Businessman sues Mascoutah over fate of stalled bazaar near Scott

News-DemocratJanuary 3, 2014 

BND

— Hossein Shahpari bought a warehouse at 9711 Fuesser Road in the hopes of turning it into a multi-ethnic bazaar that would create 200 jobs.

But after waiting eight years for zoning approval from Mascoutah city officials, Shahpari has seen his $1.2 million investment in the old Purina coupon redemption center nearly vanish. Shahpari is trying to recoup his losses with the aid of a lawsuit he filed against the city.

In a complaint filed Dec. 13 in St. Clair County Circuit Court, Shahpari alleges Mascoutah officials in June 2011 implemented an Airport Overlay District, which seeks to deter development of properties near Scott Air Force Base and MidAmerica St. Louis Airport, located less than a mile away.

The district has deprived the plaintiff's property "of all economic viability for its intended use," according to the complaint.

The city's actions have effectively condemned his building, Shahpari said.

"We call it inverse condemnation," he said. "Inverse condemnation means when a city takes an action that does not directly condemns a building, but indirectly condemns a building. ... They have created a situation where I cannot do anything with the building."

Shahpari's inability to make a go of the vacant Purina building has collided with a stubborn geographical fact: the building sits under the glidepath of airplanes landing at nearby Scott Air Force Base.

As a result, Scott officials have objected to Shahpari's bazaar plans. Their reason: Air Force rules ban businesses that attract large numbers of people from being located near air base runways. Such enterprises pose too great a hazard to public safety in the event of an airplane crash, according to the Air Force's Joint Land Use Study regulations, or JLUS.

Shahpari's lawsuit takes aim at a provision in the Mascoutah ordinance that dovetails with the Air Force rule. The Mascoutah law prohibits gatherings of more than 50 people in the overlay district on the grounds such gatherings would present a safety hazard.

"If you take Mr. Shahpari's property, and move it maybe one city block, it's out of that ... zone, and therefore he'd be able to use that property to its best use," said Stanley M. Brandmeyer, Shahpari's attorney. "But under the circumstances, the way that it's zoned, he can't use it without violating the zoning code. And it completely de-values the property when you can't use it to its maximum use."

Cody Hawkins, Mascoutah's city manager, declined to comment about the lawsuit.

Shahpari's problems with developing the old Purina warehouse seemed on the verge of clearing up last spring. That's when he entered into talks with Cornerstone Church, in Shiloh, which also began exploring with city officials the approval process for buying the old warehouse for use as a satellite church campus.

But a call in May from St. Clair County Board Chairman Mark Kern to Scott Adkins, the church pastor, killed the deal, according to Shahpari.

"Kern told him this thing is dead upon arrival," Shahpari said. "So he would not let us follow the due-process he created himself."

Kern could not be reached for comment Friday.

Adkins acknowledged pursuing an interest in Shahpari's building; he also acknowledged receiving a phone call from Kern about the property. But Adkins denied that either Kern or Mascoutah officials had tried to scuttle the deal.

"I did have a conversation with Mr. Kern," Adkins said. "But I cannot say that Mr. Kern shut the process down. ... Mr. Kern and I spoke, and he was very kind and simply wanted to be sure I understood the process and that we had every right to go through the process."

Shahpari is seeking damages of at least more than $50,000, attorney's fees and "other and further relief as the court may deem proper," according to his complaint.

Contact reporter Mike Fitzgerald at mfitzgerald@bnd.com or 618-239-2533.

Contact reporter Mike Fitzgerald at mfitzgerald@bnd.com or 618-239-2533.

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