The Maryland Heights TIF Commission has voted down a controversial proposal by the City of Maryland Heights to fund a commercial development in a frequently flooded area bordering the Missouri river using $151 million of tax increment financing. The Commission rejected the proposal following vocal opposition by concerned citizens and environmental organizations at several public hearings and written comments from Great Rivers Environmental Law Center raising legal concerns about the development plan.
The City of Maryland Heights proposed a TIF district to install pumps and levees in the Maryland Park Lake District, facilitating the installation of a 2,409-acre mixed-use development. This area bordering Creve Coeur Park currently consists of mostly undeveloped land and farmland, and abuts the wetlands located in and around Creve Coeur Park. The National Audubon Society considers those wetlands an “urban oasis” for the habitat they provide for many migrating waders, waterfowl, and shorebirds, and they are a cherished oasis for the birders who come to see them.
Great Rivers’ attorneys Bob Menees and Sarah Rubenstein seconded concerns voiced by many – that the project would destroy important habitat, and that it would exacerbate flooding conditions downstream of the development, jeopardizing the safety of nearby communities.
Unfortunately, those very valid concerns – consistently raised at several community hearings – seemed to fall on deaf ears as the TIF Commission continued to entertain the idea of placing unnecessary and incompatible developments in the flood-prone area.
When the TIF Commission sought public comments on the project, Great Rivers analyzed the legality of utilizing tax-increment financing (TIF) to subsidize the development, and brought the legal shortcomings of the proposal to the attention of the TIF Commission. On December 17, one day before the Commission was set to vote on the Plan, Great Rivers submitted comments arguing that the Development Plan did not comply with the TIF Act because:
- it did not demonstrate a predominance of blighting factors in the proposed development;
- it did not demonstrate that development would not happen in the area “but for” TIF funds; and
- it did not comply with the City of Maryland Heights’ Comprehensive Plan.
On December 18th, the TIF Commission surprised the crowd assembled at Maryland Heights City Hall by announcing that they were delaying their vote to consider comments received. On January 3, they further surprised onlookers as they voted to reject the Plan.
“The TIF Commission NO vote provides a critical pause in this latest push to develop the area, and we are thankful for Great Rivers’ work in helping to achieve that outcome.”-Mitch Leachman, Executive Director of the St. Louis Audubon Society
Great Rivers is grateful to the TIF Commission members who
voted against the proposal, to the many community members who voiced their
concerns, and to Great Rivers Habitat Alliance and the St. Louis Audubon
Society for their opposition of this development.