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Aldermanic Committee Approves Eminent Domain For Possible North City Development

The proposed site for the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency in north St. Louis.
National Geospatial Intelligence Agency | provided

(Updated 4:04 p.m., Fri., Jan. 30) 

After amending the bill to add an additional safeguard, the St. Louis aldermanic Housing, Urban Development and Zoning Committee passed a measure approving the use of eminent domain by a vote of 6-1 on Friday. The bill covered an area in north city that is being considered as a spot for the future location of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency.

Board President Lewis Reed added an amendment that requires the full board and the HUDZ committee to  approve specifically each use of eminent domain. Committee members who had expressed concern over eminent domain said the amendment alleviated many of their concerns, with the exceptio of Alderwoman Sharon Tyus, D-1st Wars, who was the lone vote against.

Read our earlier story below:

St. Louis is working to keep the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency and its thousands of jobs in the city -- but the residents in the area of the proposed new site aren't quite as eager.

Of the four sites the agency is considering, only one -- the north St. Louis site -- is within the city limits. The city initially suggested the former Pruitt-Igoe site, but it did not meet the agency’s acreage requirement.

The three other location are: the former Chrysler plant in Fenton; the MetLife/Sigma facility in Mehlville; and land near Scott Air Force Base in St. Clair County.

The city's site is a spot north of Cass Avenue -- a location with more than 40 occupied homes. A committee of the Board of Aldermen discussed a bill on Wednesday that would use eminent domain to force those residents to sell their homes.

"If you drive through the area, there's blight everywhere," said Alderwoman Tammika Hubbard, D-5th Ward. "It's important for us to realize how important this is. Nothing is being done right now [to improve the area]. I think it's ours to lose."

Hubbard, whose ward encompasses the area, is sponsoring the bill. But several other aldermen questioned the proposal.

"With all due respect," Alderman Antonio French, D-21st Ward, said, "having been down here for a while and following everything around here, [I know that] we quite often engage in deals that we don’t ask enough questions for. It’s only 10 to 15 years later that we realize we’ve made an awful mistake because not enough questions were asked."

"And the central question here is: What if this gamble doesn’t pay off here? Then what?”

City officials said they would try to market the land to other businesses if the agency chose another location. The agency is expected to announce its decision in the summer of 2016, but city officials said the land needs to be ready by the end of the year if it's to be considered.

French theorized that Paul McKee could be the one to buy the land if the NGA chooses another location. Hubbard accused him of posturing for the media. It was a spat that continued online.

The agency currently employs about 3,100 people. City officials said those jobs have an average salary of $75,000, and they bring in $2.4 million in earnings taxes each year.

But that did little to sway the few residents who appeared at the committee meeting.

“We are that one family that I can’t think of any number that you could put on the table that would satisfy what that edifice means to us,” Karen Taylor told the committee. Her mother lives in the neighborhood.

Taylor also lamented that residents weren't properly notified about prior neighborhood meetings on the issue, and said she didn't think it was being handled in good faith.

"I feel a bit like the person in the famous photograph in China, the one individual standing in front of the tank," Taylor said. "That's the feeling."

The St. Louis Redevelopment Corp's Otis Williams offered assurances that residents would be generously compensated for their land. But several members of the committee expressed unease over using eminent domain.

"If they pass this with eminent domain, I think you should slow them down with some lawsuits," Alderwoman Sharon Tyus, D-1st Ward, told the crowd. "I would be glad to work with you to sue the city if they do this."

After discussing it for more than two hours, the committee did not bring the bill to a vote.

Follow Chris McDaniel on Twitter@csmcdaniel