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St. Louis To Use Eminent Domain to Raze Owner-Occupied Homes for Auto-Centric Retail

city_hospital_sq - 18.jpg Ald. Phyllis Young, up for re-election in only two years, is seeking eminent domain to take people’s homes for a second phase of a project that hasn’t even started construction on the first phase. The project, Georgian Square, is to be located across Lafayette Ave from the former city hospital which is being reborn as The Georgian condos. Still, everyone calls it City Hospital. As such, I will call the proposed development City Hospital Square or CHS for short.

By now you’ve probably heard about or read about this proposed development. The phase II area, with existing buildings include three newer homes (roughly from 2000) is in a “Neighborhood Preservation Area” per the city’s 2005 Comprehensive Land-Use Plan:

Areas where the existing housing and corner commercial building stock will be preserved and augmented with new infill residential and corner commercial development physically integrated with, and primarily serving the immediate neighborhood. These areas generally consist of stable residential areas of the City, including but not limited to historic districts, where the character of the neighborhood is currently well preserved with relatively few vacant lots and abandoned buildings. The plan contemplates continued preservation and improvement, with quality rehabilitation and infill new construction that is sensitive to the character of existing residences. Commercial and institutional uses catering to the immediate needs of the neighborhood are acceptable and reflect the traditional role such activity has played in the history of the City.

I’ve re-read the above paragraph numerous times and I still can’t find the part where it talks about forcing people out of their properties and razing viable structures for more suburban schlock. What is being said, through Ald. Young, is it doesn’t matter what we say on paper or where you buy your house, a Walgreen’s takes priority. In a city littered with vacant land it is criminal to contemplate razing both wonderful old properties as well as nearly new homes.

However, the bulk of the land is vacant, as soon as they finish razing the row houses along Lafayette. This land is located in a “Regional Commerce Area” per the Land-Use Plan:

Areas where the development of existing and commercial uses intended to serve a regional clientele should be encouraged. Developments in these areas will often be new projects. These areas generally consist of existing regional commercial uses or large sites at intersections of major roads/highways with regional access and visibility. Several large and currently underutilized sites exist in the City at prominent intersections. These locations provide “ready to go” locations for large format retailers with strong adjacent markets.

This area, without a doubt, needs new construction. The question is, what form will this new construction take? While I agree with others saying the old Foodland site on Jefferson @ Lafayette would be a better choice the fact is both sites need new construction. I’m not going to get into a debate about which should come first. Both need to be redeveloped and both need to be done so in a clearly urban manner — in other words no big parking lots between the entrance and public sidewalk.

Need more parking? Put in under, on top of, next to or behind the main buildings — just not out front. That kinda development just shouldn’t fly in such an urban area. Well, perhaps that is why they want to raze the block of existing buildings — to make less urban. I really think developers have some sick need to control more land than necessary. When defending the use of eminent domain to gain site control advocates will always talk about “some guy in the middle” holding out for more than his property is worth. But in the case of Loughborough Commons and here the houses in question are on the edge. The developers simply assume, no matter how much land they have already, they need that last little bit to make their project work. I sometimes think if they had a 500 acres but another 10 was off in a corner but on a major road they’d want that — saying their proejct simply won’t work without it.

The problem is our developers, elected officials, architects, planners, engineers and related professions haven’t learned how to develop in a tight land market. As more and more city property is being redeveloped it is only going to get harder and harder for developers to make big land deals. They will need to learn to design projects more densely and not assume they can wipe away an adjacent block. The result will actually be better projects — more building(s) on a given parcel of land. This will make the area more walkable and most likely more desired.

Of course our ancient zoning remains a key player in our problems in the city. It is based on a cheap land, cheap gas model where parking is king. It is hard to push a developer to do expensive underground parking (think Target on Hampton) when the developer down the street might do a massive surface parking lot. The solution is we as a city must embrace an urban form that makes the city a city. That means our standards moving forward should set maximums on the amount of surface parking while offering rewards for more urban forms of parking. Such a reward might be allowing the developer to build an additional floor(s) on their project to make up for the additional parking expense. Getting our aldermen to wake up and see the possibilities, however, is the big challenge. Replacing them might well be easier than trying to educate them.

