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North St. Louis residents propose plan to block potential eminent domain efforts

The Griot Museum of Black History will receive a public art installation by architect David Adjaye who designed the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History.
Adjaye Associates
Residents of north St. Louis don't want schools and institutions like the Griot Museum of Black History, located in St. Louis Place, to be negatively affected by revitalization projects. St. Louis Place and Jeff-Vander-Lou neighborhood associations are trying to keep residents in their homes and block potential eminent domain efforts through a redevelopment proposal. The Land Clearance for Redevelopment Authority designated acres of Jeff-Vander-Lou and St. Louis Place neighborhoods as blighted.

Two north St. Louis neighborhood associations want to keep residents in their homes and block potential eminent domain efforts through a proposed redevelopment plan.

The Land Clearance for Redevelopment Authority board approved a plan Nov. 1 that would allow St. Louis Place and Jeff-Vander-Lou residents to use tax abatements to improve their properties and keep the city from buying their homes.

The plan includes a community advisory panel for residents to discuss upcoming revitalization projects with city staff and developers.

The proposal needs approval from the Planning Commission to move to the Board of Aldermen.

The protections and incentives give people a choice, instead of seeing their properties going through eminent domain procedures, said Sheila Rendon, vice president of St. Louis Place Neighborhood Association.

“If there's a development project that comes on their block, and they choose to sell, then more power to them, that's their choice. It's their property,” she said. “But to have property taken from you, you feel that theft.”

Earlier this year, the St. Louis Development Corporation conducted a study of the land that surrounds the new $1.7 billion National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency campus. The report designated over 800 acres of land in north St. Louis, including St. Louis Place, Jeff-Vander-Lou and parts of Carr Square neighborhoods, as blighted.

Rendon and other concerned residents of St. Louis Place and Jeff-Vander-Lou neighborhoods were made aware of the report and were encouraged by their aldermen and attorneys to present their redevelopment plans to the city.

Many residents say they do not trust the city, because officials used eminent domain before to force some longtime north St. Louis residents out of their homes to build the NGA site.

Rendon said she was concerned that this would happen again and did not want her neighbors to endure what she had years ago.

Rendon is familiar with eminent domain procedures and its effects. She lived at 2314 Mullanphy St. in St. Louis Place for 43 years. Her grandparents and parents purchased the home in 1963. Rendon inherited the home and maintained it. But in 2015, the city bought her out of her home to begin the NGA construction.

“Our house was a nucleus for anyone who had trouble if they needed a place to stay, if they needed to run from danger,” Rendon said. “They always knew that they had Mullanphy to go to, and that's lost, but the feeling is still there.”

Rendon was able to move her family a few blocks over in the same neighborhood. Her new property is listed as blighted, but she plans to fight to keep her place and ensure her neighbors stay in their homes.

“We want the community that is still here to know that you do not have to take this,” she said. “You can say ‘No.' You can say to your elected official, ‘Do something about this, protect me.’”

Samanatha Harris has lived in the Jeff-Vander-Lou area for nearly 40 years and plans to keep her home in her family for generations.

“Often African Americans don't have generational inheritance,” she said. “You [developers] come into our neighborhood and you tear it down and there's nothing to speak of who we are or where we've been or how we work to develop foundations in our community … so we are very concerned about eminent domain.”

Harris lives minutes away from a recreation center, Fairground Park and other entertainment businesses that keep the community full of life.

“We have also invested our money to keep up our residence and our property. We pay taxes. We live here,” she said. “There are areas that have vibrancy going on, we've been overshadowed by a lot of negative publicity.”

Harris and Rendon hope the redevelopment plan empowers residents and city officials to work collaboratively to improve their neighborhoods without displacing residents.

“We want businesses that are vibrant businesses that will attract people to our community,” Harris said. “In some areas, redevelopment is necessary, but we're just not open to coming in and taking our property or our land because we are vested, invested people in our community.”

Andrea covers race, identity & culture at St. Louis Public Radio.