Veteran alderman faces challenger in race for Ward 2 seat on Sunset Hills Board of Aldermen

Thomas Hrastich

Thomas Hrastich

By MIKE ANTHONY

Thomas Hrastich is challenging longtime Sunset Hills Ward 2 Alderman John Smith in the April 4 election.

The seat carries a two-year term.

Asked to identify the most important issue in the race, the candidates responded:

• “Present city officials have been willing to sacrifice residents and neighborhoods to commercial development. The value of homes in any given neighborhood is not an important consideration because property tax receipts are less than 2 percent of city revenue. Almost 90 percent comes from utility tax, business permits and licenses and sales tax. It seems that no neighborhood is immune to commercial development,” Hrastich stated.

• “The most important issue for these five political contests between an incumbent mayor and four incumbent aldermen vs. five neophyte opposition candidates is for voters in Sunset Hills citywide to recognize that the disaster in Sunset Manor was driven and largely funded by Westfield Corp., whose involvement was clearly directed toward aborting the proposed MainStreet at Sunset redevelopment through heavy funding and lawsuits channeled through a small minority group of Sunset Manor residential and commercial property owners named the Stop the Sunset Hills Land Grab,” Smith stated.

Hrastich, 62, 9255 Birch Tree Lane, 63126, is a chemical engineer retired from the Department of the Army, Newport Chemical Agent Demilitarization Facility, Newport, Ind. He is married to Patricia Hrastich.

Hrastich, who has never held elective office, is seeking election “to work to return the focus of the Sunset Hills administration to the welfare of all of its residents.”

Smith, 77, 8863 Woodfox Drive, 63127, is retired from Monsanto. He and his wife, Janice, have two grown children.

Smith has served on the city’s Board of Aldermen since 1994. Asked why he is seeking re-election, he said, “not seeking, but retaining experienced responsible leadership for Sunset Hills.”

The candidates gave the following responses to a Call questionnaire:

What is your position on the use of tax-increment financing — TIF?

Hrastich said, “Tax-increment financing should be the exception rather than the rule. It had value in Fenton for the Chrysler plant and did not involve dislocating residents. Future use in Sunset Hills would require in-depth, comprehensive investigation and not comprise an exorbitant percentage of a commercial project. Also, in commercial development, it should not be coupled with seizure of residential neighborhoods by eminent domain. Residents lose negotiating ability when they are combined.”

Smith said, “I believe these concerns or ‘redevelopment tools,’ as some may call them, cannot be addressed independently as some candidate questionnaires have suggested. I believe that candidates and the news media all need to better understand the issue of redevelopment as opposed to votes and media revenue. I do know, as an alderman since 1994, that the city and the Sunset Hills TIF Commission first established at that time, have adhered strictly to the Missouri TIF statutes, which address all of the related blighting, condemnation and eminent domain considerations. As the appointed chair of the current Sunset Hills TIF Commission since April 2000, I have been actively involved with the Sunset Manor challenge dating back to early 2002 and a full commission as established in August 2004.

“The issue is redevelopment. Can it happen today in Sunset Manor without TIF? The answer is no. Can you have TIF without blighting? The answer is no, in terms of required action, although the Missouri statutes require designation as blighted areas, conservation areas and economic development areas. Sunset Manor was designated as a conservation area, not a lowerrated blighted area. Can you have redevelopment without eminent domain and condemnation by the municipality designating areas where the developer could utilize the municipality’s authority to exercise eminent domain if necessary? The answer is only if the developer and all involved property owners can reach agreement on the proposed transactions …,” he added.

In your opinion, is the Novus Development Co.’s proposed MainStreet at Sunset still a viable project?

Hrastich said, “In my opinion, this project was never viable — an outdoor mall in an area with limited vehicle access: no access from north, closed-off access from east, dangerous access from west and one useable access point worsening traffic on Watson Road. The project would have left the remaining Sunset Hills residents paying off most of the $62 million TIF bond cost, while also penalizing the Lindbergh School District and the fire department.”

Smith said, “Potentially, yes, but not as it stands, pending resolution of lawsuits, redefinition and substantiated funding.”