Here is what needs to happen with City Hospital Square:

  • The Phase II takings of private property needs to be dropped completely.
  • The possible taking of a few vacant pacels in the block between Tucker & 13th should be considered, provided a project is not in the works already for that vacant land.
  • The main project needs to be redesigned placing buildings up to Lafayette Ave with the only parking in front being on-street parking.
  • These buildings should be 2-4 stories in height along Lafayette.
  • Similarly, buildings along 13th Street need to face 13th, not turning their back on the adjacent residential.
  • Some form of shared parking needs to be considered — this might be underground, a common parking structure, roof-top, or back lot should be used for the main project. Very small amounts of surface lots may be appropriate to provide accessible spaces near entrances.
  • Bike, scooter & motorcyle parking needs to be provided as space saving alternatives to typical parking.
  • Sidewalks from Soulard to the East and Lafayette Square to the West need to be evaluated and updated as necessary to make the area as pedestrian friendly as possible.
 

Currently there are "36 comments" on this Article:

  1. newsteve says:

    Wanting to enjoy a beautiful day yesterday, I put on my running shoes, headed out of my downtown office and ran south towards Soulard. I love Lafayette Square so I headed up Lafayette, circled the park and came back down Lafayette. This is one of my favorite neighborhoods, and running through it always puts a smile on my face. There were hoards of people walking their dogs and just enjoying the great neighborhood. However, as I passed the old City hospital I could not help but feel disgust over the prospect of putting a suburban shopping center across from the City Hospital. Whats more, tearing down the existing homes to make way for this monstrocity that is proposed left me frowning. I also asked myself, who would want to buy a condo in the Georgian and have to look at that. I’m sure that this will detract many, but not all. Hopefully the alderman will wake up and see that this is not right for the neighborhood. Based on past experience this seems unlikely and I will probably find myself taking an alternate route on my runs to get to Lafayette Park.

     
  2. anonymous says:

    steve you actually do have pretty good ideas no matter what other people say.

     
  3. Cordova says:

    Before the renovation was halfway completed, about two years ago, someone said to me, “Who is going to buy a condo for that much money when it is surrounded by Section 8 Housing?” Who knows if that is also part of the equation here – that is just pure speculation, but it would not surprise me if that wasn’t another factor here.

     
  4. mike says:

    I drove by there the other day to check the area out again. I agree tearing down those houses seems crazy (I find the design of the new ones to be a little odd, but they have their charm).

    There is basically a 100% chance that this shopping center will be autocentric. It would be a minor miracle if you could convince them to put the building on the street and the parking in the back or side. It would be a major miracle if you could get them to do the parking underground, although if you can stop them from taking the existing houses, that might force their hand a little.

     
  5. urban reader says:

    Mike writes:

    I drove by there the other day to check the area out again. I agree tearing down those houses seems crazy (I find the design of the new ones to be a little odd, but they have their charm).

    There is basically a 100% chance that this shopping center will be autocentric. It would be a minor miracle if you could convince them to put the building on the street and the parking in the back or side. It would be a major miracle if you could get them to do the parking underground, although if you can stop them from taking the existing houses, that might force their hand a little.

    We want our urban shopping centers pedestrian friendly so we can drive to them! Mike, thanks for illustrating the internal tension inherent in this controversy.

     
  6. awb says:

    Sometimes I think Ald. Young would not see a problem if a Walgreens were built next door to her own home in Soulard. She just doesn’t get it.

     
  7. Jeff says:

    The picture is covering up text on this post for some reason.

    [UrbanReviewSTL — Most likely you are using Internet Explorer for Windows.  I suggest you download a modern browser such as Firefox.]  

     
  8. MH says:

    Urban Reader, people can and will still drive to this site but that does not mean it has to be completely autocentric. Those in favor of more suburban development always think that opponents want EVERYONE to walk. That won’t happen anywhere, but a shopping center can be designed to accomodate all modes of transportation and still be urban in nature without being that much more expensive. Developers here don’t seem to understand that, and it seems most residents don’t either. They think to have these kinds of services it has to be in a strip mall.

