Two incumbents and two political newcomers were elected April 3 to two-year seats on the Sunset Hills Board of Aldermen.
Incumbent Ward 2 Alderman John Littlefield, who was unopposed, and incumbent Ward 3 Alderman Jan Hoffmann both were re-elected.
Hoffmann handily defeated challenger Wolfgang D. Volz. She received 293 votes — 72.89 percent — while Volz received 109 votes — 27.11 percent. She has served as an alderman since 1991.
Douglas J. McGuire Jr., who ran unopposed, is the city’s new Ward 1 Alderman and replaces incumbent Ward 1 Alderman Michael Sawicki, who did not seek re-election.
Mike Svoboda easily defeated incumbent Ward 4 Alderman Donald Parker. Svoboda received 226 votes — 62.26 percent — while Parker received 137 votes — 37.74 percent. Parker had served as an alderman since 1999. This was the first time he was challenged in an election.
Sunset Hills voters also overwhelmingly approved Proposition P, a half-cent sales-tax increase that is estimated to generate from $750,000 to $950,000 per year for parks and stormwater improvements. The sales-tax increase was supported by 818 voters — 67.60 percent — and opposed by 392 voters — 32.40 percent. Prop P raises Sunset Hills’ overall sales tax from 6.825 percent to 7.325 percent, which mirrors Crestwood’s overall sales tax.
All four of the city’s successful aldermanic candidates said they are pleased that voters supported Prop P and hope to create additional park space within the city.
Besides focusing on efforts in which aldermen have already engaged, McGuire said that as a new alderman, he hopes to bring some new ideas to the city.
“I’m there to bring fresh ideas,” McGuire said. “Hopefully, I am one of the people that can hopefully be another voice of reason … We’ve had an old guard. And I think everything needs to be replaced. None of these positions should be a lifelong seat. We should have people that we believe in fulfilling civic obligations.”
At the same time, Littlefield said he believes the city’s Board of Aldermen — which was filled last year with four new aldermen and Mayor John Hunzeker — lacks the experience necessary to fully accelerate the city, which he believes is still on the right track.
“We have some continuing mending to do within the entire city,” Littlefield said. “And I do think we have somewhat of an inexperienced board. We’ve had four people that have only one year plus a mayor with only one year. I think they’re doing a good job. But I recall that it took me a couple years to get my feet under me. And I had tremendously experienced people that I leaned on. That’s the only thing I look at. I think the city’s in good shape and I think we’ve got a lot to look forward to.”
One such area of mending that aldermen are expected to consider next week is legislation to ease construction ordinances in the 260-home Sunset Manor subdivision.
An ordinance scheduled to be considered Tuesday, April 24, by the outgoing Board of Aldermen would allow homeowners to construct additions to their homes without approval from the city’s Board of Adjustment.
Another ordinance would reduce the minimum square footage requirement of a newly constructed home in Sunset Manor from 7,500 square feet to 5,000 square feet.
Sunset Manor has been a source of controversy in the city since 2005, when the Board of Aldermen approved legislation permitting the razing of 254 homes for the planned MainStreet at Sunset shopping center. That project and the razing plans later were killed after Novus Development Co. President Jonathan Browne said his company’s lender had withdrawn funding for the shopping center.
Both McGuire and Svoboda said that the fallout from Sunset Manor and their subsequent interest in protecting homeowners’ property rights were major reasons why they decided to run for alderman in the first place.
“I don’t want to say I was confident, but I wasn’t surprised because I walked the ward,” Svoboda said. “And everybody still remembers the eminent domain thing and everybody was still against it. I mean, it was a common thread. It was almost, not quite, but almost a hundred percent of the people still remembered that and were still against it … There were a couple people who wish there was a shopping center there now. But they pretty much agreed that it was gone about the wrong way.
“If they want to sell to a developer, they should get what they want for their property and not have Sunset Hills eminent do-main them out of existence just to get something different in there.”
McGuire said another idea he has for the city would be the implementation of red-light cameras at intersections. While the legality of such cameras is currently being discussed in the Missouri Legislature, McGuire, who also serves on the city’s Police Advisory Board, said he views the cameras as not only a way to generate revenue, but also create more safety for police officers.
“Truly, yes, it is a money maker,” McGuire said. “But at the same time, that should never be the primary reason that that is instituted. The idea is you’re cutting down on the number of people who are breaking the law and risking accidents for those that obey the law. And beyond that, it’s a safety issue for police officers. The two most dangerous things the police have to deal with are domestic disturbances, when they have to walk up to people’s houses not knowing what’s going on on the other side of that door and a simple traffic stop. They do not know what’s going on in that car. If you can eliminate them from having to walk up to that car to give a simple ticket, fine.”
Regarding such additional projects for the city, Hoffman and Littlefield both said while the city needs to continue to fund improvements, aldermen also must be fiscally responsible.
“I am alarmed at some of the spending we’ve taken on,” Littlefield said. “We are spending money at a rapid pace, and I’m concerned about that. We want to make sure that we’re doing the right thing for everybody.
“As you know, we purchased the (StL) Dream Fields (for $255,000). We spent quite a bit of money there. There are several other things. We’re re-roofing the city hall and some other maintenance items. And then there’s the 50th anniversary. And then there’s several studies we’ve had done in connection with Sunset Manor. I look at that and I think there’s a lot being expended. I know there’s some (Sunset Plaza) TIF money coming in now, but you can’t rely on that TIF money forever … We have to watch it. We’re not a large city.”
Hoffmann said that although she and other aldermen have to continue to be fiscally responsible, she is looking forward to the expansion of the city’s parks and trails from Prop P funds, which will be collected for 20 years.
Having said that, she is also impressed with the work the city has accomplished during her time as an alderman since 1991 and credits much of the city’s former administrations for that success.
“I think former Mayor ( Ken) Vogel and the Say Yes for Sunset Hills Committee really brought us and turned the city around …,” she said. “Where Home Depot and Marshall’s is now was just an empty parking lot full of potholes with very little businesses there. They had all moved out. So there has been a lot of progress. There’s been a lot of progress in the parks, too. We’re expanding our parks and our trails. Our Police Department has grown. So there’s been progress and growth, I think, in every area.”