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Notes From Yesterday’s Planning Commission Meeting

January 6, 2005 Planning & Design 3 Comments

As part of my civic duty I attended the Planning Commission meeting last night. Trust me, these are not riveting meetings but they are informative. I talked with some of the planning staff beforehand including director Rollin Stanley. Alderman Fred Wessels, who is on the planning commission, left early but made it a point to stop and say hello to me (I used to live in his ward). I couldn’t stay for the entire meeting but here are some of the topics that came up before the commission and my thoughts on them:


The Cascades – Boulevard Heights Neighborhood

Lawless Homes is proposing a “gated community” on the old St. Louis Public Schools landscaping grounds in what is called the Boulevard Heights Neighborhood – just South of Carondelet park. The site is 11-12 acres depending upon which resource you ask.

My first issue is calling subdivisions or other such developments communities. They are not communities. A community is a cross section of the population and includes residential, commercial and other uses.

The proposal calls for 12 condo buildings, each containing 8 units. A row of townhomes would also be built. The proposed development could not be any more suburban in nature. It is ugly neo-colonial crap with private streets that function more as big driveways than a true street. Access is limited to one gated entry. The entire property will be fenced (it is currently fenced as well). The commissioners dwelled on the issue of public access to the restored planting area and Mike Lawless said pedestrian gates would be at the entry but it would be up to the trustees of the new development as to whether the general public would be able to gain entry to the greenspace.

The point is we shouldn’t have gated communities in an urban city. We’ve got some private streets in the West End but as a pedestrian I’m able to walk through them to get from one street to another. They do not serve as a blockade. This 11+ acre site could be divided into blocks and lots with public or private streets in a way that embraces the surrounding street grid and gives a welcoming appearance rather than one of hostility through gates. The grounds portion would make an excellent pocket park.

Fred Wessels commented this project is done without any form of tax assistance. Perhaps if we offered some tax assistance we could try to get the project actually engaged in the neighborhood?

City’s reference to the development


Dogtown Walk II

Mark Rubin of Saaman Corp presented their plan for this in-fill project in Dogtown. Like Dogtown Walk I this project is townhouses which face a private street with a side unit facing the public street. I like the density but question some of the planning and building details. It just seems rather generic.

City’s page on Dogtown I


North Market PUD in Old North St. Louis

This like the others above are a PUD – planned unit development. These are a means of subdividing land when it doesn’t conform to the required zoning such as minimum lot size, and setbacks. As a planned development and enacted by ordinance, this is allowed to exist. These were developed when it was ruled that spot zoning – the practice of rezoning property piece by piece – was illegal.

New homes are already being constructed on North Market in Old North St. Louis and while I bit too conservative for my taste they do have pleasing proportions and avoid the tacky look of so many neo-traditional new construction we see elsewhere. But, here is the interesting part about Old North St. Louis. As one of the oldest neighborhoods in St. Louis the land is already divided into great urban lots. Why do a PUD to build new houses on them? Zoning. Our out-dated zoning codes don’t allow the builders to put up new houses in the manner consistent with the existing neighborhood! It is sad when your zoning won’t allow you to build consistent with original homes in a National Register Historic District.

Clifton Heights

The last agenda item I stayed for was a PUD proposal to divide a single parcel (0.31 acres) into six lots to permit attached townhouses with rear tuck-under garages. This is from the same guys that want to tear down a Lustron house in Dogtown. This proposal is at the NW corner of Columbia & Clifton – arguably one of the most interesting intersections in all of St. Louis in one of the most unique neighborhoods – Clifton Heights. If you don’t know this neighborhood and it’s namesake park you are missing a treasure – check it out soon.

The other corners of the intersection in question have a stunning row of townhouses which follow the curve of the street (NE), a beautiful & solid 15-unit apartment building (SE) and an awesome mixed-use building which also follows the curving street (SW). The corner in question has a wonderfully proportioned frame church that has been remuddled with bad siding and, to my recollection, has been vacant for a few years.

I’ve stated my displeasure with deputy mayor Barb Geisman before but I must give her credit – she really hounds developers on issues regarding putting up generic tract housing on unique lots. Unfortunately her passion for residential corners hasn’t appeared to translate into the bigger picture of urbanity but I don’t want to get too sidetracked.

This parcel, like the others at the intersection, is very unique in shape but the proposed building doesn’t reflect that. One of the big issues is the front set back – the adjacent homes to the West on Columbia have a front yard set back of around 30ft per the city staff while the proposed building would be around 10ft. This is somewhat consistent with the intersection – the apartment building on the SE corner is much closer to the street than the adjacent homes going East on Columbia so a precedent does exist. However, the proposed building lacks the ‘designed for the site’ appeal of the others on the intersection. The commission approved the proposal with the requirement the developer increase the setback by at least 5ft and redesign the end unit to better recognize the corner.

Since this is still a sketch plan it may get changed when it gets to the Board of Aldermen. We’ll see.

– Steve

 

Currently there are "3 comments" on this Article:

  1. Rachelle L'Ecuyer says:

    RE: North Market Place

    …regarding the resubdivision, a planned unit development was required to create lots for new homes and green space as part of the revitalization that are underway for this 30-acre area. The area zoning had been changed to multi-family over the years with commercial zoning on some of the corners. Our goal is to build over 100 new homes and rehab many of the existing vacant buildings you see along North Market and on the two adjacent streets. While our design is very traditional, lots range in width from 26′ to 36′ the existing lots did not allow for our houses to be constructed on them. Not all of the lots are the same size, in fact there was a good deal of variance in sizes in many of the vacant lots. As you know, in order for a person to own their home with clear title, it must be built on land with distinct boundaries.

     
  2. Mary Todd says:

    RE: Clifton Hts-The PUD Development is ridiculous. The price they propose is insane unless they build something like the character and charm of the neighborhood. Stop cramming ugly expensive condos into a family neighborhood unless they FIT in!

     
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