     
  9. mike says:

    Urban Reader,

    I live in a little place we call “reality”. Welcome! I am not going to walk or bike down I-44 to and from work and to pick up my son from daycare.

    I started checking out this website to get different types of information as I do feel the mainstream media does nothing more than regurgitate the press release they are given. Maybe I should quit posting and just read steve’s reports. Some of you people are just arrogant, know it alls.

     
  10. john says:

    Same old story: urban planning StL style! Think you have a home? Not for long if the partnership between some local officials and developers is at work. No doubt that E.D. is abused here and no end is in sight. Desperate leadership cares little for the lonely and relatively powerless homeowner. Absolutely shameful…

     
  11. GMichaud says:

    Steve frames the issues nicely. There was a similar thread on BELT. http://tobybelt.blogspot.com/ This project raises still other major questions concerning how projects are built. This one is no different.
    Trying to find a realistic solution is important

    The drawing of the project shows a U shaped arrangement set back from the street. In BELT discussion the project began being pushed forward, putting the parking behind the buildings, or actually that was the new front, with another front being created facing Lafayette forming a public space.

    In an effort to evolve that discussion a bit, it may be possible to create a double U as a more practical solution. Leave the current solution roughly how it is and create another U along Lafayette, perhaps based on a circle rather than right angles. It would create public space along the street, while enhancing possible income streams. The development, if handled right, could be a destination in its own right.

    The front little square could be store condos, rentals, a food court, a fashion court, or boutique purveyors of food; the point is that it creates a new marketing possibility that would be stronger than creating an out lot for an Arby’s for instance. The new condo owners across the street would be thankful, and handled skillfully would enhance sales of those units.

    While positive financial implications are important, just as important is the question of how do you to create developments that interact with the city, with the people, not just for the damn cars? That means looking at alternates. It means listening to the people themselves, who crave a whole city. Parking lots facing city streets do not contribute to the city fabric.

    How is a project connected with the city is an important question. It should be a matter of policy that projects are asked to make that connection. There are other factors, including transit. Transit needs to be improved, even with only the buses. True, new urban shapes cannot occur without a complete, well run transit system.
    In other words the city must be committed to creating an urban environment. Voters should vote that way and ask that question of their representatives.

    By the way, I find that many Lafayette Square residents jog, walk, or walk their dogs. It seems perhaps more so than in my neighborhood of South Grand. I would have to believe that if the walk to this area was improved, especially with some traffic calming features, quite a few residents would walk, jog or bicycle.

    The desert of highways behind this project is a problem also.

     
  12. Jimmy James says:

    Steve,

    While I do agree that the best deal for the City would be good urban infill around the existing structures in addition to good design for Phase 1, I am also smart enough that both sides have some good negoitating chips here and that we as citizens must be smart enough to make some hard choices on how to prioritize what we want.

    Which is more important, historic preservation/ no eminant domain or good design?

    Given the location, given the surounding neighborhoods, and given the potential for the whole project, I place the design issue as being far more important. With good design, development in this locaiton can go a long way to making a great connection between Soulard, Lafayette Square, and LaSalle Square. This is a huge problem for the City. It’s best inner neigborhoods never connect and thrive in isolation. Linking them should be a top priority of anyone who wants to see City growth. With good design, new construction on the entire Phase 1 and Phase 2 site could result in more offices, residences, and more shopping for the area. (As a side note I will agree the Foodland site might be better. But at the same time if the Jefferson route is chosen for the Southside Metrolink line, I would rather wait and see what can happen along that route once we know for sure if rail trainsit is coming. Make sure we get the best use out of such a site [let alone the more money from development of the site]).

    But as you can see, all of this is predicated on good design. Without, I see most of the benefits of this development going out of the window. That is why the City should negoitate the use of eminant domain with the developer.

    Give us good design and the City will support your eminant domain request. Poor desing means no eminant domain.

