Condition assessment of Sunset Manor should be finished soon

By BURKE WASSON

A revised condition assessment of the Sunset Manor subdivision is behind schedule, but possibly will be presented to Sunset Hills aldermen at some point this month.

Mayor John Hunzeker said that John Hoal of H3 Studios still is gathering information on other county subdivisions that he used as comparisons for the future redevelopment of Sunset Manor.

“I think what’s holding it up is Hoal needed to talk to more people from the municipalities that were involved in the case studies,” Hunzeker said. “I don’t think he had enough information on some of those.”

During an Aug. 16 public hearing, Hoal used five areas as case studies for aldermen to consider in their efforts to revitalize Sunset Manor. These include Old Ferguson West in Ferguson, Meacham Park in Kirkwood, the Hilltop Neighborhood in Olivette, various neighborhoods in Clayton and German Boulevard in Frontenac.

Instead of deciding on a particular neighborhood as a model to improve Sunset Manor, however, Ward 2 Alderman John Littlefield and Ward 4 Aldermen Frank Gregory and Donald Parker said at that meeting they would like Hoal to also study commercial options for the subdivisions.

Hunzeker has said while he can see from Hoal’s study that retail companies probably would like to use the neighborhood for commercial purposes, that is not his wish and believes the majority of Sunset Manor residents also would be opposed.

The mayor recently was in contact with Hoal and said he hopes that the revised condition assessment, which originally was scheduled to be presented in September, might be revealed in the next few weeks.

“I don’t know if there’s any specific timetable,” Hunzeker said Saturday. “We still have two weeks before the next Board of Aldermen meeting (on Nov. 14). So maybe something will come out by then, hopefully.”

Among Hoal’s conclusions in his previous condition assessment was that while Sunset Manor is a relatively stable subdivision, it is facing the strain of a neighborhood typical of the 1950s that is located near a heavily traveled intersection. The area is near Interstate 44, Watson Road and South Lindbergh Boulevard.

Parker, Littlefield, Ward 1 Alderman Michael Sawicki and Ward 3 Alderman Jan Hoffmann all served on the previous Board of Aldermen that approved commercial use at Sunset Manor. The Novus Development Co. was originally set to raze 254 homes last year to make way for the planned MainStreet at Sunset shopping center. But those plans died in the fall of 2005 after Novus President Jonathan Browne said that his company’s lender had withdrawn funding for the development. Some current aldermen, however, insist that Browne never had the funding in place for the development.

In May 2005, the Board of Aldermen approved Novus’ request for $42 million in tax-increment financing, or TIF, to help fund the $165.2 million shopping center. The pact with Novus also included $20 million in transportation development district, or TDD, reimbursements.

The Board of Aldermen also authorized the use of eminent domain to acquire those properties that Novus did not have under contract.

But in January, St. Louis County Circuit Judge Gloria Clark Reno ruled that aldermen did not comply with state law in May 2005 when they adopted the two ordinances related to the Sunset Manor redevelopment project. Aldermen then voted unanimously on Feb. 14 to adopt an ordinance repealing six ordinances related to the redevelopment project.

Since that time, Hoal has concluded that the population of Sunset Manor has seen a trend of switching from owner occupants to renters. Fifty-three percent of residential properties in the subdivision are owner occupied and 47 percent of homes are occupied by renters, according to his study.

Hoal also concluded on Aug. 16 that there already were more homes sold this year in the 25.15-acre subdivision than all of last year. The condition assessment found that 39 residential properties — 13 percent overall — had changed ownership as of Aug. 16 while 34 homes — 11.5 percent overall — were sold in all of 2005. He also noted that only one property was sold in both 2005 and 2006 and that the sales were evenly distributed throughout the subdivision.

The condition assessment also found that 66 percent of properties in the subdivision are assessed in the $15,000 to $19,999 range and that 20.3 percent are in the $20,000 to $50,000 range.

As for the homes’ conditions, H3 Studios found that 55.5 percent of properties are in good condition, 43.8 percent of properties are in fair condition and only two homes are listed in poor condition.