Maryland Heights approves rail project that angered Chesterfield residents and officials | Local company
MARYLAND HEIGHTS — Nearly 200 residents attended Thursday’s city council meeting, including dozens who were angry at a company’s proposal to build an auto shipping facility in the slums under a neighborhood of Chesterfield.
Residents of Maryland Heights and Chesterfield have opposed in person and online the plan, which they say will worsen noise along a railroad that runs through the two towns and drive down home values.
“You should be outraged by this,” said Chesterfield resident McLeod Patton, who heads the River Bend Association, a group that represents the hundreds of homeowners on the cliffs overlooking the site.
Ultimately, the Maryland Heights City Council voted to approve the proposal, reversing its planning commission’s decision not to recommend the project.
Cities must distinguish between their zoning rules and the developments they deem good for their communities. Zoning rules can be used against a municipality: Creve Coeur was sued last year for banning the construction of a QuikTrip gas station for fear of increased traffic. A St. Louis County circuit judge ruled in favor of the developer, ordering the city to issue a permit.
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Precision Vehicle Holding, based in Wayne, Michigan, wants to rezone the 91 acres between Hog Hollow Road and River Valley Drive to allow the company to collect, store and distribute 752 vehicles from GM’s Wentzville plant by rail and by road. It plans to build a 3,500 square foot office building and a 9,500 square foot truck repair shop. About 25 people would be employed, according to plans filed with the City of Maryland Heights.
In its application, the company told the city it would operate from 6 a.m. to 2 a.m., but said at Thursday’s meeting that it would not operate from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m.
The site, in southwest Maryland Heights, sits on the border with Chesterfield, where some 388 homes tower over the slums. The railroad departs from Union – branches off at Maryland Heights before passing through Creve Coeur, Overland, Pagedale and the city of St. Louis.
The Maryland Heights Plan Commission declined to recommend the project last month over concerns that the Precision facility would negatively impact those residents because the city could not restrict nighttime hours of operation for the road. iron.
Precision, which did not respond to a request for comment, filed an appeal with the Maryland Heights council last week, saying the commission “exceeded its authority” because only the federal Surface Transportation Board controls the rail.
Chesterfield’s neighborhood group, River Bend Association, hired attorney John Nations, a former head of Bi-State Development and former mayor, to represent it before Maryland Heights. And the city of Chesterfield passed a resolution last week opposing the project, a move that city council members say has no legal basis but highlights the issues.
“Why oppose city against city for a project that seems to have no interest? I don’t understand,” said Barbara McGuinness, a member of Chesterfield City Council. “It shocks the conscience.”
Nations criticized Precision’s appeal in a letter to Maryland Heights council on Tuesday, saying the federal agency does not have jurisdiction here because Precision is not a rail carrier.
Precision attorney Rob Epstein of Spencer Fane said at Thursday’s meeting that the project would be “no different from a car dealership…just with rail access.” He downplayed Chesterfield residents’ concerns about noise and criticized Chesterfield for his involvement.
“I can’t remember when I’ve seen another municipality have the temerity to tell you all what to do,” Epstein said.
Gail Choate, who lives above the bluffs and is the former acting director of planning for St. Louis County, said the intensity and scale of the project is inappropriate next to housing estates.
Choate grew up in the neighborhood and moved back here in 1995. She said there was a good mix of empty nests and growing families.
Building the rail yard here, she said, “would set a precedent for an established residential area in the area.”
Katherine Spung and her family have lived here since 2015 and have loved making friends with other young families in the neighborhood. His family didn’t care about the railway, but the tracks now emit a high-pitched shrill noise as trains pass – a change, Spung said, that happened after a derailment here in 2016.
She and her husband worry about worsening noise if the Precision project is approved and fear losing the enjoyment of their home.
“My husband and I are asking the (question of): do we get out before the stock tank or do we stay to see how bad it gets?” Spung said. “A lot of people feel the same, I think.”