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Residents ask NGA to drop north St. Louis site

National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, north city
(Maria Altman, St. Louis Public Radio)

A group of residents is asking the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency to cross north St. Louis off of a list of four sites the agency is considering for its relocation.

The residents delivered a petition with more than 95,000 signatures to the NGA on Wednesday with the help of the Institute for Justice, an organization based in Arlington, VA, and local group Save North Side STL.

The NGA is planning to move, at the earliest, in 2021 to one of four locations in the region: the St. Louis site just north of the former Pruitt-Igoe housing project; land near Scott Air Force Base in Illinois; the former Chrysler plant in Fenton; or the MetLife/Sigma Aldrich facility in Mehlville.

The 100-acre site in north St. Louis is the only one that has homes located on it. Some of the 47 home owners are resisting efforts to move them.

Resident Charlesetta Taylor said her father bought their three-story brick home back in 1945.  

"Our homes are a lot more than brick and mortar. Our homes are our heritage," Taylor said while standing across the street from the NGA. "They represent the lives of our fathers and our grandfathers who struggled to become a part of this nation, to own land."

The St. Louis Board of Aldermen approved the use of eminent domain for the project earlier this year. But Otis Williams, executive director of the St. Louis Development Corporation, said they want to avoid that by trying to accommodate home owners.

"We’re prepared to review potentially moving structures, particularly if they’re historic," Williams said. "We will move them to a better address or to a location of their choice. So we’re willing to work with them."

Taylor, for one, doesn’t buy it.

National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, north city
Credit (Maria Altman, St. Louis Public Radio)
Charlesetta Taylor hands over a flash drive of more than 95,000 signatures to NGA spokeswoman Julia Collins.

"Have you seen my home? Have you investigated what it would cost to move?" she asked the reporter. "Nor has the city."

Despite some resistance, Williams said offers on homes will begin going out this month from the Land Clearance for Redevelopment Authority. He said those who don’t want to move can sign an option that only requires they do so if the NGA chooses the site.

Residents, including Taylor, counter that the option was not written into the city’s bill authorizing eminent domain.

Meanwhile, the NGA made it clear it will not strike north city from its options until after the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers completes a study of all four sites.

"The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, in partnership with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, is committed to completing required studies of the four sites under consideration for a future campus in the St. Louis region," the agency said in a statement. "These studies will capture all public petitions and resident concerns, including those related to the North City site proposed by the city of St. Louis."

The Corps is expected to release its study in August, and the NGA will make a decision sometime next year.

Follow Maria on Twitter: @radioaltman

Maria is the newscast, business and education editor for St. Louis Public Radio.