County Council takes over contract for Affton precinct due to Port Authority’s limbo

The Sappington Garden Shop advertises its store closing sale on Saturday, Nov. 10. The store closed in November and the property will be used for the new Affton Southwest Precinct. Photo by Gloria Lloyd.

The Sappington Garden Shop advertises its store closing sale on Saturday, Nov. 10. The store closed in November and the property will be used for the new Affton Southwest Precinct. Photo by Gloria Lloyd.

By Gloria Lloyd
News Editor

The St. Louis County Council is taking over the contract to buy land for a new Affton Southwest Precinct after the county Economic Development Partnership ran up against a deadline to seal the deal that it would not be able to meet due to legal limbo.

The St. Louis County Port Authority contracted with Heimos Properties LLC for $3.4 million in Proposition P funds to buy the 7-acre Heimos family property and the site of the now-closed Sappington Garden Shop, but the deal was set to expire Dec. 28.

Since the Port Authority is in legal limbo (see Page 6A), if the council did nothing the contract would expire and the county could lose the land to another buyer.

Allowing the contract to lapse would be the “easy thing to do,” but it’s not what the council wants, said 6th District Councilman Ernie Trakas, R-Oakville, one of Affton’s legislators and a key proponent of the new precinct.

To a group of police that were attending the meeting to protest proposed budget cuts to the county Police Department, Trakas added, “People up here support the police, we’re not against you.”

Trakas asked for a motion to suspend the rules so that the bill could be introduced and perfected in the same meeting, and the council unanimously agreed and unanimously voted for the legislation.

A new precinct was one of the key promises of Proposition P, a half-cent countywide sales tax meant for police.

The county plans to use four acres for the new precinct and sell the rest, county police Chief Jon Belmar told the council in May. The county is buying five lots — 11448, 11500, 11520 and 11530 Gravois Road — directly across from the new Lindbergh Schools Central Office.

But that requires the county to buy the property first. And that was jeopardized in a dispute between County Executive Steve Stenger and council members over changes the council made to county law that allows them to appoint their own Port Authority because they object to decisions made by the original Port Authority.

The council did just that in November, when they appointed members submitted by each council member and even named an executive director for the second Port Authority, former Economic Partnership CEO Denny Coleman, an ally of former County Executive Charlie Dooley who left soon after Stenger came into office.

The original Port Authority was appointed by Dooley and Buzz Westfall and did not have any Stenger appointees until Stenger reappointed and added members to counter what he saw as the council’s usurped authority.

The council claims that the Economic Partnership, which staffs the original Port Authority, is using it as a vehicle to award contracts to Stenger donors and allies.

Now, council members are saying that the Economic Partnership dropped the ball on the Affton precinct contract, noticing about a week ago that the contract expires on Dec. 28.

Economic Partnership spokeswoman Katy Jamboretz did not respond to a request for comment.

“The police chief came to us and said, ‘Can you help us?’and we’re glad to do that because the precinct is very important to us,” said council Chairman Sam Page, D-Creve Coeur.

In his last meeting as a councilman, departing 5th District Councilman Pat Dolan, D-Richmond Heights, said, “It’s vital to the 3rd Precinct officers and to the residents as well.”

In a meeting of the new shadow Port Authority last week, Page explained the precinct situation to the new members and said he regretted that the Port Authority was ever involved with the south county land deal.

“This probably should have never been a Port Authority project in the first place,” Page said.

The county will take out bonds for the land and construction of the precinct, paid for by Prop P funds.