News 4 Investigates: Two public officials battle over vacant lot - KMOV.com

News 4 Investigates: Two public officials battle over vacant lot

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Mo. State Representative Karla May and City Comptroller Darlene Green are battling over this vacant lot. Credit: KMOV Mo. State Representative Karla May and City Comptroller Darlene Green are battling over this vacant lot. Credit: KMOV
ST. LOUIS, Mo. (KMOV.com) -

A political battle is brewing over a vacant lot in St. Louis.

This particular lot sits next door to the home of a long-serving city official.

Now, a Missouri state representative is crying foul after being told she can't buy the property and it's the reason for the rejection that has her so upset.

“I live in this community, Ward 26, I live three blocks down the street,” said State Representative Karla May.

May is admittedly no big fan of the Land Reutilization Act (LRA), a division of government that owns and maintains more than 11,000 vacant properties around the city. This year, she proposed a bill at the state capitol to dissolve it.

But after being a renter all her life, she decided to start looking at places to build. She found a lot at the end of a dead-end street, flat and free of debris. She determined it would be the perfect place to build a dream home. 

“I have already sat down with a designer to start designing the home. So I have been excited,” said May.

But for now, the dream is on hold. May got a letter from the LRA. They rejected her offer to purchase the property "due to a previous commitment to sell."

May was shocked.

“If the property was promised to someone else, why would it be listed as available in the first place?” said May.

News 4 dug into the property's past and obtained copies of the records. 

Turns out, the lot is right next door to the home of another elected official, City Comptroller Darlene Green.

Way back in 2009, Green put in an offer to buy a portion of the vacant property for $2000. LRA agreed, but only if Green completed certain conditions like title searches and surveys to subdivide the property.

If not, there would be a cancellation of the contract.

But Green didn't do what she needed to do. More than a year later in 2011, a note on the file said they were still waiting for documents from the Comptroller to close.

Fast forward to 2017, eight years after Green's initial offer.

May says she was rejected because LRA was "holding" the property for Green. In fact, her rejection letter came with a note: "Karla, have you talked to Darlene?"

“According to the process, I was not aware we could hold that property for any length of time,” May said.

May says it's a violation of LRA's policies. She says it’s unfair and absurd.

“I felt violated," she said. "How many people were denied the same process?”

One other person had put in an offer in the meantime, but it expired. Normally, the expiration date is 12 months.

News 4 sat down with Otis Williams, who is head over the LRA, for answers.

"What would you say to someone who argues the process isn't fair?" asked Investigative Reporter Lauren Trager.

“The process is fair, we are very transparent, I am talking to you about it,” Williams said.

Williams told News 4, they weren't holding the property. It was "human error" that the Comptroller’s offer was never closed out.

“99 percent of the time, we will close out the transaction and in this situation, we didn't close out the transaction,” Williams said.

Now, both elected officials will be allowed to present offers to the authority for the land.

“This is not a special consideration for the Comptroller,” he said.

He's hoping they'll work out a compromise.

“It’s up to us to make sure the process is followed and we will ensure the process will be followed.” said Williams.

May, too, holds hope to get the land but says she wants to make sure the process is fair for everybody.

“If it were anyone else, those people would have walked away. But I am not walking away,” May said.

News 4 repeatedly asked for interviews with the Comptroller, but they were denied.

Instead, News 4 received a statement from the Comptroller saying:

 "Like any other St. Louis City resident, I have the right to pursue the vacant lot next to my home. It saddens me that (Rep. May) chooses to disturb the peace at my home. Sometimes we have to agree to disagree."

A spokesperson for her office declined to elaborate.

Representative May says if the process were fair, she would already have the land.

Her proposed bill died at the state capitol. But says she's heard other complaints about LRA and wants to keep following them.

Copyright 2017 KMOV (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved

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