset Hills to implement blighting and redevelopment procedures drew a crowd of Sunset Manor residents to a recent Board of Aldermen meeting.

Sunset Manor, a 57-acre subdivision east of Lindbergh Boulevard and north of Watson Road, just south of Interstate 44, has been a focal point of proposed redevelopment twice in the past year.

The ordinance authorizing Sunset Hills to implement blighting and redevelopment procedures specifically was approved last week by the Board of Aldermen to further the redevelopment of a 2.9-acre parcel that currently houses two brick homes and a mobile-home park.

However, a group of Sunset Manor residents are skeptical and believe that the ordinance could be directed at them.

Carol Morrison, a Sunset Manor resident, voiced her concerns about the ordinance to the Board of Aldermen at its Oct. 14 meeting.

“I think my concern is I live off of Deane (Court) and I was wondering if you adopt this, if you were going to be able to use it in other areas also in adopting the blighting? You’re not only adopting it for this trailer park,” Morrison said.

City Attorney Robert C. Jones responded to her question by pointing out that adopting the ordinance gives the city the right to use the blighting and redevelopment procedures, including eminent domain, in other areas, but that there was no intention to do that.

Morrison said, “So you could use it if Novus (Development) wants to come in and take us, then you could also blight us.”

“It’s conceivable it could, but we have no intention to do that,” Jones said. “If we were to pass this ordinance six months from now it would do the same thing if we wanted to use it for Sunset Manor.”

“So it’s really not directed at Sunset Manor. It’s directed to set up a procedure so that we can have a hearing on Nov. 11, plus making a blighting study, thus making a determination of what to do with the property which is presently out for a request for proposals,” the city attorney continued.

“The fact of the matter is, it is a general law that could be used in some other area … Somehow, you have the idea this thing is being passed for Sunset Manor. I’m sorry, but you’re just plain dead wrong,” Jones concluded.

Another Sunset Manor resident, Neil Baechle, addressed the board with the same concerns and made a point about the timing of the ordinance.

“My question is why is it time now three weeks after my people, my fellow residents in Sunset Manor got these proposals,” Baechle asked.

Currently, Novus Development is working toward buying out homes in the area in an effort to place a retail center with some office space as well.

The company has offered to pay homeowners 175 percent of the 2003 assessed valuation of their homes. That means that a house valued at $75,000 would be worth $131,250 to the developer.

The general counsel for Novus development, Joe Walsh, told the Call that the company had about 100 signed contracts from residents in the area.

Ward 1 Alderman Joseph Rathert, who represents residents from Sunset Manor, said that he can sympathize with Baechle’s concerns as well those raised by Morrison.

“I totally appreciate that because if I was a property owner and I got knocks on the door and letters saying, you know: ‘We want to buy your property.’

“I totally, Mike Sawicki and I are your aldermen and we talk about this all the time and we understand your frustration,” Rathert said.

“We don’t have the ability to stop a developer from coming down your street, but this truly has absolutely nothing to do with Sunset Manor,” he added.

Sunset Manor residents also were approached last year by the Sansone Group, which proposed a similar development, offering each resident $150,000 per home.

The company proposed a retail center in the area that would have been called Sunset Crossing.

Ultimately, there was not enough support from the city or the residents to make the project happen.