Residents wonder if Mayor Salva has their best interest: Blue Springs MO Examiner, 10/4/07

By Hugh S. Welsh

Some Sugar Creek residents - particularly those living in the 33 properties along the northwest corner of U.S. 24 and Sterling - wonder if their city's elected officials are looking after their best interests in their unanimous advocacy for the Sugarland Center retail project.

One of those individuals whose home rests atop the property slated to become Sugarland is Penelope Marth. She lives at 528 Harris Avenue.

"I don't think they care about us at all - at all," Marth said.

Hearing such harsh language from his own citizenry is disheartening for Sugar Creek Mayor Stan Salva.

"It's my duty to always keep the interests of my people at the forefront of my decision-making," Salva said.

Sixty-nine years ago Salva was born in Sugar Creek. His is a well-known name in Sugar Creek, a community his grandfathers - both of them - called home more than a century ago.

"Sugar Creek is all I've ever known," Salva said.

Salva said the city's been in a state of shock since the demise of the BP/Amoco oil refinery in 1982.

"The city has been struggling to build up its economic base ever since then," Salva said.

According to Salva, the city needs the Sugarland Center to not only recover what's been lost over the last 25 years, but to improve the general quality of life.

"By putting a new retail center with a big box grocer, shops and restaurants on that corner, it not only benefits Sugar Creek and its residents but northwest Independence as well," Salva said. "The people deserve it, it's as simple as that."

For Salva, the Sugarland Center carries with it the ability to ignite a renaissance in Sugar Creek, a renaissance that will not only include the new retail center but a police and fire building, a business park, a family fitness center and much-needed improvements along Sterling and the Missouri 291 corridor.

"The real purpose of all this is to create opportunities for new residential development," Salva said. "People won't come to an area unless that area has necessary services."

Since the Sugarland Center's beginning, Salva - and the Board of Aldermen - have been under constant fire because of a term that's drawn as much negative attention as any term in recent memory: eminent domain. Eminent domain was mentioned as a last resort - "after good faith negotiations... fail" - in the letters sent to homeowners and last known taxpayers living along the northwest corner of U.S. 24 and Sterling.

"What we are doing is purchasing the homes up there, which involves negotiation and discussion," Salva said. "We have never discussed eminent domain nor do we ever plan to."

A particular ordinance does exist in Sugar Creek - as in most municipalities - that permits the city to invoke eminent domain.

"The only time we would likely ever use eminent domain would be if someone was deceased and the property was in probate or something like that as part of a project," Salva said. "That's it."

Salva said appraisers are working hard to come to terms with homeowners on a fair market price for their homes.

"We have reputable appraisers on this, but if residents want to hire an appraiser themselves, they're free to do so," Salva said.

Salva said all of the offers to homeowners are 125 to 150 percent of fair market value.

According to Marth, the offer for her home wasn't anywhere near what it should be.

"What they're offering isn't reasonable," Marth said. "It's like: Look, there's a pothole in the road - which I'm not responsible for anyway - let's dock her for that and this and that."

As for Tuesday's Sugar Creek cameo by Scott Bullock, the lawyer who argued the landmark eminent domain case Kelo v. New London, Salva said it was entirely unwarranted.

"Why is he worrying about eminent domain when we haven't even talked about eminent domain?" Salva said.

Blue Springs MO Examiner: http://www.examiner.net