Library officials to close on purchase of new Tesson Ferry site this week

Library pays fair market value for new site, Sorth tells Call

By Gloria Lloyd

After delays from zoning and traffic, St. Louis County Library officials are set to close Friday on their purchase of property for the new Tesson Ferry Branch Library across from Grant’s Farm.

Library officials originally filed their intent to rezone the property at the intersection of Gravois and Musick roads with the county Department of Planning last summer. But the final purchase of the property has been delayed in the months since then, after concerns raised by nearby residents at an August public hearing about traffic and safety spurred the county and state to require a traffic study for the library to move forward with the plans.

Now, with final zoning from the County Council and an agreement with the county Department of Highways and Traffic for $500,000 to $750,000 in road improvements to Musick Road secured, the library can finalize its contract to buy the 4.29-acre property for $2.5 million from developer McBride Berra.

The developer has owned the property since 2012, when it paid $6.25 million for 67 acres. McBride Berra, comprised of developers McBride and Son and J.H. Berra, plans two subdivisions next to the new library.

The library is paying fair market value to McBride Berra for the property, library Executive Director Kristen Sorth said.

“We had an appraisal done on the property,” she said. “We wouldn’t purchase a piece of land in an amount that didn’t meet the appraisal, so we had an appraisal done — that’s all part of the inspection period.”

The location in unincorporated Affton, across from Grant’s Farm and near Cor Jesu Academy, will replace the current Tesson Ferry Branch at 9920 Lin Ferry Drive, two miles away in Green Park. It is the library’s oldest and busiest branch.

The county highway department might set a schedule for the road improvements it requires at Musick as early as this week, Public Information Manager David Wrone told the Call.

The construction project will most likely start when the weather warms up.

Since the three-way pact to fund the improvements was agreed on, the Lindbergh Schools Board of Education has placed a $34 million bond issue on the April election ballot that, if passed, would fund construction of the district’s sixth elementary school on the site of the former Dressel School, on Musick Road near the new Tesson Ferry Branch.

At the same time that library officials are moving forward with the site for the new Tesson Ferry, they are postponing another new branch after that site also encountered zoning opposition from residents and officials.

After the Fenton Board of Aldermen rejected a special-use permit for the new Meramec Valley Branch last month 5-2, the library has to find a new location and library administrators are now proposing that the construction of that new library be postponed to the facilities master plan’s second phase.

Improvements to five other library branches, including Cliff Cave in Oakville, could now be moved up to the construction plan’s first phase, said library Communications Manager Jennifer McBride.

Plans for moving up those improvements are tentative and have not yet been approved by the library board, Sorth noted.

“Like I said, we haven’t made any decisions yet — but to get a new building built in Fenton and to start over is going to take some time,” she said. “We’re kind of re-evaluating what to do since that fell through.”

Just as Green Park Mayor Bob Reinagel did last fall, Fenton Alderman Chris Clauss and three other Fenton residents addressed the library Board of Trustees in December to request that the board choose a different site for the new Meramec Valley Branch, citing some of the same concerns that Musick and Gravois neighbors had voiced about the new Tesson Ferry location, including traffic congestion, flooding and increased pollution.

The proposed Fenton site, just down the street from the current one-room library in City Hall, is a residential area.

Unlike the Gravois and Musick library site, a traffic study commissioned by the library found that the Fenton branch would not add much traffic to its neighborhood, McBride said.

Although the majority of Fenton aldermen voted against the library, Sorth said the primary opposition came from neighbors living in a cul-de-sac near the proposed location, which fronted Highway 141.

“There were neighbors nearby that had concerns about the location of the branch, that it would be close to their home, and they just had concerns about the impact on them with that,” she said. “And there were a number of people at all of the meetings that spoke in favor of the library as well.”

From its facilities master plan with $108 million of improvements funded through a 6-cent tax-rate increase approved by voters in 2012, the library estimates it will spend $20 million on land and construction of the new Tesson Ferry Library. Preliminary renderings unveiled for the new branch show a modern white library with a glass wall facing Grant’s Farm.

When they first saw the plans last fall, library board members raised questions about how much glass walls would cost to maintain.

The rejection of the library’s zoning in Fenton means that all three of the library’s new branches slated to be built in the first phase of its facilities plan have faced some type of opposition: nonprofit preservationist group Modern STL objects to the proposed demolition of the library’s historic Lewis & Clark Branch in Moline Acres, contending that the building is a unique showcase of St. Louis’s architectural history that should be preserved.

The library plans to build the new branch near the current Lewis & Clark site on property they already own, then demolish the current building.