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Carondelet Park neighbors weigh taxing district for park maintenance, security

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ST. LOUIS — Residents in the neighborhoods around Carondelet Park could decide in August to tax themselves in order to fund maintenance and security across a swath of south city, including Carondelet Park itself.

A bill introduced Friday by Alderman Anne Schweitzer, 13th Ward, would create the Holly Hills Special Business District, which would levy a special property tax that would split funding evenly between infrastructure, landscaping and security.

The bill, if it wins final approval from aldermen, would put the question to voters in the roughly square-mile area between Morgan Ford Road, Grand Boulevard, Loughborough Avenue and Bates Street.

Community volunteers often help maintain the neighborhood’s large medians, Schweitzer said, but medians that haven’t been adopted could use a funding source. And, unlike its two larger peers, Forest Park and Tower Grove Park, Carondelet Park is the largest park in the city without a dedicated funding source, prompting residents to often pitch in to help the city keep up with maintenance there.

“So far everyone I’ve talked to in Holly Hills has been willing to help fund those things,” Schweitzer said. “People really do invest heavily in the neighborhood and there’s a lot of community participation.”

Brooks Goedeker, a neighborhood resident who has worked with special taxing districts professionally for years, said one around Holly Hills has been discussed for several years. The proposal would add 65 cents per $100 assessed value — $247 a year for a house worth $200,000. It would raise about $400,000 annually from the roughly 1,900 properties within the district footprint, Goedeker said. A volunteer committee would administer the money, he said.

Including a park within a district is a novel concept, Goedeker said, and an early project residents have expressed interest in could be adding gates to block vehicle traffic into Carondelet Park at night.

The idea’s genesis came as a way to find a sustainable funding source for an initiative started by Rep. Steve Butz, D-St. Louis, that paid off-duty police officers to “walk the beat” in the neighborhood. But that program had relied completely on donations.

Butz has spoken to other neighborhoods in his district and hopes the use of special business districts for maintenance and public safety catches on. Many commercial corridors in the city have Community Improvement Districts, but residential-heavy special business districts, as Holly Hills would be, aren’t common. A few wealthier neighborhoods such as DeBaliviere Place, the Central West End and Tower Grove South have smaller districts for part of the neighborhood. A similar proposal covering the entire ward near O’Fallon Park in north St. Louis stalled last year.

“It does not take that much additional tax on your property tax to have a real impact on your neighborhood,” Butz said. “I hope it catches on in more neighborhoods in the city.”

Banning camping in public right-of-ways

Aldermen on Friday also introduced a bill from Tom Oldenburg, 16th Ward, that would make it illegal to pitch a tent in public right-of-way, such as streets or alleys. It also specifically mentions the River Des Peres, which runs through Oldenburg’s ward and where about a dozen tents have popped up in the last month, he said.

“This has never happened before,” he said of the River Des Peres encampment.

He said he couldn’t find any ordinances that specifically barred tents from public right-of-way, though officials often clear encampments when they draw complaints. Oldenburg’s bill, though, contains no enforcement clause.

“It’s akin to jaywalking,” he said. “It at least gives the police the ability to say you’re breaking a local ordinance you need to remove your tent.”

Posted at 5:45 p.m. Friday, April 29.

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