Wildwood City Council Postpones Vote on Overlay District for Toxic Sites
Updated: Oct 3, 2020
On October 28th, the Wildwood City Council voted to postpone a vote on a proposed Special Circumstances Overlay District (SCOD) that is ostensibly intended to provide greater oversight and produce greater transparency for any environmentally compromised property that is proposed for development. The SCOD is characterized by the Planning and Zoning Commission as an attempt to address the expiration of a moratorium established in 2007 against development of property contaminated by waste hauler Russel Bliss, famous for the contamination of the former town of Times Beach, Missouri. The ordinance has been also presented as increasing controls and oversight of proposed development of any environmentally compromised site. Some residents reject that claim outright or suggest that the city may be unwittingly weakening its position against development at such sites.
Wildwood Matters posted an editorial by this author that touches on the history of the sites. It gives a brief overview of the Bliss Waste in Wildwood and is supportive of some elements of the proposed SCOD, in particular the mandating of disclosure of site history to any potential buyer. It may be found at this link.
On the 28th, several members of the community expressed concern regarding the SCOD to the council as had one other the meeting prior. Given the history of dioxin and PCB sites in Wildwood, including a current lawsuit by a developer to force approval of development of a site that had been contaminated by waste hauler Russel Bliss, there is concern that any rule changes could be interpreted as a move toward future development.
In order to address concerns by some residents and allow the Planning and Zoning Commission to modify the language, the council voted to postpone a second reading of the ordinance for 30 days.
The specific goals of the Special Circumstances Overlay District (SCOD) and procedure are to:
1. Obtain more information about the anticipated or existing environmental hazards or physical characteristic situations, as part of the initial application process for future use of the site, versus depending more so on best available data.
2. Establish longer comment periods and more reviews by outside agencies with pertinent roles in the development process associated with these types of sites.
3. Create more engagement by the development entity or property owner of experts in the applicable field, which would be verified by credentials submitted to the City for review. Costs associated with these experts would be borne by the applicant, not the City.
4. Require more detailed presentation materials for the public hearing processes.
5. Assess greater deductions in the gross acreage of the site for environmental or physical factors than that are currently set forth in the Planned Residential Development Overlay District (PRD) regulations or the Natural Resource Protection Standards. Currently, the Planned Residential Development Overlay District (PRD) eliminates floodplain areas and rights-of-way from the calculation of net acreage for the final determination of allowable densities for residential projects.
6. Place greater prohibitions for any site disturbances in identified areas of concerns, regardless of soil and slope characteristics.
7. Increase the levels of scrutiny of public space allocations, so as to avoid unsuitable areas being dedicated as such.
8. Authorize greater remediation efforts by the developer through cooperation with federal and State agencies, when applicable.
9. Improve disclosures to users and buyers beyond the first set of them, specifically as properties are transferred years or decades later.
10. Provide for greater oversight of construction processes, if development allowances are granted on a special circumstances site.
11. Integrate more after-development inspections and site monitoring to ensure all components of the governing ordinances for the projects are still adhered to, are in place, being maintained, or otherwise still applicable and germane.
12. Apply the State of Missouri’s land disturbance permit requirements to all sites, regardless if they are one (1) acre or greater in size (application of such is currently limited to that area threshold).
The proposed ordinance may be found at https://www.cityofwildwood.com/Age.../ViewFile/Item/26308...
Recently, Wildwood's Bliss waste sites come up in an interview with Dawn Chapman, cofounder of Just Moms STL, who was featured in HBO's Atomic Homefront. Chapman has spearheaded the fight to clean up radioactive waste at the West Lake Landfill in Bridgeton. Although did not take a position on the SCOD overall, Chapman was very supportive of disclosures regarding potential hazardous conditions to prospective home buyers that is included in the SCOD.
Link to The First Secret City, a film by investigative journalist Carl Stelzer.
Stelzer won an award for his coverage of the Times Beach Incinerator.