The St. Louis Board of Aldermen has approved a plan to again use eminent domain to secure the new site of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency headquarters.
The federal government asked for the condemnation process to ensure the city can turn the 97-acre site over to them by a Nov. 14 deadline. But some aldermen questioned if they had enough information to make the correct decision.
“Sometimes we have to make the hard decisions based on the knowledge that we have and the tools that have been given to us,” said Alderman Brandon Bosley, D-3rd Ward and the sponsor of the bill. “I’m sure there’s a lot of information I’m not privy to. But I see from all of this, after putting together everything, is this is time-sensitive. If it wasn’t time-sensitive, you wouldn’t have so many entities at each other’s throats about it.”
A holding company connected to the city’s development agency already owns the entire site.
But a pending lawsuit against the city argues that because the city has tried to cut ties with developer Paul McKee, deals to sell some of the land McKee owned in the NGA footprint to the holding company can be undone. McKee owned about 60 percent of the land needed for the NGA site, including some properties he had previously purchased from the city. The Bank of Washington, which provided financing to McKee,filed the suit.
The city is attempting to get that lawsuit thrown out, but has also filed a second case asking a judge to declare that no one else has any claims to the land.
Not everyone bought into the sense of urgency.
“Where is your proof?” asked Sharon Tyus, D-1st Ward. “On our desks should be a letter from NGA saying if this does not happen, then we are not going to proceed. We don’t have that.”
Alderman Jeffrey Boyd, D-22nd Ward, later read an email the federal government had sent to Mayor Lyda Krewson’s office outlining some of the concerns officials had with the city’s claim to the land. But Tyus noted there was an additional 74 pages that aldermen had not gotten a chance to read.
In a political body that is often governed by deference to colleagues, the fact that Alderwoman Tammika Hubbard, D-5th Ward, did not support eminent domain was notable. The majority of the NGA site is in her ward.
“This bill was pitched as something that would help us get through some hurdles because we don’t want to lose NGA,” Hubbard said. “We’re not going to lose the NGA. I just feel like this body shouldn’t be used as a pawn in the legal fight that’s going on between the city and the Bank of Washington.”
Otis Williams, the director of the city development agency, said officials would file the condemnation action in court as soon as possible. The city has already spent millions buying the land in the NGA site. It’s not clear how much they’ll have to pay the holding company as part of eminent domain.
Also on Friday, another effort to ban lobbyists from the board chambers got under way.
Board rules allow honored guests to watch the proceedings from the floor of the chambers, rather than from the gallery. But the term isn’t defined, and many are actually lobbyists.
The measure introduced by Heather Navarro, D-28th Ward, defines honored guests as those receiving awards or tributes from the board. Almost everyone else would have to watch from the gallery or be in side rooms.
Navarro said the perception isn’t good when lobbyists can regularly be on the floor but constituents have to watch from the gallery.
“I think it’s really important for the public to see that when we come in here to do the job we were elected to do, we are standing here on our own behalf,” Navarro said. “This bill is about transparency, accountability, equity.”
A group of four aldermen tried to ban lobbyists two years ago. That attempt failed in committee after getting tangled in the politics around a proposed new NFL stadium.
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