On January 23, 2017, Great Rivers Environmental Law Center filed an appeal in the Missouri Court of Appeals, Eastern District, on behalf of three County taxpayers asking the Court to prohibit the County from selling a portion of Sylvan Springs Park to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Two appellants are former employees of the St. Louis County Parks Department, and one of those two is also a former employee of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and a veteran of the Vietnam Era. All three are users of Sylvan Springs Park.
The Department of Veterans Affairs (“VA”) seeks to purchase 38 acres of the 70-acre Park to use as a cemetery. St. Louis County has owned and operated Sylvan Springs Park as a park since 1950, when the County purchased the Park from the U.S. General Services Administration.
The VA wants the Park because the Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery is running out of room. Even with the purchase of these 38 acres, the VA will run out of room at Sylvan Springs in approximately 17 years. Critics fear the VA will then seek the additional remaining 32 acres of Sylvan Springs, and even that would not be long-term solution. There are other large sites that have been presented to the VA as possible long-term solutions and that would last the VA for the next century or more, including one in Jefferson County and one in Illinois.
The lawsuit alleges the sale is illegal because the federal government dedicated the park to the County when it originally sold it to the County, and illegal because the County used bonds and taxes dedicated to parks that St. Louis County residents approved at the ballot box. The County has maintained it and the public has enjoyed it as a park for 65 years.
“For over twenty years I worked in the area of the Park and saw thousands of people enjoy it,” said plaintiff Martin Koch. “It would be a travesty to lose this resource of public recreation.”
“A park is a park forever, or it’s not a park,” said Henry Robertson, attorney at Great Rivers Environmental Law Center.
“Although many people feel the VA should have use of park land adjacent to an existing cemetery, the fact that an idea is popular does not make the sale of a park legal,” said Kathleen Henry, President of Great Rivers Environmental Law Center. “The VA should have invested in a long-term solution long ago instead of assuming it would take over this Park.”
The citizens request the Court of Appeals to reverse the lower court and to prohibit St. Louis County from selling a portion of Sylvan Springs Park to the VA for use as a cemetery.
Great Rivers is a nonprofit public interest environmental law firm in St. Louis that provides free and reduced-fee legal services to those working to protect the environment and public health. Its web address is: www.greatriverslaw.org.