Mo. neighborhood fights off a ... police station?

By Heather Ratcliffe ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
Copyright 2006 St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Inc.
MANCHESTER- Strip clubs, landfills, halfway houses -- people often fight to keep those out of their backyards. This month, some residents of Manchester added a police station to the list.

More precisely, they fought to keep an existing St. Louis County police precinct office from moving about 50 yards closer to their homes. Some opponents said they fear it would bring more crime.

Last week, the Board of Aldermen voted down the move, leaving 55 officers assigned to a tiny station that was supposed to be temporary as their bosses decide what to do next.

"The residents see it as more of a nuisance and a safety risk," said Frans Krantz, director of planning, zoning and economic development for Manchester.

Jerome Meyer, who lives on Applecross Court and spoke against the plan at the aldermen's meeting May 15, said, "We don't need other people's problems coming into our backyard."

Police said they were shocked at the residents' attitudes.

"I just find it incredible," said county police Capt. George Corless, who commands the precinct. "With the emphasis on public safety these days, I can't believe that anyone would turn down having a state-of-the art, full service police precinct in their neighborhood."

Police moved into 1,000 square feet of the Treetop Shopping Center, near Big Bend and Sulphur Springs roads, when the department divided a precinct three years ago. Officials began looking for larger, more visible location they could afford.

The county prefers to locate in an unincorporated area, or in a city that contracts with the county police for service. Manchester, which annexed the shopping center about 10 years ago, has its own police force. But Treetop was seen as a good location for county officers, and within the budget.

When a former Dobbs tire store became available in the same building, the Police Department saw the opportunity to quadruple its work space, with room for two holding cells.

The Manchester Zoning and Planning Commission recommended approval of a special-use permit for the move at its April 10 meeting. But under pressure from neighbors, the aldermen voted it down 4-0.

Much of the conflict centered on plans to build two holding cells at the new station. County and municipal police could drop off prisoners there, to be held up to two hours until a police van would take them to the St. Louis County Justice Center in Clayton.

Neighbors told city officials they were concerned that a prisoner would escape.

"The residents in the area saw it as creating an unsafe environment," said Alderman Mike Clement. "They don't see the St. Louis County Police Department in any way benefiting their neighborhood."

Corless said the proposal would improve service for everyone in the area, saving officers of various jurisdictions from having to drive prisoners to Clayton. "It means we'll be able to keep police cars on the street longer," he said.

He said research showed that no prisoner has ever escaped from a holding cell at a St. Louis County precinct station.

Residents near the site also complain the station would be noisy. They also said that unlike a business tenant, it would generate no sales tax revenue for their city.

Manchester officials have seen no resistance to plans for their own new station, with holding cells, to be built in the next few years near Manchester Road and Route 141.

Treetop's operators said the vote against the county plan was surprising. "We were assured when Manchester annexed the shopping center that it would not adversely affect us," said Tom Stern, president of Solon-Gershman, which manages the property. "That was the case until now."

The managers and county police said they have not yet decided what to do about it.

Stern said. "We think having a police station in your neighborhood is a good thing." 

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