Solutions for Sunset Manor subdivision will require some time, mayor says

By MIKE ANTHONY

Solutions to the failed redevelopment of the Sunset Manor subdivision will not be quickly forthcoming, newly elected Sunset Hills Mayor John Hunzeker said last week.

After referring a report by the Sunset Manor Task Force to the Board of Aldermen’s Special Projects Committee, Hunzeker briefly addressed the Novus Development Co.’s failed effort to redevelop the subdivision as MainStreet at Sunset, a $165.2 million lifestyle shopping center at Interstate 44, Watson Road and South Lindbergh Boulevard.

Hunzeker and four aldermanic candidates — Frank Hardy of Ward 1, Thomas Hrastich of Ward 2, Lynn D. Flowers of Ward 3 and Frank Gregory of Ward 4 — ousted five incumbents in the April 4 election and took their seats after being sworn in April 25.

Hunzeker defeated incumbent Jim Hobbs, who was seeking his fourth two-year term as mayor. Hobbs was a Ward 1 alderman from 1992 to 2000 and served as president of the board from 1995 to 2000.

In the April 4 aldermanic races, Hardy defeated Ward 1 Alderman John Tipton, who was first elected in 2004; Hrastich ousted Ward 2 Alderman John Smith, who had served on the board since 1994; Flowers defeated Ward 3 Alderman Robert Brockhaus, who had served on the board since 1998; and Gregory ousted Ward 4 Alderman A. Ron Kaemmerer, who had served on the board since 1992.

Regarding the Sunset Manor Task Force, Hobbs had created the panel as a way for Sunset Manor homeowners to share their ideas with the city. Pat Otto served as chairwoman of the task force.

The task force met five times before finalizing the 10-page report that was given to the Board of Aldermen last week with Otto present to address any questions.

Using a points-based prioritization system with anonymous ballots, task force members came to the conclusion that the most important goal originated from owners of homes and businesses near Sunset Manor is that “the city should not have an eminent domain law, but allow the property owner to bargain directly with a developer.”

Other goals in order of priority were:

• “The city should move forward with a new development that has approved funding.”

• “The city should buy out the Sunset Manor property at Novus contract prices.”

• “The city should stop all development for the future” for 10 years.

The report also included the results of a straw poll, which showed that out of 72 Sunset Manor homeowners who voted, they were split in half with 36 people voting to proceed with the development and 36 voting to stop it. Absentee owners who took part in the straw poll favored proceeding with the development of Sunset Manor by a vote of 45-30.

After referring the report to the board’s Special Projects Committee, Hunzeker reviewed the history of the Sunset Manor project, noting that the Board of Aldermen voted May 10 to approve Novus’ request for $42 million in tax-increment-financing assistance and $20 million in transportation development district reimbursements to help fund MainStreet at Sunset. The project would have razed 254 homes and several businesses in the Sunset Manor subdivision. Only the Hampton Inn and Denny’s restaurant would remain. The Board of Aldermen also authorized the use of eminent domain to acquire those properties Novus does not have under contract.

Closings on the more than 200 homes were scheduled to begin Aug. 22. But Novus learned Aug. 18 its lender had withdrawn its funding for the development and the closings were delayed until a new lender could be secured. Novus continued to search for financing, but was unable to find a new lender.

Opponents of the redevelopment project last summer filed two lawsuits against the city of Sunset Hills. Those suits were followed by several other suits. St. Louis County Circuit Judge Gloria Clark Reno ruled Jan. 30 that the Board of Aldermen did not comply with state law last May when it adopted ordinances approving TIF for the developer and designating Novus as the developer for the project.

In February, aldermen voted to adopt an ordinance repealing six ordinances related to the redevelopment project. The repealed ordinances approved the redevelopment plan and the TIF, named Novus as the developer, granted the developer eminent domain authority, approved two amendments to the redevelopment plan and authorized the issuance of TIF notes.

“Many people are familiar with the fact that some of the properties are abandoned and some of them scavenged. All residents of Sunset Hills have heard of the financial problems experienced by our neighbors in Sunset Manor. The housing issues we face in Sunset Manor are new to us ..,” Hunzeker said, noting existing ordinances have limited the city’s ability to act.

“This is a very complicated and difficult situation for the residents of Sunset Manor and all the residents of Sunset Hills. It took us one year to get from May 10th, 2005, to today, and it will take likely the same amount of time to find a solution to the current situation. I will be working very closely with the Special Projects Committee of the Board of Aldermen and all the city departments to work on the problem of Sunset Manor,” he said.

“We will begin by completing a condition assessment to determine the legal, physical and financial condition of the former redevelopment area. Once we have a baseline of information to begin with, we can start the planning and take the steps necessary to reassemble our neighborhood and put our city back on the right track.”