     
  13. Paul Hohmann says:

    Another thing to consider purely from an urban preservation standpoint is that the small stretch of Tucker south of Lafayette is the only largely surviving block of original urban streetscape (with buildings on both sides) of Tucker/Gravois between downtown and the point at which you cross McNair. For this reason alone this block of buildings (everything east of 13th) needs to be preserved regardless of what form the phase one shopping center west of 13th takes. Making the shopping center urban would probably be the tougher of the two battles, but there should be focus first on preseving what is left even though the block has some vacant parcels. The lot at Tucker & Lafayette is a great site for a small mixed use building with a corner storefront or office space.

     
  14. design? says:

    Preserving these historic buildings would be good urban design. It doesn’t always have to be new. If you fight for a good design, then these buildings would inevitably be included in it.

     
  15. Jimmy James says:

    ^Design,

    While you are correct that perserving the buildings would be good design, you ignor that cities evolve over time and perhaps it is time for new construction in the area, particularly if the new construction can be of good design and fufill some larger important goals (such as increasing desntiy in the area and connecting three neighborhoods). Your view ignors that while clearly these buildings are valuable, are they more valuable than getting good urban design for the rest of the site? Are they more valuable than seeing the entire block live up to its highest potential (which clearly would be something much more dense than what is even there now)? Perhaps you are sold that the preservation of these structures is more valuable than either of these points, but I don’t agree.

     
  16. Jimmy James says:

    Design, you want to have your cake and eat it too. While a nice sentiment, I don’t know that it will result in the best project for the area. In fact, I would argue that focusing your fight first and foremost on preservation ensures that Phase 1 will not be urban and that there will be little, if any, value added to the remaining properties.

    [UrbanReviewSTL — I know  your comment is directed at “design” but I need to state a few things.  I’ve said it before and will say it again, I don’t consider myself a preservationist.  I’m an urbanist.   Good urban design, ala Jane Jacobs, calls for a variety of building types, uses and yes even age.  Let’s mix the old with the new, the modern next to the victorian.  As an urbanist I find the old buildings to almost always demonstrate good urbanism.  Their scale and level of detail is wonderful — most newer structures are designed to be viewed from a skyline or passing by in the car at 40mph.  The old structures make the pedestrian journey so much more interesting. 

    In the case of this project by protecting most or all of the existing structures (and their rightful owners) we are not ensuring phase 1 will not be urban.  In fact, telling the developer he can’t have this land with these houses may force him to get more square footage on the existing vacant land (yes, a big maybe).  Conversely, razing these homes does not ensure us that anything new will be of better use.  I’d argue that most likely the finely detailed buildings would get replaced with very generic buildings  — and fewer of them.  

    The reality is these buildings are so nice that what they are planning to construct will likely look cheap and tacky.  Rather than improve the design of the new construction they simply want to raze the existing so their stuff doesn’t look so bad.   

    What bothers me is that I look around City Hospital and see several of the old buildings still not renovated.  I see a large vacant area at Truman Parkway and Park that hasn’t been built upon.   Why on earth would we want to toss people out of their homes and raze viable structures when so much vacant land and buildings already exist in the immediate area?  Are the developers and designers that incompetent that they are unable to work around a handful of buildings?] 

     
  17. Jeff says:

    “[UrbanReviewSTL — Most likely you are using Internet Explorer for Windows. I suggest you download a modern browser such as Firefox.] ”

    Indeed, I am when I’m at work. They’re not too fond of me downloading new applications onto their computers, though.

    I can read it on my mac at home.

     
  18. design? says:

    I’m not arguing that cities don’t change over time, or that they shouldn’t. My point is, while better stated by Steve, is that the historic landscape that is there works fine in its setting and that the buildings themselves contribute to the story of the city. There is sufficient space in that neighborhood to include more density while preserving the things that make this city worth living in. While I do think that sites should reflect their highest and best use, other things need to be factored in besides square footage and the amount of money a site makes. That is why cities have standards and require that developers use their creativity to work with those standards… well other cities do. The urban design that is in place would work fine with infill. It seems that some people are intent on constantly fixing things that aren’t broken because they don’t really have an understanding of what a city really is and can be. The idea that you can just cut out sections of the city and replace them with something completely different is the kind of old thinking that got our city in the place it is today. I believe that the current urban design there is more valuable than what is proposed to replace it. It’s not really about the individual historic buildings; it’s about the urban form that is in place. It’s about valuing our city and what it could be, and allowing it to grow without feeling the need to destroy everything that is good about it in the first place. It’s about demanding creativity and not allowing what is easiest. Feeling the need to destroy everything that is there, and wiping out the current urban form is simply lazy thinking. We can demand better.

