Nearly 50 discuss incorporating area or forming new county

Wheels in motion for merger of city, county, Haefner says

By Mike Anthony

Nearly 50 people attended a meeting last week to discuss the possibility of incorporating Oakville as a city or forming a new county.

The Dec. 9 meeting at the Cliff Cave Branch County Library was organized by Rep. Marsha Haefner, R-Oakville, who raised both possibilities during her town-hall meeting in October.

“… This is not a political meeting. It is not party affiliated,” she said. “What I have found since May — I guess it’s about six months — is that this is a community effort, both Republicans, Democrats, independents are pretty much in agreement that maybe it’s time Oakville, south county, whatever … looked into maybe what we could do to — I don’t know if insulate is the right term to use — but give us another layer of government to protect our interests as a community …”

Noting “the government that we have now is not working for us,” Haefner outlined three options for those in attendance to consider: incorporating as a city, being annexed into an existing city like Green Park or Sunset Hills or breaking off to form their own county separate from St. Louis County.

Of the three options presented by Haefner, those present indicated they favored forming a new county, citing the hurdles to incorporation and annexation that would be imposed by the St. Louis County Boundary Commission. But they agreed, by consensus, to establish a steering committee to study the specifics of all of three options.

Any such effort to establish another layer of government would have to be led by residents, Haefner emphasized.

“… As your state representative, my job tonight is to facilitate this meeting and get this project going, and then have to hand it off to whoever is interested in moving forward with it,” she said. “I’m not even here January through May four days a week. I would not be a good leader of this group. I just don’t have the time to do it. I have the will, and I will be as supportive as I possibly can be as far as any legislation that needs to be filed on a statewide basis, working with our County Council — good luck with that — on anything that needs to be done.

“But I’m here to support the efforts of this group, whatever those efforts may be. It would just be improper for me to lead this charge, but I wanted to get it going because of all the emails, the interest I’ve had through the town-hall meetings and with all that’s been going on in the community in the last six months …”

Haefner has led the opposition to a senior housing complex at 6050 Telegraph Road, citing a lack of notification to Oakville residents about the rezoning for the site.

The $5.1 million, 45-unit, 41,778-square-foot senior apartment complex is being built by Ohio-based National Church Residences, or NCR, on a 1.44-acre lot, bordering the Monastery of St. Clare and the Goddard School, a preschool for children ages 6 weeks to 6 years.

Although the construction of the building itself will cost $5.1 million, the $6.7 million grant NCR received from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development also covers the $500,000 land purchase, the architect and other costs associated with construction.

After no one initially spoke in opposition to the development, the Planning Commission voted to recommend R-8 residential rezoning for the site to the County Council, which approved it unanimously in May 2012.

In June, the County Council voted 5-1, with one abstention, to approve a resolution introduced by 6th District County Councilman Steve Stenger, D-Affton, that directed the Planning Commission to conduct another public hearing with the intent to revert the zoning of the 1.44-acre site to its original R-2 single-family residential classification.

In August, the planning panel voted 6-1 to recommend the rezoning be rejected. Commissioner Bill Sneed, of Oakville, was the lone vote to change the project’s zoning. Sneed also was the only member of the commission who spoke during the vote, citing the lack of notification to residents as a reason to revert the zoning.

“… We’re not here to rehash the whole senior housing issue, but I truly believe that when you look at the series of missteps along the way, every single one of them that was favorable to the developer and to the project, I have a hard time believing that it was not an agenda,” Haefner said. “It wasn’t a series of mistakes that we unfortunately got the brunt of, it was an agenda that no one would listen to what the citizens of this county wanted to do …”

But the senior center is not the only issue facing Oakville residents, according to Haefner.

A well-funded nonprofit organization, Better Together, recently announced six studies on potential areas the city and county might be able to merge — public finance, public safety, public health, parks and recreation, infrastructure and administration and economic development.

County Executive Charlie Dooley and St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay sit on the board of Better Together, which is primarily funded by the Missouri Council for a Better Economy, whose sole donor is billionaire and political activist Rex Sinquefield.

“… I know that a lot of you are aware of the senior center that’s being built on Telegraph Road, which kind of stirred everything up, and then when you add to that all of the talk that you hear now about the city-county merger that I can assure you is in the works — the city will deny it, the county will deny it — but I can assure you that the wheels are in motion,” she said. “They are very well-funded, and that is the ultimate goal for St. Louis County.

“If I had to guess, I would guess it’s going to be on a statewide ballot in 2016. It will not matter to anyone out state, and that will be the target of the advertising campaign as to why this is such a great benefit to the state of Missouri to merge the city and the county. And if you’re an outsider looking in — and I get this — if you look at the region …, it makes sense to do so. But when you are a taxpayer in St. Louis County, you are taking on an additional tax burden. There’s no way around it …”

An effort is underway to merge the crime statistics of the city and the county, “which will bring St. Louis County statistics up 8.5 times. Other issues will follow …,” Haefner said.

She slammed Stenger for his lack of responsiveness to her, both as a state representative and as a resident of Stenger’s council district.

“… And just so you know, not only as a state representative trying to contact another elected official, but as a constituent and a business owner in his district, he will not return my calls and has not for over four months now,” Haefner said. “So you’re not alone if you’re not hearing from Councilman Stenger …”

The representative said the meeting’s turnout indicated residents are interested in moving forward with some type of effort.

“… The fact that there are so many of you here tonight tells me that there is an interest in moving forward with some form of protections from the government that we have now, that has been unresponsive in a multitude of ways to do what this community has asked for,” Haefner said.