Rugby field is focus of public comments on master plan

Pictured above: Design Concept C, the most well-received design concept for Stephen J. Bander Park. The concept features a more passive use of the park. 

By Erin Achenbach
Staff Reporter
eachenbach@callnewspapers.com 

A discussion about what Sunset Hills should do with Stephen J. Bander Park, formerly known as Sunset Hills Golf Course, was overshadowed last week by residents concerned about rugby.

It was a packed house at the Sunset Hills Community Center July 24 as at least a hundred residents came out for the Park Board meeting, where the new design concept for Bander Park was being discussed.

The 122 acres of land that made up the former golf course, 1336 W. Watson Road, were donated to the city last September by Steve Bander, a Des Peres physician. The city took over the land in November.

Planning Design Studio, a St. Louis architecture firm that specializes in park planning, has been working with Sunset Hills on different design options for the park. A majority of residents said that they would prefer the park to be a more “passive” use, with walking trails and open space, after a survey was conducted both online and through the mail during the spring and after a public input meeting.

“The purpose of this meeting is to get your input on the master plan,” said Planning Design Studio Principal Scott Emmelkamp at the July 24 meeting. “I want to reassure you that nothing that you see tonight is set in stone. No decisions are being made tonight. We’re purely here just to get input from the community on this master plan.”

Four park concepts were introduced initially in June. Two of the concepts featured a potential soccer complex, while another simply had trails and open space. The most well-received concept, Concept C, features walking trails, open space for wildflower and prairie development, a fishing dock, shelter and 18-hole disc golf course. All four concepts featured the 14-acre rugby facility that the city is leasing to the St. Louis Bombers Rugby Club.

Existing inventory at the property already includes athletic fields, sand volleyball courts, a picnic area, a driving range, Andre’s Banquets and Catering and Stieren Inspirational trail and playground.

“The plan we are showing now shows 3.3 miles of trails, wildflower prairie areas to… cut down on the area that the city has to mow,” said Emmelkamp. “We’re just trying to make it a very passive park… we’re going to try to incorporate any input that we have tonight, refine it, develop the budget cost and then it’ll come before the Board of Aldermen.”

Before taking public comment on the proposed master plan, Director of Parks and Recreation Gerald Brown warned that they would not consider comments pertaining to the rugby fields, since that is under the Board of Aldermen.

But public comment revolved around concerns with increased traffic along West Watson Road, as well as flooding.

Sandra Jo Ankney asked if tree removal would be required for the park, in particular the area around the proposed rugby facilities.

The last to speak during public comment was Ward 1 Alderman Dee Baebler, who lives in the Tapawingo subdivision. In a July 23 Facebook post, Baebler said that she, along with fellow Ward 1 Alderman Ann McMunn and city staff, toured the property with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, where the Corps took soil samples and determined that the land qualifies as wetlands.