     
  19. Vicki Mabrey says:

    I have to preface my response by saying I’m not familiar with this particular project or corner, but think of the big picture. Think of why we visit Paris or London or Amsterdam or Vienna or any of the great European cities. It’s for the history. They are modern, fully functioning cities — yet they manage to retain the history that is their essence. That requires retaining the old — and when they talk about old, they mean really OLD. If the city fathers were constantly tearing down the old to build something modern, if they were saying, ‘Oh, let’s get rid of those drafty old rowhouses and put up something modern, something fresh, something with a car park out the front!”…. Well, you can imagine. Somehow they manage to thrive by readapting buildings that are 200, 300, 400 years old! We don’t have anything in that range, but you’ve got 100 year old structures the likes of which will never be built again. The houses in Steve’s photo are beautiful and an example of a standard of craftsmanship that won’t be replicated. Each time you lose one, a piece of St Louis history is gone forever. Fast forward now. You raze those for new development. How long do you think the new buildings will be standing? Not because the workmanship is so shoddy (though you can bet they won’t be nearly as sturdy), but because everything is thought of as disposable now. It’s all fashion, even in buildings. They’re not constructed for the long haul. For example, there was a perfectly fine Walgreens near my parents’ house in Florissant. But Walgreens changed the style of their buildings, and suddenly that one was closed and a new one built within walking distance of the first one. That’s how strip centers die. They’re so poorly built and generically style-less that there’s nothing worth rehabbing. Board it up and move on up the road. So whatever goes there will be outdated in ten, twenty years and you will have torn down perfectly handsome buildings for another development with planned obsolescence.
    My next point — insulting but also sadly true — is that St Louis is chock full of vacant lots. Parts of it look like London after the war. Who needs to tear anything down to find buildable land? ‘Design?’ is right — we can demand better.

     
  20. john says:

    Not properly respecting previous accomplishments, homes like these, will doom our future to a landscape where “there’s nothing worth rehabbing” (^Vickie) says it all. My wife’s previous home in Europe is over 500 years old and in a town square. Our sons love visiting there as they can simply exit the front door and visit the pastry shop just two doors away and many other shops as well. We can easily watch them as the venture around the square on their own.

    One of the many charms of these old towns/structures are how the more creative turn something old into something new that can never be replicated. These unique urban environments are not what most Americans are used to but still remain a possibility here. We are fortunate to have these opportunities. Let’s hope we can eventually find leadership that has the vision and common sense to enhance, and not destroy, the structures that make StL interesting and hopefully retain a touch of historical class.

    Yes much of StL property is damaged but repairable (just look at what Europe did after WWII) and that charm shouldn’t be disposed of without considering the consequences. However, there is one thing though that should be disposed of here and that is the political leadership.

     
  21. Joseph Blair says:

    Bohemian Hill is just plain inconvenient. It’s inconvenient for the developer Gilded Age to create infill housing, it’s conveneient for them not to design properties with input from local residents. It’s much easier for them to “moonscape” a property, and replace existing sturdy historical structures with attached housing and “BIG BOX” stores that will be lucky to survive 50 years. Let’s not mention that the majority of the tructures on Bohemian Hill are structurally sound, many have been gut rehabbed and are tax-abated.

    We need to stop making St. Louis inconvenient for pioneering homeowners and make it more inconvenient for projects like this one.

    [UrbanReviewSTL — I like where you are going with this.  I want to flip it around a bit and suggest that we need to make it very convenient for developers to work around existing properties and to do high-quality urban design.  On the opposite side, we need to make it highly inconvenient to take contiguous properties such as these and to do low-density development.]

