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Maryland Heights development a bit closer to taking shape

Maryland Heights development a bit closer to taking shape

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Maryland Heights development debate continues

Seen in 2016, this farm field is part of what Maryland Heights officials call the "Maryland Park Lake District." 

Photo by J.B. Forbes, jforbes@post-dispatch.com

MARYLAND HEIGHTS — A special taxing district that would finance over $100 million of storm-water pumps, levees and roads in the Howard Bend area may finally lead to the development of 2,400 low-lying acres along the Missouri River.

For years, property owners, developers and the city have longed to turn one of the last larger swaths of agricultural land in St. Louis County into another Chesterfield Valley. Though property owners formed a levee district and taxed themselves to build a 500-year levee, major development has not followed.

Standing in the way is the high cost of the pumping stations and equipment to manage storm water that collects in the low-lying land known as the Maryland Park Lake District. As a result, the land is “economically underutilized,” said Maryland Heights planning consultant John Brancaglione of PGAV Planners.

The “Lake District provides the only large area within St. Louis County where a new ‘community’ can be created,” the PGAV Planners report says. “However, this can only happen if the infrastructure necessary to make it happen is built.”

At a meeting Monday night, officials took the first major step toward establishing a tax increment financing, or TIF, district to reimburse those costs. The TIF Commission’s first meeting was mostly a formality to accept the plan and schedule a public hearing to vote on it. That meeting is scheduled for Thursday, Nov. 21 at Maryland Heights City Hall. The commission will also hold a meeting to discuss the plan Oct. 17.

TIFs capture increases in property and sales tax revenue from new development and can use that money to pay for development costs.

The city envisions up to $1.23 billion of private construction and infrastructure in the area. Private development costs wouldn’t be financed by the TIF, but the TIF and two contemplated special sales tax districts would cover up to $178 million in infrastructure costs and fees from lawyers, engineers and other consultants.

Brancaglione also said the city’s plan would pass any increase in property taxes that would have gone to the Pattonville Fire District on to the fire district rather than collecting it with the TIF. Pattonville Fire Chief Dave Dotson serves on the TIF Commission.

Any taxes from new residential development would not be collected by the TIF, he said. The proposed TIF includes land in both the Parkway and Pattonville school districts. Both districts have a representative on the commission.

The TIF Commission’s decision could be a barometer for how the new administration of St. Louis County Executive Sam Page views development along the region’s rivers. In 2016, changes to Missouri’s TIF law meant to rein in municipalities using tax incentives to poach sales tax-generating developments from their neighbors gave the county executive authority to appoint six of 12 TIF Commission members.

And without a vote recommending approval of a TIF plan, the costs a TIF can pay for are limited to only building demolition and land grading. That would hamper the plan to use the TIF for land acquisition, pumping stations, roadways and consultants.

Property owners in the Howard Bend Levee District have recently expressed frustration at the lack of development in the area and the extra taxes they paid to hire lawyers and engineers and build the levees they thought would lure it.

This spring, heavy rainfall swamped the area for months and a lack of pumping stations and storm-water infrastructure riled property owners.

That flooding and heightened interest from developers spurred the city to put forward the TIF plan now, said Maryland Heights Economic Development Director Jim Carver.

Carver, who also serves as a city representative on the Howard Bend Levee District board, said the levee district is moving ahead with issuing bonds to build a new pumping station with the hope that a TIF district could help reimburse it for the $8 million to $10 million cost. However, the plan is only a concept and no official agreement is in place between the city and the levee district yet, Carver told the Post-Dispatch.

This month, the levee district raised levee assessments by roughly 9%, Carver said, a plan laid out at its annual property owner meeting in August. But that increase will only cover existing levee district obligations, not any new infrastructure debt.

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