Tuesday, November 3, the St. Louis County Council is scheduled to make a final vote on rezoning farmland in North County St. Louis, adjacent to the Columbia Bottom Conservation Area. They are preparing the way for a 375+ acre casino and entertainment complex.

Why should Maryland Heights residents care?
There are a lot of reasons to object to this plan, but the one that will hit closest to home is MONEY. The building of yet another casino within a 15-20 minute drive of Maryland Heights will create a large hole in our city revenues. The City of Maryland Heights receives a good chunk of revenue from Harrah's Casino; a hit to Harrah's revenue is a direct hit to Maryland Heights' revenue. Just as it has been proven that building large big-box retail centers does not add new revenue or new jobs to our region, it just moves the same money and jobs to a new place. A new casino will not bring new revenue to St. Louis County.

The only thing missing from this misguided plan is an offer of TIF funds to help build the casino in St. Louis, a city who already has half the casinos in the state. I'm sure that will come if a casino license becomes available and if it is awarded to St. Louis.

Developing this area in North St. Louis County brings up all of the same issues that we have here with the Howard Bend development plans:
  •   Increased taxes for all citizens to pay for infrastructure costs
  •  Increased MSD storm water fees and increased flooding, increased   pollution and degradation of our drinking water source
  • Destruction of wildlife habitat and wetlands, including disruption of a major international flyway for migrating birds
  • The loss of local farmland and a secure local food source.                                                                                                                       
The Spanish Lake Community Association has formed a group called the Common Sense Coalition to fight the approval of this rezoning. For more detailed information on their efforts please go to Spanish Lake Community Association

Action is critical!

It is very important that everyone take just 5 minutes and either call or e-mail their St. Louis County Council representative and tell them to vote against rezoning this property for a casino. It is time they become responsible for their actions. They need to stop playing shell games with our revenue by supporting irresponsible developments that degrade our communities and shift money around the region instead of bringing new economic opportunities into the county. They need to start supporting smart, sustainable developments that actually grow our economy.

To find your St. Louis County Council Representative and their contact information go to: St. Louis County Council

In yesterday’s Post-Dispatch, Peter Fischer, chairman of the St. Louis Gateway Foundation, talked about the reasons why Citygarden has been so successful.  One remark in particular caught my eye and applies all too well to our development challenges in Maryland Heights.  Fischer says:

“We want great and brilliant design for our public places.  We do not want design of public spaces offered by developers, for the result will likely be a function of the developer’s bottom line and their own narrow interest, not “world-class” excellence.”

The City of Maryland Heights’ plan for development in Howard Bend consists of hearing developer’s self-interested ideas, when it should promote a vision based on good land stewardship and the best interests of the community.

Last fall, when developers presented their idea for Maryland Park, a mixed-use development of big-box retail, office space and residential units, the Planning Commission was successful in getting them to “pretty up” the plan with more walkways and plantings.  But the plan itself was based solely on the developer’s profit interest and had nothing to do with the health of Maryland Heights as a whole or appropriate use of land in a flood plain.

As Fischer points out, the key to Citygarden’s success is that the planners’ only interest was excellence of design.  They figured out what they wanted.  Then they figured out how to accomplish it.  Importantly, they did not have a financial or political interest in the outcome.

By contrast, the Maryland Heights Planning Department and Planning Commission are very focused on the financial and political aspects of development. Any development that generates business or utility taxes is alright with them.  More square miles of development gives them more political clout in the region (they think).

As long as they hang on to this outdated way of thinking, they will be ineffective in leading the effort to make our community a better place to live and work.  As it is, the developers are the dog, the city is the tail, and it’s pretty clear who is wagging whom. 

It is time for Maryland Height’s leaders to step up and commit themselves to excellence, to good planning and design that sets the community’s broader needs over short-term gain and developer’s interests.  Stay tuned to this blog for ideas on how they can do just that.
Maryland Heights Residents for Responsible Growth co-sponsored a booth in the Homegrown Village at Farm Aid on Oct. 4; if you’re reading this, maybe that’s why you’re here.  But if you missed the concert, you don’t have to miss the good cause that it supports – family farms.

Less than two miles south of the Farm Aid concert at Verizon Amphitheater lies Thies Farm, a local jewel that provides many an area household with delicious produce, healthy flowers and wholesome fun.  The Thies family has been farming in St. Louis since 1885.  Their mission reads in part, Having been given a love of the land, it is our mission to share with our customers a harvest of the healthiest flowers and most nutritious crops and most of all, to create an atmosphere where customers become friends.” 

So, they also grow community.  And create jobs.  And pay taxes that stay here.  But their mission is dependent on the rich soil of the Missouri River floodplain called Howard Bend – and on our ability to protect that floodplain from unwanted and unneeded commercial development, keeping the land in trust for future generations.

Unfortunately, 3000 acres of the Howard Bend floodplain are threatened by the Maryland Heights Comprehensive Plan, which aims to put warehouses and big-box retail stores squarely in the pumpkin patch at Thies Farm.  Right next to Creve Coeur Park.  Yes, in the floodplain. 

See this page for other reasons why building in the floodplain is such a bad and short-sighted idea.  Then join over 2,500 others and sign the petition to stop the commercial development in Howard Bend. 

Farm Aid can only do so much for family farmers.  You have to do something, too.