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Talk of Belleview Farm Park improvements starts up again

Belleview Farm Park [City of Wildwood photo]

Outdoor enthusiasts might be taking to the streets or the trails of Wildwood more often after 2018. The city is taking the concept of economic development outdoors for some fresh air.

At its March 12 work session, Wildwood’s City Council took a voice vote in favor of developing a concept plan for Belleview Farm Park, a parcel of more than 100 acres of unincorporated land in St. Louis County near St. Paul and Jedberg roads. The property, which abuts to the city of Wildwood, is under a long-term lease, for which the city pays St. Louis County about $1 per year. The 25-year lease agreement went into effect in 2014 with the creation of a park as part of the deal.

“That was a contingency to St. Louis County supporting the lease with the city of Wildwood, that we would build certain facilities and then open the park for public use,” Joe Vujnich, director of planning and parks, said.

On March 12, the council voted to enter a design process with the city’s Department of Planning for the further development of, and additions to, Belleview Farm Park by authorizing a memorandum of understanding [MOU] for the city administrator and the city attorney to engage Gateway Off-Road Cyclists [GORC]. The creation of trails and assets in the area also was discussed. The MOU would then return to the city council in the future for review.

According to Vujnich, GORC approached the city in early 2018 regarding the creation of onsite amenities, specifically, two trail courses, a children’s educational area and a connector trail to link to the nearby Al Foster Trail.

GORC is a 501[c]3 nonprofit organization dedicated to the design, advocacy, construction and maintenance of multi-use trails across the area. Many members of GORC are architects and engineers, and much of its work is volunteer-driven. GORC also has assisted with trail development within other local parks, including Greensfelder Park and Bluff View Park.

For some councilmembers, the partnership with GORC is an opportunity to provide residents with more outdoor recreation and to draw visitors that would spend money at local shops and restaurants.

“It’s really become this world-class trail system that we really have to give GORC a lot of credit for, because they’re the volunteers out there making this happen,” Councilmember Tammy Shea [Ward 3] said. “Our outdoor environment is our greatest asset. It’s the hallmark of our city, and it’s why we incorporated.”

While the council’s motion was favorable at the work session, the prospect of the city using funds for a park not technically located within the city was a cause of concern for some, especially in the realm of using taxpayer dollars for any possible improvements.

“The reason I’m not in favor of this is because it’s not land that’s within the city of Wildwood,” Councilmember Debra Smith McCutchen [Ward 5] said. “It’s not owned by Wildwood, and it’ll never be owned by Wildwood, and we would be using city tax dollars to go toward that project.

“I think it’s a great project and I think GORC does a great job, but if they’re going to do this partnership, I think they need to do it with the county and not with the city of Wildwood.”

According to Vujnich, GORC would be responsible for providing the expertise, staff and labor for its respective projects, while the city will cover costs pertaining to items like the park’s design plan, access roads, parking and the interior park drive. The city would look into providing the same quality amenities currently present in the city’s Community Park, such as picnic tables and trash receptacles. The city also would be responsible for the ongoing maintenance of the area, which currently costs an estimated $2,000 to $3,000 annually for items like cutting grass and addressing minor vandalism.

If a favorable MOU is passed by the city, work could begin in late 2018 to early 2019, according to Vujnich. However, before any physical work can begin, the MOU would need to return to GORC, and further legislation would come back to the city council for ultimate approval.

In July 2016, the city provided an update on Belleview Farm Park’s concept design with the city’s consultant, DG2 Design, and reviewed items like topography, vegetation and the best placement of potentially active areas. The city has also had previous conversations with other possible partners, including GORC, about the park property.

“We’ve had some preliminary discussion, but nothing to the same level as of late,” Vujnich said.

As part of the lease agreement, an access roadway from St. Paul Road, an internal park driveway, a parking area and a trail were to be installed by January 2017, but weren’t.

“That’s part of the reason GORC’s proposal is so appealing to the city, because one of those required improvements in the lease is a trail network that would then be the centerpiece of the project, which would include the access road, the interior park drive, the parking lot an a couple amenities around the lot,” Vujnich said.

A tentative cost for those improvements has been estimated at $125,000 to $150,000. Regarding the park design, Vujnich said the city previously developed a master concept plan. That plan was funded through capital improvement fund monies at a cost of about $15,000. The city might front future design and engineering costs if the memorandum is favorably received by the council, Vujnich said.

The city’s Historic Preservation Commission also has been involved with the park’s development process due to the historic significance of the property and the presence of buildings that are over 100 years old. The preservation of the buildings was a condition attached to the property’s lease.

In other park news, Wildwood is working to expand and improve its current parks for the upcoming spring and summer seasons.

Phase 3 of the work in Community Park began in mid-March with tree removal being undertaken by Wentzville-based DJM Ecological Services. The goal of the tree removal is to facilitate completion of the perimeter trail, installation of additional parking in the north end of the park, construction of small shelters and planting of the Great Meadow area. Visitors still are allowed in the park during the tree removal process, which is slated for completion on March 31. The remainder of the Phase 3 updates should wrap up by fall 2018.

Work on the city’s long-discussed Ward 5 park also is in its design phase, with a tentative goal for a design to be chosen and development to begin by late 2018.

“There’s a lot of things that bring people to Wildwood,” Shea said. “The schools, the safety, the aesthetics and the access to amenities. Our greatest amenities are our parks and trails. They facilitate good, healthy living. It’s what people moved here for. We should embrace it.”

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