     
  22. Tyson says:

    Steve’s suggestion for this site – an urban project built around the existing structures, represents the ideal. No doubt this is the best idea. But we should be prepared for the possibility that the developer/finaciers will not want to work with this site as is. Simply telling them they can’t have it and waiting (possibly for decades) for a “dream” development on this site does not represent a healthy view of the development/preservation debate in my opinion.

    Jimmy James’s perspective on this is the better way to think about it. The developer wants to demolish the homes and have an autocentric development, we want the homes preserved and an urban development. An urban development that claims the existing homes might be the best compromise. Great projects get built with compromise, idealism will likely stick us with vacant lots for decades. This is why with due respect I disagree with your comment Steve, that “telling the developer he can’t have this land with these houses may force him to get more square footage on the existing vacant land (yes, a big maybe).” More likely it will cause the developer to back out, or to go ahead with the suburban style and take the land anyway. What some of us are advocating is making good urban design a part of the agreement before handing over the existing buildings. As an urbanist, I don’t see how you can prefer leaving the area as a no man’s land between Soulard and L.S. while waiting for the perfect development, as opposed to a quality development linking the neighborhoods.

    [UrbanReviewSTL — Tyson you are falling into the either-or trap.  That is, if the developer can’t take a single block of houses this vast area of vacant land will forever remain empty. Sorry, I’m just not that gullible.  There is more than enough vacant land to do either a typical strip center or a more urban project.  Developers simply want to take all they can.  They begin their “thought” process not by thinking what can we do on the vacant land but starting with we need to raze those structures to get us to the next major street.  Their starting point sets off a string of failed assumptions and leads us to bad design.]  

     
  23. Tyson says:

    I think our experience with downtown, where so much of the historic fabric was destroyed for meaningless greenspace or highways, may have scared some people into preservation at all costs. Once you get outside of downtown in fact, except for the area around highways, much of our residential fabric is remarkably intact. What does this mean? It means that we have some “wiggle room” to put together land for high quality development (a necessity for modern cities) and will still be able to offer neighborhoods full of historic homes for those who like that.

    Also, regarding your comment that “Good urban design, ala Jane Jacobs, calls for a variety of building types, uses and yes even age.” This is 100% true, but using the quote in this context ignores the fact that if these buildings were renovated as part of the project, they would function for all intents and purposes like new construction, and not introduce the kind of variety (other than aesthetic) into the neighborhood that I believe Jacobs was talking about. If all you’re looking for is aestheic variety, there are Victorian homes across the street, and a 5-minute walk in just about any direction.

    [UrbanReviewSTL — This site is around highways and given the substantial amount of land that is available to develop currently I don’t see the need to wiggle any.  If the people behind this project are not capable of working within the amount of vacant land then they are incompetent.  

    As for the variety of ages of buildings you are assuming all the buildings would be renovated and therefore negate the Jacob’s ideal of variety of age.  Why make that assumption?  Three buildings are only six years old.  Others have been renovated and while some do need renovation.  I saw one building that I’d probably go along with razing.  And in this area remains some vacant land ready for infill.  It already has a nice mix — no need to completely erase what is there.  We need to learn to work on finer scale in such areas.] 

     
  24. Tyson says:

    The fact on the ground is that the developer wants all of this land in order to maximize their profits. Another fact is that this part of the city is not enough of a successful or established retail environment to make demands of developers like the ones you’re suggesting. With luck and hard work we’ll get there eventually. Meanwhile the residents of the surrounding neighborhoods want services like a pharmacy and grocery store. I’m with you on blocking an autocentric project that destroys the existing buildings. But if these buildings can be leveraged for a good urban development…this is the biggest concession I think we can realistically expect the developer to make and still get the services we want.

    Fights like this are the reason the city gets a reputation as a difficult place to do business. As I’ve posted elsewhere, the battle to preserve Bohemian Hill was lost decades ago. Conceding it now to a quality development represents a more than acceptable outcome. We can then, as urbanists, retrench our preservation/infill efforts in Soulard, L.S., and other more intact surrounding communities.

