Updated at 7:30 p.m. with council action on charter amendment veto
The St. Louis County Council took a big step Tuesday toward expanding Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery.
The plan involves selling more than 33 acres of the roughly 70-acre Sylvan Springs Park to the federal government, which could prevent Jefferson Barracks from running out of room.
Veterans have been pressing St. Louis County officials to sell part of the south St. Louis County-based Sylvan Springs Park for years. They’re concerned that Jefferson Barracks will run out of room to bury veterans in the next couple of decades.
After years of delays and opposition from preservationist groups, the council gave first-round approval to legislation turning over 33.64 acres of the park to the federal government. If council members give the plan final approval, the measure will go to St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger’s desk.
St. Louis County Parks Director Gary Bess said the sale will allow “our veterans to find their final resting spot.” He predicted that Jefferson Barracks will run out of space by 2021 — and added the Sylvan Springs addition will provide room until about 2038.
“The sale of parkland is often controversial. But in this case, I think it’s warranted,” Bess said. “What we’re doing is returning the land to the government for one of the most worthy uses I can imagine — and that’s taking care of our country’s veterans.”
A spokesman for Stenger said the sale price is around $2.41 million.
Al Katzenberger was one of the veterans advocating for the council to sell part of the park. He was pleased that council members are seeking to expand the cemetery.
“When it’s finished, it’s going to be as beautiful as the cemetery across the street,” Katzenberger said. “It’ll be fenced in, and it will be very well taken care of. It’s going to be a plus for the county.”
The Sylvan Springs proposal comes as council members passed a proposed charter amendment to make it more difficult to sell or lease parkland. Councilman Sam Page, though, said he hasn’t heard any major opposition to expanding Jefferson Barracks cemetery.
“We’re making an enormous leap forward to protect the parkland in St. Louis County with our charter amendment,” Page said. “This is a small sale for a worthy cause. And I think everyone recognizes that.”
Delay on charter amendments
The aforementioned charter proposal involving the sale of parkland was one of three proposed charter changes that Stenger signed on Tuesday. He also signed measures capping campaign contributions to county-based candidates and requiring certain financial information to be posted online.
He vetoed another measure that would give the council more budgetary authority, especially on transferring money within a department. But council members ended up overriding that objection on Tuesday evening.
“This is simply a proposal to improve and give more transparency to how those monies are changed,” said Councilwoman Colleen Wasinger, R-Huntleigh.
But since action was taken on the proposed charter amendments on Tuesday evening, they missed a deadline to get on the Nov. 6 ballot. That means council members will have to get a court order to get the proposals before voters.
Page said there’s a process to get a judge to put the proposed amendments on the ballot.
“We’re not going to bicker, because it’s very easy to go to court and get a court order,” Page said on Tuesday. “It’s done routinely. And as long as we do it this week, it shouldn’t be a problem. The statute to access the ballot through court order is broadly written and liberally interpreted.”
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