The Ellisville City Council narrowly approved plans regarding tax incentives for the developers of a new Walmart, as well as a relocation policy compensating residents to be displaced by the development, at a heavily attended city council meeting late Wednesday.
The proposals were approved 5 votes to 2, with Mayor Adam Paul and Councilmember Michelle Murray dissenting. The five votes in favor of the project fulfilled the minimum number required after the city’s TIF commission in March failed to give a positive recommendation for the project.
Paul, who was elected in April after a campaign centered around opposition to the then-proposed Walmart, reprimanded his fellow council members immediately after their supporting votes.
"For you all not to listen to the people who put you in office is wrong," Paul said. "Shame on you."
One of the proposals approved Wednesday creates a tax increment financing or TIF district at the Walmart site, located southwest of Clarkson and Kiefer Creek roads. The TIF district will allow half of all newly generated sales tax there to be placed in a fund under the control of the developer earmarked for infrastructure improvements to the surrounding area.
Charles Pavlack, a member of Ellisville’s Planning & Zoning Commission as well as the city’s TIF Commission, took issue with statements by Paul and residents that council members needed to oppose the project on behalf of constituents.
“This is not a democracy,” Pavlack said. “It’s a representative republic. We elect you to guide our city, not to do our bidding.”
Pavlack also refuted repeated statements by residents at Wednesday’s meeting arguing that most of the city’s residents opposed the project.
“We seem to need a statistics course, because everybody keeps talking about how the majority of Ellisville has spoken, and they haven’t,” Pavlack said following multiple city council meetings and town hall gatherings wherein residents have objected to the project.
“It’s a common political truism that more people talk against things more than they do in favor, so the fact that there are more people here talking against than there are talking in favor does not mean the majority of Ellisville is against."
In addition to approving the legislation for the TIF district, a super majority of council members OK’d a relocation policy that will compensate residents of Clarkchester Apartments with up to $1,000 per household; Clarkchester Apartments is one of several properties currently located at the Walmart project site.
City representatives said the complex will be demolished as part of the development, which staff said is projected to annually generate $500,000 sales tax for the city.
Liz Schmidt is a resident of Clarkchester Apartments and the interim chairman of the Ellisville Article 9 Alliance, a group formed in opposition of the Walmart project. Schmidt said the half-cent sales tax voters approved last year was presented as an alternative to building a “big box” retailer in town.
“We voted to tax ourselves,” Schmidt said. “Yet the majority of you (on the council) have voted to approve this project—(to) put 250 people out of their housing that’s perfectly fine, decent and well cared for with $1,000 in their pockets for them to hit the street, and you call that a relocation plan? I’m sorry. I don’t believe you’ve been elected to do what you’re doing.”
In addition to the lobbying efforts opposing the Walmart project, Ellisville Article 9 Alliance supporters who met last week said that they will pursue recalling the city council members who voted the development.
Ellisville resident John Arnold on Wednesday cited the city charter, which states that city council members may be recalled from office within 120 days of his or her last election. Arnold said he likely to seek the seat held by Councilmember Roze Acup, who was re-elected last month when she ran unopposed.
“Roze, like I told you before, you vote for this, 120 days,” Arnold said prior to the votes. “I’ll be seeing you.”
Jim Sansone of the Sansone Group, the principal developer with the project, said the store could be built later this year, although key details have yet to be worked out with the City.
"We'd like to break ground as soon as possible,” Sansone said.