11/18/2007

Roots mean little in path of progress: St Louis MO Post-Dispatch, 11/18/07

Opinion

By Bill McClellan

Roland Young was born in 1898. His mother died in childbirth. His father remarried, but the new wife and Roland did not bond. So when Roland was 3 years old, he was sent to live with his grandmother in Valley Park.

Mary Duff was born in Valley Park in 1904. Her family had come from Pennsylvania with a promise of a job for her father in the glass factory in Valley Park. The factory got washed away in the flood of 1915, but the family stayed.

Mary and Roland got married. Mary worked in a cotton factory in Valley Park. Roland worked at the Copper Clad Stove Company in Valley Park. All nine of their children were born in their home in Valley Park. Their third child and first son, Roland "Bud" Young Jr., was born 76 years ago. He attended Sacred Heart Grade School in Valley Park and graduated from Valley Park High School in 1948.

So Bud Young has roots in Valley Park.

After high school, he worked for a couple of years, and then joined the Marine Corps. He saw combat in Korea. After he got home from Korea, he married his sweetheart, Marilyn von Gruben. She was from a farm just outside of Valley Park. Young went to St. Louis University and got a degree in history with minors in mathematics and philosophy. He got a job teaching math in Eureka.

In 1969, he learned that an ice cream stand in Valley Park — Brondino's Dairy Mart — was for sale. Young got a loan and bought it. By this time, the Youngs had two sons. The whole family worked at the dairy mart. In 1980, they opened a restaurant across the street from the dairy mart. Young quit teaching and became a businessman.

In 1987, the state decided to expand Highway 141, and those plans required the land on which the dairy mart stood. The state was required to pay for the land. Young thought the state's offer was too low. He took the state to court and lost.

He built a new building three blocks north. He put the restaurant and the dairy mart in the new building. In 2000, the state decided to expand Highway 141 again. The new plans called for the land on which the new building stood. This time, Young took the state's offer. "After that first time, I just kind of backed away," he told me.

He built a new building not far from where the first dairy mart had been, but this time, well off the road. He put his restaurant and dairy mart in the new building. It is near the southwest corner of Vance Road and Highway 141.

Earlier this summer, rumors began circulating that the city was interested in developing that corner. The subject came up at an aldermanic meeting in October. The local Press Journal quoted city attorney Eric Martin at the meeting: "The area right now is a hodgepodge screaming out for investment."

At an aldermanic meeting earlier this month, the aldermen gave preliminary approval to a bill authorizing a Valley Park Redevelopment Corporation. Actually, the aldermen split four to four. Mayor Jeffery Whitteaker cast the deciding vote in favor of the proposal.

"They're going to take my land again," said Young. He put out a sign Thursday. "Eminent Domain for Private Gain Alive and Well in Valley Park."

I visited his restaurant Friday. The corner is a hodgepodge of small businesses. The area includes an exotic bird store, a taxidermist, a shoe repair shop, a car wash, an auto repair shop, a restaurant and lounge, a tattoo shop and a convenience store. And the restaurant and dairy mart. Young told me about his long history with Valley Park.

I went to City Hall. A clerk told me the city attorney was out of town, and the mayor was out of his office. I called later and the clerk said the mayor had suggested I talk with attorney Tom Cunningham, the special redevelopment counsel. I called Cunningham and said I wanted to talk about the eminent domain issue in Valley Park.

"For starters, you're misinformed. There is no issue of eminent domain in Valley Park," Cunningham said. Well, there are people who think there is an issue of eminent domain in Valley Park, I said. "Then they're misinformed. Number one, the redevelopment corporation cannot exercise eminent domain. More importantly, what the city is trying to do through the device of the corporation is provide a clearinghouse for potential development proposals."

Can I write that Young does not face the prospect of eminent domain?

"First of all, there is no particular parcel of land that the redevelopment corporation is focusing on at this time. The city is trying to establish a vehicle for the orderly consideration and processing of redevelopment proposals. More transparency and, if you will, a public interest component in that process."

Can I write that Young does not face the prospect of eminent domain?

"It sounds like you have a preconceived idea, an agenda," said Cunningham. "I'm not going to argue with you. All the redevelopment corporation can do is review and recommend a development proposal to the city."

If it recommends a development proposal, does the developer have the power to use eminent domain?

"That's a lot of ifs, but yes."

So much for roots.


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