    [UrbanReviewSTL — Yes, developers want to maximize profits and I certainly have no intention of stopping that process.  The problem is how they go about maximizing the bottom line.  If we had good urban zoning they’d pretty much have no choice but to go up to get the most profit out of a given amount of land.  But not in St. Louis where auto-centric zoning from the 1940s still rules.  Here, because of the way our zoning and planning process is established, it is more profitable to raze viable structures than it is to build in an urban form. 

    So no, hard work and luck will not get us where we need to be.  As long as people continue to make excuses nothing will change.  We’ve been doing the same thing for half a century now and all we’ve managed to do is lose population and our interesting urban fabric.  The question is how do we consider something intact.  I see between Tucker and 13th a very nice intact block — no need to raze it.  I see to the West a huge swath of land that is big enough for 2-3 good urban projects and easily one large-scale urban project.  I also see lots of square footage in existing buildings arouund city hospital yet to be renovated as well as more vacant land.  I simply cannot see razing viable occupied structures with substantial urban qualities to build an auto-centric project given all the immediately available land in the area.]

     
  25. Joseph Blair says:

    The last post mentions that the residents of surrounding neighborhoods want pharmacy and grocery stores. I don’t recall Gildeed Age asking anyone. In point of fact Gilded Age has plenty of existing property to create this proposed center. That’s why the homes are in phase 3. I would even submit that if the development of a grocery/pharmacy was proposed inside the City Hospitals’ existing Physical Plant (the one with the smokestack) people would come from miles around because it’s unique!

    If they build this complex as planned-pedestrian traffic will die. Lafayatte square will be cut off from Soulard. Since I’ve lived in the area since 2003 I see people jogging, walking their dogs and in warmer weather stroll to restaurants/bars in Lafayatte Sq and Soulard. The amount of pedestrian traffic has increased every year since I have lived in the area!

    I don’t think people get it. We live in the City to avoid bland environments. This type of development would look great out in Wentzville, however it just looks plain inappropriate as it stands now. Hopefully Gilded Age asks for the input that is sorely needed to ensure that this project is a success; and avoids taking some homes that are simply unique…

     
  26. People keep saying that letting the existing houses be torn down is one possible aspect of compromise, that we can’t expect the developers to work soley with the land that’s already vacant.

    Well, they’ve already torn down a bunch of houses — several vacant ones on Lafayette, and some more on Picker Street to the south. At least one was occupied. Ref: http://www.builtstlouis.net/images/bohemianhill-aerial.jpg

    Half the houses in red were standing just one year ago.

    They’ve already got their compromise. To build a suburban development on the site of these demolished houses is to compromise further. No more demolition!!

     
  27. Jonathan says:

    Based on their previous work I doubt the developer is going to construct a suburban strip mall that no one will use. But the fact of the matter is that as long as they abide by the required zoning for the site they will be able to construct what they want to construct at least for the first phase, and there isn’t really anthing that anyone is going to be able to do about it. They own the land. All the passive-aggressive whining in the world on silly blogs probably isn’t going to change the plan. Contacting them directly and discussing the situation and presenting arguments based on economics rather than most of the silly ideas presented so far (underground parking is not going to happen here — it is not Hampton Village that generates the amount of sales required to be able to install underground parking) will probably have more of an effect. But the retailer drives the design and function of any site since they ultimately have to conduct business on the site.

    There are plenty of examples in other cities of big box retailers’ stores placed directly on the streets rather sitting back from the street. In my humble opinion, this almost always looks out of place and ignorant. The plan as presented mirrors the design of the Georgian with its original set back from the street. And the outbuildings mirror the flanking of the hospital ward buildings. To suggest that putting the buildings on the street is the answer to everything doesn’t take many things into account:

    1. How do the delivery trucks interact with the customers in the rear parking lot?
    2. How does the grocery store set up its registers for two different entries and exits?
    3. How do the Walgreens customers get to the store?
    4. A rear parking lot still faces the parkway when you get off the highway. This is also a primary facade.

