Denise Funderburk says she has been unable to sell her property in Bridgeton because of a five-year conflict with the city. A recent land swap agreement between the city and Lambert Field might help her and two other property owners.
Funderburk, Kathy Breen Amptmann and Ron Deering say Mayor Conrad Bowers has hindered the selling of the properties in the 12000 block of Old St. Charles Road with rezoning issues and unacceptable buyout offers.
The city offered below-market value for the properties, says Funderburk, and better offers were made by housing developers, but those offers were re-evaluated when the developers found out that the property would not be rezoned for residential housing.
"I can only make an offer based on appraised values," said Bowers. "I don't blame them. I'd like to get all the money in the world on anything that I sell. We made an offer ... we made two offers, in fact, and their counters were so high. I understand they are frustrated. But I, as a mayor, can't give away city money."
The landowners rejected the city's offers.
As for the rezoning, Bowers says that he doesn't rezone property.
"I can't speak for planning and zoning, but anybody can ask for any zoning," Bowers said. "It is residential now. I don't make those choices. Planning and zoning makes the choice and then City Council makes the ultimate choice."
Funderburk says that during the years, the city used other methods to tie up the sale of their properties.
"He (Bowers) has threatened to take the landowners' property through condemnation and eminent domain if they did not sell for the low and insulting purchase offers that he has made to these landowners," said Funderburk, who is acting as a representative for her 81-year-old mother, Rosa Moser.
The area in question is under development by several developers who are building housing. There are about 10 other properties in the area, but Funderburk, Amptmann and Deering are the three major landowners in the area.
The city had wanted to build a park on the landowners' properties. The agreement between Bridgeton and the airport has the airport agreeing to give Bridgeton 43 acres. The city plans to use the land for parkland, instead of considering the land of the property owners, Bowers said.
In exchange, Lambert will get 14 acres that hold City Hall and Oak Valley Park on Natural Bridge Road, and Freebourn Park. City officials want to relocate City Hall because it's too close to the airport's new expansion runway.
Bridgeton was legally obligated to replace parks that were condemned in the expansion project.
The agreement resolves the remaining legal issues between the city and the airport that began 20 years ago when the city fought the airport over land slated to be used for the airport's expansion runway, which opened in April. The agreement also might resolve the issues between the city and the property owners because the city no longer wants to use that property for parkland.
Bowers says the landowners are free to sell their properties to whomever they want and a letter to that effect was sent to them last week.
"Absolutely this is good news," Funderburk said after receiving her letter. "For the last five years, quite frankly, it's been very tiresome. It's been a struggle, to say the least. I'm free to sell my property to builders, developers or to any private party."
Amptmann says she resents that the letter gives the impression that the city has been trying to free up her property for the past five years, and that's not the case.
"It was actually coincidental and definitely a good consequence that the airport decided to make a trade and settle the problems with Bridgeton," said Amptmann. "The overall thing is, yes, I can sell, but I still hold a grudge because I've been held hostage for five years."
Deering says that since he received his letter, he's been contacting the developers and hoping they still are interested.
"It's great if we can find the developers who are interested," said Deering. "We're starting to get a hold of them now. I doubt if they are even aware that Bridgeton has backed off."
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