Twin Hollow Associates again seeks to donate land to county

BY SCOTT MILLER

Staff Reporter

Twin Hollow Associates again is pushing to donate nearly 300 acres of riverfront property just south of Cliff Cave Park to St. Louis County and area residents again are skeptical of the proposal.

After dropping the idea earlier this year amid residents’ concern, County Council-man John Campisi, R-south county, again has introduced legislation to accept the property donation for parkland, despite saying in March he no longer supported it.

Residents’ concerns have been resolved, he says.

Yet some residents on the bluffs above the property still worry some sort of back-room deal would allow the company to create an industrial park on additional Twin Hollow land that wouldn’t be donated. But Campisi and an attorney representing Twin Hollow insist that isn’t the case.

“You wonder why they (Twin Hollow owners) want to get rid of all that acreage,” said Norm Curran, a leading opponent of the donation. “It just makes you wonder why the county is wanting this to maintain when they don’t have the money to keep the Jefferson Barracks Museum open.”

The nearly 300 acres of proposed parkland would be in the flood plain, meaning it would cost the county little to nothing to maintain. And accepting the donation, “keeps it from ever being developed. I can tell you that,” Campisi said. “That land would remain a county park. People could see the deer down there. It would keep its beauty.”

After similar legislation was tabled last year, Curran and other nearby residents formed a task force to work with the county Department of Parks and Recreation to ease potential problems with the donation. If the task force recommendations make the legislation, Curran said he could support the donation, but still was skeptical.

Under the proposal, the company would build a three-mile looped trail winding along the Mississippi River just south of Cliff Cave Park. Twin Hollow would donate 35.93 acres for the trail and lease another 267.96 acres at a nominal price that the county would take ownership of by 2013.

The company would keep, however, a section of land wedged in the middle of the donation as well as the 100-foot wide river bank running along the donated property.

As part of the deal, Twin Hollow would get five, 50-foot-wide access roads, or easements, to reach its barges on the river and its remaining property situated between the donated land. Company owners also operate the Jefferson Barracks Marine Service, which retains mooring rights by the St. Louis County Port Authority on the Mississippi River southeast of the park.

Twin Hollow would have 180 days to finish the trail, according to the legislation. If not, the company would pay the county $250,000.

During the 180 days, Twin Hollow may use the existing haul trail from the Bussen Quarry through the park for trail-way construction purposes and for hauling cover soil.

After the 180 days, Twin Hollow would lose access to the haul trail and would have to refill sections of it with soil and grass seed but would get another 25-foot easement in return, according to the legislation.

The number of easements has residents worrying some form of commercial or industrial use could be following the donation, Curran said.

Particularly, they fear Twin Hollow would build a barge-repair facility right under their noses, destroying their scenic view and depleting their property values, Curran said.

“Well, it is our scenic view, but it is also the culture of our community and our land values,” he said.

Campisi assured the recommendations from the task force, which included most of the residents who had voiced concerns about the donation, were included in the legislation introduced last week.

“They (the task force) negotiated the easements, the number of easements, the width of the easements, the placement of the easements and no more filling (to raise the flood plain for commercial use), That’s the benefit of the town-hall forums. This is the culmination of both sides sitting down and reaching an agreement,” Campisi said.

An attorney representing Twin Hollow, Gary Feder of Husch & Eppenberger, also insisted the land wouldn’t be developed because most of it is flood plain and not properly zoned for commercial or industrial use.

When Twin Hollow first proposed the donation last year, Bussen Quarry had worked a separate deal with the county to haul “shot rock” onto Twin Hollow land to raise it out of the flood plain. Once filled and raised out of the flood plain, the county council could zone the land for industrial or commercial use. Filling days are over, however, and Feder said Twin Hollow has no intent to use the land for industry.

“The primary reason my clients (Twin Hollow) are donating this land is to get some tax benefits for gifting the property,” said Gary Feder, an attorney for Husch & Eppenberg-er. “The reason for the easements … it’s really all for access purposes so they don’t get landlocked. It (the land) is not zoned for any type of use. A lot of it is in flood plain anyway so it’s not zoned for any type of commercial development. There’s no permission to bring in any fill dirt or rock in there to raise that flood plain so it can’t be developed.”

The small section of Twin Hollow land previously raised out of the flood plain could be developed, but any development would have to be approved by the County Council.