Residents gathered Wednesday night at Vashon High School to hear about a proposal for a Special Use District surrounding the future site of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency in north St. Louis.
It was the second of two public meetings organized this month by the St. Louis Development Corporation’s Project Connect to discuss the proposal.
The Special Use District — or SUD — would encircle the NGA site, roughly extending one half mile outward from the perimeter of the 97-acre development as shown on this map.
At the public meeting, Jay Watson, manager of Project Connect, outlined the purpose of the proposed SUD. Additional or “overlay zoning” requirements in the district, he said, are needed to address “NGA’s concerns about potential security risks from unconstrained development around the site.”
According to Watson’s presentation and a draft of zoning regulations, the SUD is needed to protect the NGA site from:
- Incompatible hazardous or toxic land uses including motor-fuel pumping stations
- Incompatible heights of structure for radio frequency, microwave or other emitting towers
- Incompatible heights of structures for the transmission or receipt of information and signals by or through electronic, radio, satellite or other medium
- Facilities or improvements financed, sponsored, owned or operated by adverse government which pose a threat to National Security
The proposed bill, which SLDC wants introduced into the Board of Aldermen next month, lists 10 categories of businesses or operations that would be prohibited in the district. They include restrictions on the height of cell or other types of communication towers to no more than 65 feet. Certain welding activities also would be prohibited because they emit significant radio frequency energy.
SLDC Executive Director Otis Williams told the audience that existing businesses would be grandfathered in under the new zoning requirements, if qualified, and that new business applications in the district would be required to seek city approval at a public hearing.
“The SUD only applies to commercial land use — no residential property will be impacted — and it does not affect existing businesses,” he said.
Many questions from residents attending the meeting were critical of the proposed SUD, calling it further infringement on their neighborhoods surrounding the NGA site.
Gustavo Rendon lost his home when the city used eminent domain to obtain property for the NGA headquarters. He now lives a few blocks away within the boundaries of the proposed SUD.
“Everybody has a lot of questions; nobody really understands what is going on,” he said. “There’s already a process in place to stop businesses from coming in, this SUD adds another layer.”
Rendon and other residents at the meeting said they knew of businesses, homeowners and churches in the area that have been approached by realtors and “representatives of the NGA” who were interested in buying their property.
Robert Green, a retired IBM employee who maintained computers at the current NGA St. Louis facility for 10 years, was skeptical about the purpose of the SUD at last night’s meeting. He lives in the St. Louis Place neighborhood adjacent to the future NGA site.
“I think this Special Use District is wholly for the safety of the NGA,” Green said. “And really, I don’t think they take any of our concerns to heart.”
The city is scheduled to transfer property designated for the NGA site to the U.S. Air Force and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers by the end of the year.
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