Despite efforts by a few Town and Country residents Monday to prevent the Municipal Park Grant Commission of St Louis County from approving funding for an engineering study grant for the Longview Farm Park parking project, the commission unanimously approved the grant.
The grant money comes from the voter approved Great Rivers Greenway sales tax for park and trails fund, not from the St. Louis County budget.
The meeting was attended by a couple of Town and Country residents, along with Town and Country aldermen Lynn Wright, Steve Fons and Al Gerber. Town and Country City Administrator and Police Chief John Copeland also attended the grant commission meeting.
In February, the Town and Country Board of Aldermen voted to move forward with the Longview parking project by authorizing the city to apply for a $4,000 planning grant to prepare engineering construction drawings for the parking lot expansion project.
The project would add 15 additional parking spots to the park. It's a recommendation that was made by the Longview Farm Park Ad-Hoc Committee which is headed up by former Town and Country mayor Skip Mange.
Mange started off Monday's meeting with a presentation to the Municipal Park Grant Commission of St Louis County in which he referenced the feasibility study used to come to the conclusion that adding the additional parking spots is the best plan.
(Read Related Story: Town and Country Moving Forward With Longview Parking Project)
However, not all residents agree with the expansion project. One of those residents is Henry Vogt who lives adjacent to the park and also serves on the Longview Farm Park Ad-Hoc Committee. Vogt has consistenly spoken out against the parking project and any expansion at the park.
(Read Previous Story: Vote Delayed on Longview Farm Parking Expansion Grant)
He brought and online petition Monday and addressed the grant commission in an effort to stop funding of the $4,000 grant.
"If the residents don't want this facility, why should the county be funding it? That's what we're asking," Vogt told commission memebers prior to the vote. "Don't fund this park. Fund something that can have recreational activities."
Vogt said the main parking issue is during private events and banquets at the Longview Farm Park farmhouse.
"Is that what the county should be funding, private parties?" Vogt asked.
The St. Louis County Municipal Parks Grant Commission members said they rarely see residents speaking out at the grant meetings. Members listened to what residents had to say, but also said the meeting wasn't the proper venue to speak out against the city project.
"We are created by the municipalities. We are not the appeal body for those who don't like the judgement of their mayor and city council. We accept the judgement of the city." said Commissioner Jim Brasfield. "So our posture in the past, has been that as long as the project meets the criteria.. we operate on the assumption tht the city body in acting represents the views of the city. Sometimes that may be unanimous and sometimes it may be divided."
"This is a county wide commission. When we get an application from a municipality we have a criteria that we use, how the county money should be spent wisely. Quite honestly, if there are any issues with how the money is spent, they are usually resolved within that municipality before it comes to us," Commissioner Dennis Novak added. "If there is a problem with what is submitted to us, it needs to be handled at the municipal level. If this is approved, this goes back to Town and Country."
Town and Country resident and Patch contributer John Hoffmann accused the commission members of putting their "blinders on."
Despite the opposition, the board approved the grant for the engineering study.
"We always like both sides to come together. Obviously people are nervous about this because they feel we are getting to the point of no return," said Trudy Hoey, grant commission chair. "The planning grant is the beginning. A city can decide not to do the project before a construction grant is submitted."
An April 9 workshop will take place in Town and Country to discuss parking, changing the park's entrances and exits and lighting adjustments for the new parking lot format. At that time, aldermen should also have data from traffic counters recently placed at the park.
Mayor Jon Dalton previously stated that no action will be taken on the expansion project before June 25, when an ordinance is scheduled to go before aldermen and they could vote on whether to hire an engineer for the project. Dalton also said the city will not incur any expense until the preliminary traffic count is in front of the board.
*Additional Information: Residents opposed to the parking expansion project have voiced concerns over losing green space and that the expansion will bring more people and traffic to the park. They've said the park was promised to be passive and it continues to be developed. Mange said he feels the city has kept its promises pertaining to the park. He said the city will remove three trees for the parking expansion, but will put in a great deal of lanscaping, particulary to screen the parking over Clayton Road. Mange said the project will remove asphalt, but there will also be some paving over current greenspace. He said overall, the project will net green space and create a reduction of overflow.
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