By Erin Achenbach
Sunset Hills is tentatively scrapping a proposal for a bathroom facility and parking spaces on the Nancy Eschbach Forest River Trail after multiple residents voiced their concerns with the city’s proposal.
Discussion on the proposed bathroom and parking spaces dominated much of the public comment at the November Board of Aldermen meeting, despite not being on the agenda. A former alderman and nine other residents from the Forest View Subdivision expressed their concerns that the proposed facilities could attract unsavory nighttime activity to the area.
“We’ve lived here for 40-plus years and back in the ‘70s and ‘80s, there was a place called ‘Chinaman’s Castle’…and we would get a lot of teens down there…with a lot of activity. A lot of it involved drinking and drugs and a lot of partying,” said Forest View resident Loran Schanidt. “What we’re afraid of with…these bathroom buildings being there, they will be an attraction for people, perhaps young people again. We’re a bit weary because we don’t know where these people are coming from and what they have in mind…”
In 2017, the board opted for a $100,000 grant from the St. Louis County Municipal Parks Grant program to add restrooms at Minnie Ha Ha Park, Kitun Park and Eschbach Park, after the aldermen rejected using the same grant to build waterslides at the Sunset Hills Aquatic Center. At the time, it was not known where exactly the new restroom facilities would be placed within the parks.
The biggest critique of the proposed site at Eschbach, which was donated to the city in 2014, came from former Ward 4 Alderman Donna Ernst, who lives in Forest View.
“I was in office when the property was donated and I was told that I didn’t have anything to worry about. That there wouldn’t be any construction, only a trail and a sign… I wasn’t told anything about a bathroom or parking, just that there would be a sign,” Ernst said. “I feel responsible because I voted for it… But when you aren’t told the truth about what the plan is and then this happens… What is a citizen supposed to do?”
Ward 2 Alderman Casey Wong suggested placing the plans on hold based on the feedback the board was receiving from residents.
“I don’t think it would be a bad idea to put the brakes on,” said Wong.
Mayor Pat Fribis said that Sunset Hills would have to pay the county $70,000 for the grant if the city fails to develop the rest area, however the grant could possibly be used to develop restrooms at a different city park with municipal sewer and water services.
Parks and Recreation Director Gerald Brown said that Lynstone Park or Watson Trail Park would be the only other options for the restroom development, and even then, it would first have to be discussed with St. Louis County to switch the restroom development location.
At the conclusion of the public comment on the restrooms, the board directed Brown to discuss with the St. Louis County Municipal Parks Commission the possibility of relocating the restrooms.