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Page pushed Dellwood project despite concerns it wasn’t ready, former county official says

Page pushed Dellwood project despite concerns it wasn’t ready, former county official says

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JEFFERSON CITY — The former director of St. Louis County’s Office of Community Development expressed doubts about a proposed Dellwood development in the weeks before County Executive Sam Page ultimately voiced his support for it in a letter to the state.

Following Page’s recommendation in December, the Missouri Housing Development Commission approved the project, a 44-unit mixed income senior housing complex called the Urban League Senior Housing at Dellwood. Developers were seeking $615,000 in annual low-income housing tax credits.

Page’s decision to back the project has generated some attention in the closing days of the four-way Democratic primary for county executive. A month after he lent his support, a political action committee tied to the project developer, Gardner Capital, and Gardner’s lobbyist Steve Tilley, contributed $2,049 to Page’s campaign, the Post-Dispatch reported last week.

A spokesman for the county executive’s office previously told the Post-Dispatch the Office of Community Development submits recommendations to the county executive’s staff, which then works with the county executive on final recommendations.

But James Holtzman, former director of the Office of Community Development, said that characterization suggests the office had some influence over the final recommendations.

In reality, he said, “Our recommendations were completely thrown out.”

“It’s the county executive’s prerogative to take our recommendations or have his own,” Holtzman said. “But if things become problematic with his recommendations, or his priorities, don’t turn around and say he listened to the Office of Community Development or used their recommendations.”

In a letter his office sent to the county executive’s office on Oct. 3, Holtzman said: “Urban League Senior has some strong and compelling attributes. However, it appears to be not as well developed as the first three projects. Although we support this project, we feel it would be a stronger project for next year’s round of applications.”

Holtzman listed three other projects as top county priorities. Doug Moore, spokesman for the county executive, said all three of those projects had flaws.

Ultimately, though, two of the Office of Community Development’s top three projects did make it on the county executive’s recommendation list; they were ranked fourth and seventh, respectively. The county executive recommended seven projects in total.

Moore said previous county executives often rearranged the recommendations handed up by the Office of Community Development.

Moore described Holtzman as a “disgruntled former county employee” and said he was working on the campaign of one of Page’s opponents in the Aug. 4 primary.

Moore said Holtzman left county government “under a cloud” because of an “unauthorized” deal he signed off on in October 2018 allowing the St. Louis County Housing Authority to settle an $800,000 debt with the county for $200,000.

Holtzman said the agreement was never finalized, and that the housing authority still owes the county $800,000. Plus, he said, such negotiations were routine in the Office of Community Development for years.

“They’re just lying,” Holtzman said. “They should spend their time trying to govern the county that seems to be falling apart right now.”

“They’re (the county executive’s team is) in the middle of a heated political campaign and they’re going to do whatever they can to make Sam look good,” Holtzman said.

Holtzman, who joined county government in 2004, said he retired in March after officials moved the Office of Community Development from the Planning Department to the Department of Human Services.

Holtzman contributed $250 on June 3 to County Assessor Jake Zimmerman’s campaign for county executive. Holtzman said he’s sent about 20 people emails asking them to support Zimmerman.Michael McMillan, president of the Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis, didn’t respond to a request for comment.

The Urban League’s proposal won the highest score among St. Louis region projects by the Missouri Housing Development Commission, according to a commission scoring sheet posted online.

The Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis didn’t control the property in question until after the Missouri Housing Development Commission approved the project in December.

That’s according to a deed transferring ownership of the property, at 9947 West Florissant Avenue, to the Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis on Feb. 3.

State Treasurer Scott Fitzpatrick sits on the housing commission.

“While a developer having control of the land on which their project is to be built is desirable,” said Mary Compton, spokeswoman for his office, “it is not enough to disqualify a project by itself if they do not.”

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