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Letter to the Editor - Impact of "Highlands at Busch Wildlife" on Our Rural Community

Letter to the Editor - Impact of "Highlands at Busch Wildlife" on Our Rural Community

In recent weeks, St. Charles County Council members Elam, Baker, and Hammond made public statements indicating they favor the proposed “Highlands” development for two basic reasons: (1) the current proposal will have less adverse impact on residents than that proposed in 2023, and (2) accepting the current proposal will create a “block” against future O'Fallon annexation southward along the Highway DD corridor. As shown below, we believe neither of those positions are supported by facts:

(1) The current “Highlands” proposal is highly inconsistent with established land use in our community. 64 of the 83 properties within 2,000 ft of the subject property are greater than 3 acres, and all the properties within 1,000 ft are greater than 3 acres. The aggregate density of the existing community is 0.12 homes per acre. St. Charles County Planning and Zoning determined the aggregate density of the proposed development to be 0.88 homes per acre, or 6X worse (but legal).

(2) During the June 10 St. Charles County Council meeting, the Council verified that it had not conducted any financial impact analysis of this, nor do they for any new development in the county. This lack of analysis is concerning, as it leaves us without a clear understanding of the potential financial implications of the development. We have conducted such an analysis using a property/sales tax and services cost calculation methodology that the City of O'Fallon used for its similarly sized developments. The data shows that the “Highlands” development will result in a yearly financial loss to the county. The only development design that results in a financial gain for the county is a 40-home development of high-value homes on 3-acre lots with well/septic systems and private roads.

3) Some within the Council believe that, without specific grounds or legally validated information, the development will be an effective “block” against future O'Fallon annexations. We have consulted with a real estate attorney and a municipal law attorney, and both independently concluded that no such annexation “block” exists as a matter of law. In fact, in the 3-5 years until most homes are sold, and formal authority is transferred from Lombardo Homes to the development's HOA, a voluntary annexation can easily occur. It is important to note that Lombardo plans to build the northern development first, thus extending the risk of “Highlands” annexation.

(4) Litigation is the only effective response to Lombardo's O'Fallon annexation threat. Today, Citizens for Smart Growth in St. Charles County (CSGSCC) stands legally and financially ready to follow through on our commitment to litigate against any future O'Fallon annexation of the subject property. Our legal strategy has grown stronger and is well-supported by Missouri case law and objective analyses of both the property's characteristics and the development itself. We have high confidence in obtaining a declaratory judgment against the city and injunctive relief while our case is heard. Our case is even stronger if Lombardo proposes to annex both the northern and southern properties. It is concerning that the Council can only consider the facts as they relate to what's "proposed," meaning they reject the strategy of denying the southern proposal while we litigate against the O'Fallon annexation of the northern property. This mindset is precisely why Lombardo is breaking development into two parts.

Councilman Elam's constituents deserve to understand exactly why he favors forcing dense residential development of 0.88 homes/acre into a rural community of currently 0.12 homes/acre. Is legality all that matters? Why isn't he listening to his constituents' demand for 3-acre lots? Why is he ignoring the fact that the developer he apparently supports also wants to annex approximately 150 acres of the councilman's own 3rd District to the city of O'Fallon? He knows the annexation proposal is coming - our group members were in the room when Lombardo told him so, yet he fails to act in any way to stop it. Why?

A partnership of the Council's denial of the current “Highlands” proposal and CSGSCC's litigation against O'Fallon's annexation of the northern property, combined with an update of the county's master plan to define all the subject property as “Rural Residential” will ensure our rural community is protected. It's a strong solution that reflects the will of the people and not the profit-driven special interests. Isn't that what we expect from our elected officials, especially those seeking higher office?

St. County residents should contact the councilman to obtain their perspectives and voice their concerns. It is crucial that we all plan to attend the St. Charles County Council meeting on June 24 for the proposal vote. Our collective presence and voices can make a significant difference in the outcome.

Citizens for Smart Growth in St. Charles County

Click here for a list of the St. Charles County Council member's emails and phone numbers.