Clayton rejects effort to put Centene expansion before voters
Updated Feb. 15 with city's rejection of petition -A group of Clayton citizens is dealing with a setback in its effort to bring a massive expansion project directly to voters. The city has rejected a petition essentially calling for the more than $770-million Centene headquarters expansion to be put on the ballot.
Clayton's city clerk presented a report to the board of aldermen Tuesday night that outlines her conclusions about why the petition does not comply with the city's charter.
The report also contends there are not enough signatures for a petition that proposes amendments to the charter.
The group behind the effort has not determined its next steps.
Original Story From Feb. 13, 2017
Even though work is underway on a massive development that will change the Clayton skyline, some residents are still questioning the project. Plans call for Centene's headquarters expansion to be a multi-use development with office, retail, residential, parking and green space. A group of Clayton citizens has concerns, including whether too much of the deal was made without enough public input.
Clayton officials say that's not the case, adding there have been more than 21 hours of public meetings so far.
"That doesn't mean every single person got everything they wanted," said Clayton City Manager Craig Owens.
"But what it does mean is that we listened. And by the citizens, whose city it is, working with a developer who is deeply committed to this community, coming into a balance, we were able to make improvements along the way."
Some Clayton residents are not convinced, and have formed a political action committee in an effort to get the expansion on the ballot and give voters a direct say on whether it should move forward.
Stacey Smith helped launch the committee and told St. Louis Public Radio that she thinks the city, business interests and Centene have worked together to quietly bring the roughly $770 million project along.
"They've got the fence up around the area. Their bulldozers are leveling the ground. But there are a number of permits they still need to get, so it's not a done deal yet."
Smith also stressed that she is not anti-Centene, but wants to be sure as many residents as possible have a say in deciding whether the massive project is the best thing for the city. She gives supporters including elected officials the benefit of the doubt in backing the Medicaid-managed care company's expansion.
"And I do believe they think it's good for the city," she said.
"But I would say, to me, I think there was a bit of being seduced by the possibility of how much money this might bring in to the city, and then the effect on the larger community and what it was going to be like day-to-day for the residents, I think, was put on a back burner."
Justin Perryman is another concerned resident. He has spent most of his life in Clayton and told St. Louis Public Radio he is not against Centene, but wants residents to have more of a voice when it comes to big projects.
"You know, we're working with City Hall to let them know that residents do concern themselves with the development of their community and that's a wonderful thing."
Many who oppose the project say it does not follow a master plan established by the city. Perryman is not sure where the expansion fits with that document, but understands why some property owners in the area have strong concerns.
"I know that the taller the tower, the more it's going to intrude upon the light space of the residents who live around that tower," he said.
"Even if it does work into the master plan, the fact is that we want to make sure that all the residents get a chance to speak and the vote is a good way to do that."
City officials and the developer counter that the project is following the plan and several adjustments have been made based on input gathered from hours of public meetings.
Clayco is overseeing construction.
"We don't think the project is out of line with the master plan at all," Clayco Chief Executive Officer Bob Clark said.
"While we know there were some people who didn't really like the project, the vast majority of the people that we talked to, even people who spoke up in planning meetings, were very positive about the project."
If it does go forward as expected, the expansion is expected to attract thousands of jobs to the region. University of Missouri-St. Louis Public Policy Research Center Director Mark Tranel says many jobs would be at Centene, but there would also be a spin-off effect at other employers. And the impact of those new jobs will be felt beyond Clayton, affecting schools, real estate and businesses, such as grocery stores outside the project area.
"Probably only a small percentage of these people will end up living in Clayton," Tranel said, while adding there is an even larger regional impact.
"For example, the economic development corporation, that serves the city and county area, it meets an objective for them to have something that they can go out and sell. 'Look, this is evidence of what a good market St. Louis is.'"
Stacey Smith is aware of the potential benefits. But after all the discussion, public meetings and revisions to the expansion plan she still goes back to when she first became aware of the project.
"I can remember in that moment reading the postcard and feeling like there is a disturbance in the force in Clayton. It was too big. The decision was too large. And, I felt we had been closed out of the simple question of does the community really want this?"
The Clayton city clerk is expected to give a report on the petition to the Board of Aldermen on Tuesday.
The city has posted information about the project on its website.
Centene also has details about the expansion posted online.
Follow Wayne on Twitter: @WayneRadio