St. Louis Public Radio News
6:03 pm
Tue February 9, 2010

Lawsuit filed against tax breaks for flood plain development

St. Louis – An environmental advocacy group is challenging a Missouri statute it says makes it too easy to develop in flood plains.

The lawsuit filed Tuesday on behalf of the Great Rivers Habitat Alliance challenges tax breaks the city of St. Charles gave to two developers who want to build office and warehouse space on 99 acres in the floodplain north of Interstate 370.

Under state law, a municipality must declare property blighted for developers to access most tax incentives. The lawsuit says the definition is unconstitutionally broad.

"I believe one of the blighting factors the developers use in this case, is there is a dead fish smell after the property floods," said Dan Burkemper, the executive director of the Great Rivers Habitat Alliance. "Now, we would contend that that happens within any floodplain because it's the nature of a flood plain."

The broad definition has turned the tax incentives away from their original intent, Burkemper said.

"The intent of these tax subsidies for developments was to truly redevelop blighted areas like brownfields and decaying urban areas, and what we've seen is that developers are not redeveloping those areas, they're developing open space because they can, and it's easier," he said.

The city of St. Charles and the developers did not return phone calls for comment.

In 2004, the Alliance filed a similar lawsuit against a development in St. Peters. The circuit court in Cole County ruled in favor of St. Peters in 2006, but the appeals court reversed that ruling in March 2008.