A former alderman and two members of a group formed to speak for Sunset Hills residents on Feb. 11 spoke against the city’s plan to amend the city code tax incentives for businesses and developers.

The board considered an amendment to adopt the  elements of Missouri Statute 353, which permits a city to “blight” an area and subsequently, offer real estate tax abatement to spur development. 

The amendment failed to gain a second, decisive reading, as Ward 1 Aldermen Dee Baebler and Ann McMunn voted against expediting the vote. City policy allows a bill to be introduced and voted on at the same meeting only when the board agrees unanimously to a second reading.

The abortive vote came after former alderman Frank Hardy and Cathy Friedmann and Gary Vincent of the Sunset Hills Neighbors group denounced the bill during public comments.

Hardy, who was elected in 2005 as an opponent of a (later failed) Sunset Manors eminent domain project, said a similar ordinance “has been proposed to the city before, and it was turned down.”

Hardy asked that the amendment be rejected, but if the board should pass it, “at least tie it to the property in question; don’t make it applicable citywide.” 

The “property in question” is 3600 South Lindbergh Blvd., where hotelier H. R. Sheevam is in the process of replacing his Days Inn with a five-story Comfort Inn. His long-term plan is to add a Hilton-brand hotel on the eastern part of the lot and a multi-level parking garage, which would be used by hotel patrons as well as Helen Fitzgerald’s Pub customers.

On Jan. 14, Sheevam’s consultants approached the board about a “tax stabilization” plan they said would be necessary, if the second hotel and garage are to be constructed. Sheevam’s plan is not mentioned in the proposed ordinance, but a letter from the law firm Sandberg Phoenix requesting passage of the amendment was submitted to the board.

“This smacks of corporate welfare,” said Friedmann, who is running for alderman in Ward 3. “I don’t see why we need this. What’s the rush? “

Vincent questioned whether the hotel property fits the criteria for “blighting.” The state statute defines blight as “a portion of a city within which the legislative authority determines that by reason of age, obsolescence, inadequate or outmoded design or physical deterioration have become economic and social liabilities, and that such conditions are conducive to ill health, transmission of disease, crime or inability to pay reasonable taxes.”

Vincent noted that according to Sheevam’s team, the county has raised the assessment on the property 60 percent, an indication that it cannot be considered distressed. 

“I think it is inappropriate to subsidize a private business,” he said.

Mayor Pat Fribis said following the public comments that some of what the board heard was inaccurate. The ordinance, she said, would only establish the procedures that the city could use or decline to use when faced with development questions. 

City Attorney Robert Jones said the amendment “should be in place” without speaking to the merits of the hotel development and that there would be “no downside” to passing it. 

“It will be up to developers to prove to us (that a property should be blighted,)” Fribis said. 

Baebler asked City Administrator Eric Sterman if he believed there are any properties in the city that meet the criteria of “blight.” Sterman did not provide any examples of blight.

The board likely will vote on the amendment at its March meeting.