Do Aldermen Still Have Outsize Power Over Whether LRA Sells Property?
The St. Louis Land Reutilization Authority (LRA) met today to consider offers to purchase vacant property. The LRA, part of Saint Louis City government, is the largest owner of vacant property in the city.
Our research showed in 2011 that the LRA had a track record of frequently rejecting offers to buy city property, often for no discernible reason. The agency would cite “lack of aldermanic input” when rejecting offers, or plans for “future development” that would fail to materialize.
I have written here about improvements to the LRA’s practices that were made in the wake of the publication of our research and the resulting media attention.
This month’s meeting went pretty well — most offers to purchase property were accepted or countered (meaning the LRA asked for a higher purchase price or change in contingencies). However, I still cannot help but think that Saint Louis City aldermen still have outsize influence over whether the agency accepts or rejects offers to purchase property.
An offer from Transformation Christian Church and World Outreach Center to purchase four properties illustrates this well. LRA staff members recommended that the church’s offer be rejected. However, former Alderwoman Irene Smith (ward 1) spoke on behalf of the church during the meeting and managed to sway the commission. It seemed that the decision of whether to sell the property hinged on whether the area alderman was supportive of the sale.
Smith, speaking to the commission, noted that the church had spoken with Alderman Sam Moore, saying that after “swapping” some property with him, he had agreed to provide a letter supporting the sale of LRA property to the church.
But LRA Chairman Mark Wells initially would not recommend moving to sell the property, saying that “Based on the information we got from Alderman Moore, I think more discussion is needed.”
Smith responded: “We’re taken aback by that. We sat down with Alderman Moore.”
Ultimately, the commission moved to counter the church’s offer instead of rejecting it. And I am glad — the church has a history of purchasing, maintaining, and rebuilding LRA property.
But, I wonder: If the church has a track record of being a strong community resource and has the funds to buy the vacant city property, why does it matter what the alderman thinks? The LRA does not have to consider the input of an area alderman. The agency’s authority was established under state law, and the LRA law does not suggest that the agency consider the input of any political officials. Saint Louis government has implemented this practice by choice.