OLIVETTE • Many residents stepped up to the microphone at a standing-room-only Olivette City Council meeting Tuesday night to speak against a proposal to rezone a city park for a private sports complex.
As part of the plan, developer BWB Sports would lease land in Warson Park from the city to build a $25 million, nearly 150,000-square-foot complex that would feature three indoor ice rinks, two outdoor lacrosse fields with artificial turf and a medical building for training and physical therapy, as well as 750 parking spaces. The existing Olivette Community Center would be razed.
A common criticism from those who spoke was the precedent being set if the council approved the use of a public park for private development. Some residents argued voters should get a say in such projects. Several criticized the possibility of removing a large chunk of public green space and were skeptical that Olivette residents would benefit if the proposal moved forward.
“I was walking through the park yesterday, and the scale of this thing is immense,” said Raymond Deffry, who lives next to the 29-acre park. “I mean, as far as the eye can see, if we built this, there’d be no park left.”
Steve Fazzari, an Olivette resident and economist at Washington University, said the northern portion of the park serves as an important buffer between residential neighborhoods and industrial development, and that the project would “destroy” that buffer.
“In my opinion,” he said, “the approval of this plan would fail the test of how a well-functioning government should protect the quality of life of its citizens.”
Mayor Jean Antoine emphasized that the council was far from making a decision on the complex. “Nothing has been decided by the council,” he said. “This is a process.”
Only one resident, Sima Baker, a figure skating coach, spoke in favor of the proposal. “Everyone in this room needs to go to Webster Groves or the city of Kirkwood and see that their rinks and facilities ... are more than welcome in those communities,” she said.
“They bring in tons of money” for nearby businesses, she said. Some residents had criticized the proposal at an Olivette Economic Development Commission meeting last month.
Earlier this month, the Planning and Community Design Commission voted to recommend that City Council approve a zoning amendment that would allow privately owned recreation facilities and medical offices in public parks, on the condition that the council grant a special-use permit to such projects after separate reviews.
In April, the city reached an agreement in which BWB Sports will fund economic feasibility and economic impact studies for the project.
In other business, the council decided to put a $13.5 million bond issue on the August primary ballot to fund a new municipal service building, which would house a police station, fire station and city hall. Four-sevenths of voters would need to approve the bond issue for it to pass.