Department of Planning hears objections to proposed police station

Neighbors concerned about location in residential neighborhood

By Mike Anthony

Nine people voiced objections to St. Louis County’s proposal to construct a new police station at 315 Sappington Barracks Road during a recent informational hearing conducted by the Department of Planning.

As proposed, the Police Department’s 4th Precinct, which currently operates at three separate buildings, would be consolidated into a single building on county-owned property at Sappington Barracks and Telegraph roads. The roughly 5.2-acre site previously housed the Jefferson Barracks Boys and Girls Club.

The $1.7 million new police station would be roughly 8,000 square feet in size. About 80 officers would be dispatched from the precinct in shifts of 14 officers.

Residents opposing the proposal said their objection was not with the Police Department or the need for a new station, but rather with the location in a residential neighborhood. They voiced concerns about noise, lights and increased traffic, and also objected to losing a neighborhood park, which includes ball fields. The park also has tennis courts, but they currently are in disrepair.

Four speakers supported the new police station, saying the building would not be intrusive and the police presence would be a welcome addition to the neighborhood.

During a presentation to the roughly 20 people who attended the Sept. 25 hearing, Dan Naunheim, a division manager for Department of Public Works, said county officials looked at several other potential locations for the station before deciding on the one proposed.

“Contrary to popular belief, we are not going to be building a heliport … We’re not putting in a firing rage,” he said. “There’s been some talk about that, and we’re not building a 250-foot, 300-foot-tall transmission tower on this property either.”

The proposed location of the new police station would be close to the site’s existing building, which would be demolished.

“… The proposed location — this is just a rough location right now. It could move anywhere on the site. We just wanted to keep it somewhat close to the existing parking lot and minimize the overall cost,” Naunheim said.

The tennis courts and ball fields would be removed and replaced with grass, according to the proposal.

Among those speaking in favor of the new police station was Emil Fett, who is retired from St. Louis Police Department.

“… If people in the area are afraid that this is going to be a nuisance to them, it’s ludicrous. This is probably one of the best things that could happen to the area and help raise property values as well …,” he said.

Craig Gissy, representing the South County Chamber of Commerce, said the chamber sent a letter in support of the proposal to County Executive Charlie Dooley and 6th District County Councilman Steve Stenger, D-Affton.

A modern and efficient building for the Police Department would be an asset to the county and its residents, he said.

“We understand the costs that are outlined in the separate buildings and how this could be a … cost savings to the county as well for taxpayers. As part of the chamber, we are looking out for the businesses and such and we feel that this would be very valuable for the south county area …,” Gissy said.

Sally Hodges, who said she has lived in south county for 43 years, also supported the proposal.

“… I can’t believe anybody would be against this. There’s no intrusion … ,” she said. “Every time a police officer gets in his car, he risks his life, and I see nothing wrong with putting it there. I would be glad to have it next door to me, and I think the fact that we’re even here is a little bit absurd …”

Kristi Hare was among those opposed to the new police station.

“… My property directly backs up to the 90 parking spaces where you’re proposing to have the police station. Now when this was a park, yes, people used that parking lot, but not daily,” she said. “We appreciate the police and everything that they do. We agree they need new facilities. However, you cannot say that will not affect our lives. From my backyard, I hear a lot — the noise, the lights, all of it.

“They’re taking away a park, which is part of the reason we bought our homes there. The proposed fencing or landscaping, I think that needs to be more well defined …,” Hare added.

Resident Joe Zewishi said, “First and foremost, I’d like to state that we do want a new nice facility for the Police Department. We feel it should be in a commercialized area, highly visible, with four-lane access, is what we’re after. We’re not against the precinct at all. They could be a great asset to the whole community. What we are against is putting it in a hundred percent, basically, surrounded by residential homes …”

Resident John Flieg said he purchased his home because of the proximity to the park with its ball fields and green space. He also suggested moving the location of the new police station closer to Sappington Barracks Road.

“… Now if this is going to be (the) place it needs to be at — if it is jammed down our throats where it is going to be at — this is the wrong spot for it,” he said of the proposed location of the station. “The spot is next to the road where it’s highly visible and that’s what we’re going for — highly visible in our community. Back here, nobody’s going to see it …”

By moving the station along the road, the park could remain as it is, Flieg said, noting the fields are active every night and on weekends.

“So it is not an inactive park, it’s a very active park. It is a nice green spot in the middle of the community …,” he said.

Flieg’s father, Tony Flieg, said he has lived in the neighborhood for 49 years and advocated moving the station closer to the road.

“… That way, we still can have the majority of the park …,” Tony Flieg said.

Lloyd Sloan, of west county, said he was speaking for a Lemay resident who was unable to attend.

“… I’m here on behalf of Lisa Pannett, who lives in the Lemay area and is with Campaign for Liberty — and so am I — and so that’s why she contacted me. She could not be at this meeting. The first thing I have to express is at least her opinions. She’s very displeased this meeting that this meeting was apparently moved from a neighborhood meeting and put at 5 o’clock in Clayton,” he said.

“That’s probably not the best way to get the community involvement, and I agree with that. I think you probably have to do a better job of getting neighborhood involvement by keeping these types of meetings more local. I’m sure if they decide something in your neighborhood, you’d rather they do it closer to you …,” Sloan added.

The informational hearing originally was scheduled for 7 p.m. Sept. 24 at Hope Vineyard Church, 2923 Telegraph Road, 63125.

Sharon Bertram, who has lived in the Lemay area since 1954, said she was concerned the police station would increase traffic on Sappington Barracks Road.

“… Certainly I support the St. Louis County Police and all their efforts for us … I go by that park about five or seven times a day and, to me, the access to it is very poor. I think there would have to be significant improvements to Sappington Barracks Road …

“To me, you have to improve that road a lot in order to, I think, get people in and out judiciously and quickly …,” Bertram added.

Resident Cathy Armbruster also noted the change of the meeting’s time, date and location.

“… First of all, I want to say it is an inconvenience for the people in the community by changing the meeting, instead of having it in our community, having to come all the way out to Clayton and during the rush-hour traffic. I think you’re just hoping for a low turnout by doing it. That’s what it looks like,” she said

“And I’m in favor of a new police station. So don’t get me wrong. I am in favor of it, but not in the middle of a subdivision. The people don’t want the noise, the traffic … It’s an inconvenience for all the people in the subdivision …”

Armbruster also was critical of the proposal to close the park.

“… It’s a beautiful park, and what it is, is that Charlie Dooley wanted to close parks. Then he said he’s not going to close parks. OK, what is he doing now? He’s closing another park. He’s going to make a police station out of it. So the people in the community will not have a park for their kids to play in …”

Department of Planning officials compiled residents’ comments and concerns in a report presented to the County Council earlier this week.

The County Council voted earlier this year to approve a $5 million bond issue that will fund the $1.7 million cost of the new police station. Bond payments will be covered by the roughly $120,000 per year the county spends on rent for the three buildings currently used by the 4th Precinct.

As proposed, construction is expected to start next spring and be completed by the end of 2013.