Sunset Hills backs off rugby lease

Jones will work with rugby team for mutual termination

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By Erin Achenbach, Staff Reporter

The city of Sunset Hills hopes to work with the St. Louis Bombers Rugby Club to mutually terminate the lease that would allow a rugby facility on a former golf course donated to the city.

Mayor Pat Fribis vetoed the development in December, and aldermen failed to override the veto with a 4-3 vote Jan. 12. Six votes were needed to override Fribis’ veto.

The board voted 5-3 Dec. 8 to amend the Bombers’ development plan and remove a condition that the rugby club’s traffic study come back with a “D” rating or higher for the intersection at West Watson and Gravois Roads.

Ward 4 Aldermen Thompson Price and Mark Colombo and Ward 2 Aldermen Casey Wong and Steve Bersche voted to overrule the veto. Ward 1 Aldermen Ann McMunn and Joe Stewart and Ward 3 Alderman Cathy Friedmann were opposed. Ward 3 Alderman Nathan Lipe was absent. Colombo, Bersche and Lipe did not file for re-election this April.

Discussions began when the rugby organization first approached the city about leasing a portion of the former Sunset Hills Golf Course in September 2018. The golf course had been donated to the city by physician Steven Bander and is now known as Steven J. Bander Park. The prospect of another organization maintaining and creating a use out of part of the expansive property without any taxpayer costs appealed to the city at the time. But after the lease was approved, neighbors in the Tapawingo subdivision showed up to city meetings to object to the possible lights, noise and traffic from the project.

Aldermen approved a 25-year lease in 2019 that gave the Bombers over a dozen acres in the park. One condition of the amended development plan aldermen approved later that year was that a traffic study of the West Watson/Gravois intersection rate better than “D” on an “A” to “F” scale, with “F” being the worst. However, the March 2020 study found that the intersection was already “failing” before even factoring in additional traffic from the Bombers’ development, and so a “D” rating is impossible to obtain.

“The Bombers have not offered to do anything to mitigate or lessen the dangers and hazards identified in the traffic study,” Fribis said of why she vetoed the bill. “Furthermore, the Bombers were offered an alternative site in Minnie Ha Ha Park for their rugby fields, but our offer was spurred.”

City Attorney Robert E. Jones said at the Jan. 12 meeting that he reached out to the Bombers’ head coach Ron Laszewski about next steps, and the longtime coach — who also coaches rugby for Lindbergh — said he would talk to the organization’s members and get back with the city.

“I have not heard back from him, but in light of the fact that (it) was vetoed and not overridden tonight — I was wondering if the board will permit me to contact the Bombers rugby organization and talk about possible mutual termination of the lease since the development plan cannot go forward in its present condition due to failure of the traffic study,” Jones said.

Jones suggested discussing possible alternatives with the Bombers, including alternative locations, but highlighted the “need to release both parties from all obligations under the lease.” He also suggested returning any rent the city had collected back to the Bombers.

Any kind of release from the lease will have to be reviewed by the Board of Aldermen, so the issue will have to come back before the board at least one more time. The board can authorize the mayor and/or city administrator to release any agreements. Jones will report back at the next meeting Tuesday, Feb. 9, with any new correspondence from the Bombers.