A long-simmering controversy over the use of property at Chestnut Street and Mississippi Avenue has reemerged as Crystal City officials proceed with plans to build new Animal Control and Street Department buildings on the city-owned land.
The site, which is in Ward 1, is part of what once was the parking lot for the old PPG Industries glass plant.
The city’s existing animal shelter and street shed buildings are on Hugs Landing Road, and officials say they need to be relocated because they are deteriorating and because of recurring flooding in the area. The officials also say the old PPG site is the best option for that relocation.
A number of Ward 1 residents are not happy about those plans because for years they have asked the city to use at least part of the land for the relocation of the old Darryl “Hickey” White Park on Crystal Avenue on the southern edge of town. The park essentially closed in 2014.
Officials and residents debated about what to do with the former PPG parking lot property and where to relocate the park at Crystal City Council meetings in 2014 and 2015, with little movement since then.
However, during an Oct. 28, 2019, work session, the council voted 6-1 to have the proposed municipal buildings constructed at the site. Ward 1 Councilman Jack Ginnever cast the only no vote, and Ward 2 Councilman Rick Fischer was absent from the meeting.
In addition, the council is scheduled to vote June 29 on a contract with Sargent Construction in Fredericktown to build the new Street Department building, which seems to have mobilized critics of the plan.
The council will consider a contract for the Animal Control building at a later date, officials said.
Ward 1 residents, including Celeste Shanklin, say they are frustrated with the city’s willingness to move forward with the relocation of the municipal buildings but not with the replacement of the Hickey White Park.
“I can’t believe this (getting a new park) is still an issue,” she said. “Our kids should not have to go to the other end of town (to Crystal City Park) to go to the park. We would just like to have a park for our kids.”
City leaders have long argued that the PPG property, where glass was manufactured, has been declared contaminated by the state Department of Natural Resources, and while the parking lot area is suitable for work buildings, it is not a safe area for a park where children would play.
In 2015, the late Councilman Ken Duncan, when he represented Crystal City on the Twin City Levee Commission, suggested relocating Hickey White Park to a 5-acre tract owned by the Levee Commission on land south of the Twin City Little League ballfields.
City officials say that is a viable option, but Shanklin said she and other Ward 1 residents have concerns about that property.
“We don’t like that idea,” she said. “It’s right behind a creek. We’re concerned about flooding and not enough parking in that area.”
Sharon Riney, also a Ward 1 resident, said city leaders should give more weight to the opinions of those who live in the ward.
“I think the city, when it comes to this, has failed to get the input of the citizens,” Riney said. “We sacrificed a lot when the levee was coming in, losing houses to the levee. We lost a whole lot of streets there. We lost streets to the wastewater treatment plant.”
Ginnever said he sympathizes with the Ward 1 residents and believes the city should look harder at using a portion of the PPG parking lot for a park.
“(The animal shelter and street building) are not going to take the whole space. There could be enough room for basketball courts, not a baseball field,” Ginnever said. “That area is probably not contaminated because it was the parking lot for PPG. It is included in the property’s restrictions. We could go back to DNR and get the parking lot released from the restrictive covenants.”
Ward 2 Councilman Tony Becker said that while five years ago he thought part of the PPG site possibly could be used for a park, he no longer does.
“I changed my mind after it became known the PPG property would be in legal limbo, which it still is,” Becker said. “I don’t feel comfortable putting a park there.
“The (animal shelter and street shed) buildings need to go to higher ground.
“I think what we’re planning to do is the proper use for that property.”
Mayor Tom Schilly said he is among those who favor relocating the park to the tract south of the Twin City Little League fields.
“There are restrictions on (the PPG property) use,” Schilly said. “Councilman Duncan at the time suggested the (Levee Commission property) for the relocation on the dry side of the levee. I think it would be a beautiful place. That’s where I’d like to see it go.”
Crystal City Park Board chairman Lonnie Compton said he and other members of that board believe the Levee Commission property would be an appropriate site for a park, but have been reluctant to move forward. “The people did not like it,” Compton said. “We can’t put a park where people don’t want it.”
Brian White, brother of “Hickey” White, said he feels city leaders have not sufficiently explained their decision-making on the matter to Ward 1 residents.
“I think they need to take a step back a little bit,” White said. “I think the city could do a better job of explaining what’s going on to the residents.”
The Park Board decided to stop maintaining the original “Hickey” White Park in the spring of 2014, saying its restroom building did not comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act and was prone to flooding.