By Former St. Louis County Executive Gene McNary
The debate over a proposed ice sports complex in Creve Coeur Lake Memorial Park last year provided the latest example of the public’s desire to have final say over major projects that alter the intended use of St. Louis County Park lands. The public has voted in the past for bond issues for proposed ice rinks, golf courses and outdoor sports fields before they were added to various County Parks. But the growing influence of developers, politicians and government officials in recent years seeking to make big changes to County Parks without a public vote needs to be counterbalanced with the public’s best interests in mind.
Proposition 2 on the November 6 St. Louis County would give the public the opportunity to vote on any ‘sale, lease, disposal, gift, structure or commercial use not customarily associated with a park’s use’. It does not ban all development, nor does it require any type of tax or fee increase. On the contrary, people are encouraged to continue bringing their creative ideas about our parks forward for public consideration as they have since the County Parks system was first established in the 1960s.
Back then, generous and civic-minded families began donating their beautiful properties to the County for preservation and public enjoyment. The County then purchased additional park lands and grew the system into the 71 different parks we all enjoy today. Today we are seeing County parks being used for cell phone tower sites, storage areas for other County departments and some commercial uses not intended by the original donors. And as we saw at Creve Coeur Lake Memorial Park last year, the public often finds out when the bulldozers show up. This is not what I would call public process at work for the public good, and it also serves as a deterrent to future donations of properties by generous families.
The future of the County Park system is outlined in its recently completed Vision 2030 community survey and master plan, which identifies new and improved trails, playgrounds, athletic fields, shelters, historic/cultural places and dog parks as the most desired amenities and uses. Proposition 2 is a reasonable next step in protecting our parks for these and other intended uses. It is backed by the St. Louis County Parks Foundation, the St. Louis County Council and a broad consortium of community organizations devoted to improving the quality of life for all parts of our diverse community. Similar laws are already in place in St. Louis City and in some municipalities in St. Louis County.
Our County Parks are a treasure that make St. Louis County a better place to live, work and raise a family. They are a vital part of our diverse community, and Proposition 2 will ensure that the people – not politicians, lobbyists and developers – decide how our parks are used and preserved for future generations.