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Board Of Aldermen Approves Use Of Eminent Domain For Possible New NGA Site

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

The St. Louis Board of Aldermen has given a city development agency the power to force home and business owners out of their residences in a swath of land in north St. Louis. The land is being eyed by the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency for relocating its headquarters.

The NGAis currently locatedon Arsenal St., just east of the Anheuser-Busch brewery. But the agency is looking to expand and consolidate some jobs. The proposed site, just north of the Pruitt-Igoe location, is one of four theNGAis considering.

Friday's Board of Alderman vote authorizes the city's Land Clearance Redevelopment Authority to use the powers of eminent domain to seize more than 160 parcels in the 100-acre site.  Of those, 65 are vacant land. Another 41 contain rental properties. The remaining 57 are either owner-occupied homes, businesses or churches. Developer Paul McKee Jr. owns the rest of the property needed for the NGA site.

The vote was 17-11. Here is the roll call. 

  • Ayes: Dionne Flowers, Freeman Bosley, Tammika Hubbard, Christine Ingrassia, Stephen Conway, Ken Ortmann, Joe Vollmer, Larry Arnowitz, Beth Murphy, Carol Howard, Donna Baringer, Joseph Roddy, Marlene Davis, Jeffrey Boyd, Joe Vaccaro, Chris Carter, Lyda Krewson
  • Nays: Sharon Tyus, Sam Moore, Tom Villa, Megan-Ellyia Green, Terry Kennedy, Craig Schmid, Antonio French, Scott Ogilvie, Shane Cohn, Frank Williamson, Pres. Lewis Reed

The site just north of the old Pruitt-Igoe footprint is in Ald. Tammika Hubbard's 5th Ward.
"I understand that people may feel some type of way because it's theirs homes," she said. "But I'll tell you this: Look at what's in the best interest of the city. I understand how it is to have a connection to your community, but I don't think we should sacrifice 3,100 jobs for 30 dwellings."

Eminent domain would be used as a last resort, Hubbard said. Affected homeowners would be able to simply move elsewhere, have a new home built in the neighborhood, or have their old home physically moved to another plot of land in the neighborhood, if the building is structurally stable.

No Promises

Activists opposed to the use of eminent domain in north St. Louis listen to debate on the measure on February 13, 2015.
Credit Rachel Lippmann/St. Louis Public Radio
Activists opposed to the use of eminent domain in north St. Louis listen to debate on the measure.

Friday's vote granting eminent domain powers does not guarantee that the NGA will pick the north side location. It's entirely possible that the city will remove people for nothing. And opponents were not willing to take that gamble.

"If I knew NGA was definitely relocating to the area, I would probably hold my nose and vote for it, because it's a lot of jobs," said Ald. Scott Ogilvie. "But as it is, we have to roll the dice with a gun to our heads from the federal government for them to say, 'Maybe we'll let you keep those jobs,' I just think it's an unacceptable position."

Mayor Francis Slay's spokeswoman, Maggie Crane, responded on Twitter:

Eminent domain has been part of the conversation around development on the north side since Paul McKee first unveiled his plans for the area more than five years ago. Although he sought the power to take property in order to secure financing, McKee promised over and over again he would not use it. 

"In less than a month, we have changed our entire presentation as to what will happen, and we are telling these people that they are not important," said Ald. Sharon Tyus. "We're telling them, we have to save these jobs, and it has to be on the backs of someone, so it might as well be you."

Hubbard, the 5th Ward alderwoman and a co-sponsor of the measure, said it's a false narrative that everyone who lives there is unwilling to leave.

"No one is talking about the numerous calls I've gotten with people seeing this as a blessing to be able to do something better," she said. "The infrastructure around these homes has collapsed. "

Next Steps

A provision in the eminent domain measure requires the Board of Aldermen to give its approval every time the city development agency wants to take a property owner to court over eminent domain. That means it will be the beginning of May. at the earliest, before any proceedings could begin. There could be several new faces at the Board of Aldermen by then -- municipal elections are April 7.

Also Today:

  • Aldermen approved a measure sponsored by Ald. Jeffrey Boyd that gives veterans a leg up in applying for city jobs.
  • Aldermen did not debate a measure that would create a civilian oversight board for the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Force. A vote to suspend the rules to combine two steps of the process in the same day failed.
  • Aldermen also did not take any action on a pending $200 million bond issue.

Friday marked the start of spring break for the aldermen. They have one more meeting scheduled on April 20.  The board's rules would allow them to send both those bills to the mayor on that day, but no changes could be made.

Rachel is the justice correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.