     
  28. urban reader says:

    The above sound like the same arguments that Kmart supporters made when Southtown Coalition residents sought pedestrian friendly urban scale at Kingshighway and Chippewa.

    1. How do the delivery trucks interact with the customers in the rear parking lot?

    Make deliveries at off hours, like restaurants. Use smaller trucks.

    2. How does the grocery store set up its registers for two different entries and exits?

    The Hampton Village Schnucks has two entrances, and one exit.

    3. How do the Walgreens customers get to the store?

    How is this a problem?

    4. A rear parking lot still faces the parkway when you get off the highway. This is also a primary facade.

    Now we are equally concerned with appearances facing highway traffic as we are neighborhood street faces? Shouldn’t drivers keep their eyes on the road?

    If its so difficult to create urban scale, commerical projects, how does the Boulevard Project in Richmond Heights work with its street fronting buildings and interior circulation?

     
  29. urban reader says:

    Steve-

    In your headline, you make the point that owner occupants would be bought out in this possible eminent domain case.

    While it’s true that most aldermen try to avoid using eminent domain on owner occupants, does it really matter to the rest of us?

    Are we more concerned about owner occupants than tenants and rental property when it comes to using eminent domain?

    It seems that if a redevelopment plan meets the blighting and redevelopment tests, it shouldn’t really matter whether the current occupants are owner occupants or tenants. That’s more a political consideration than anything else, isn’t it?

    And besides, in this part of the city, the percentage of owner occupants is really not a fragile balance.

     
  30. Jonathan says:

    Urban Reader,

    Your inane responses are exactly what I am talking about. You are simply ignoring the realities of how retailers work. There is no safe way to combine delivery trucks with customers. And to suggest that they deliver in off hours indicates that you don’t understand how the business works. Most restaurants have food delivered in the day time.

    I’m just as concerned about what the site looks like as you get off the highway, and I think you should be also. That’s what most people see as they drive by in their gas-guzzling SUVs.

    And the last I heard the Boulevard isn’t doing so well for the retailers. And there’s probably a reason they decided not to move forward with the condos on the adjacent site. Maybe it’s because the stores are on the street, or maybe it’s because of the hideous parking garage facing the highway. Who knows.

     
  31. GMichaud says:

    First of all I offer a possible solution for utilizing Lafayette Street for people, while maintaining truck deliveries for larger stores in a post above. However I would say there are many designs and many ways deliveries can be integrated with commercial projects and the customers who use them. It is done all the time, all over the world, look around.
    In fact how do you imagine deliveries occur in a mall environment? There are plenty of shops that don’t need a semi to back up to them to receive deliveries. And by the way, there are establishments that do designate delivery times.
    The challenge of design is to find solutions. Good design can solve many problems. In fact, the reference to Boulevard is a case in point. They had the right idea, but the design of the complex fell short. For one thing, the center square is not handled in a pedestrian friendly manner. What should have been a major attraction and marketing tool was poorly done.
    The trouble with bad design is that once a project is built, it is often hard to understand why failure is happening. If St. Louis had an integrated urban philosophy that balanced suburban sprawl proposals, it would help all projects succeed.
    This Gilded Age development, as pointed out in by Joseph Blair above can be dropped any where in St. Charles County and it would fit fine. It is not site specific to its surroundings. Often that is a clue the design is poor, when it does not relate to what is going on in the community.
    This site should reflect an urban, pedestrian philosophy. It would be a missed opportunity failing to unite what are probably two of the premier historic districts in the City of St. Louis, Soulard and Lafayette Square. (Not to mention they are hurting their Georgian Development across the street)
    The reurbanization of St. Louis is a vital issue. With historic districts as part of the consideration, it becomes critical that this project is looked at carefully as a chance to enhance the historic areas.
    Anything less will illustrate a lack of leadership by the developer, the alderperson and city officials. These issues should be already part of ongoing discussions by public officials with developers and they should be part of public policy considerations. Until that happens, St. Louis will struggle to reverse its decline. St. Louis is an urban environment, it is not the suburbs, it is that simple.

     
  32. urban reader says:

    Hey Jonathon-

    I got a better one for ya..use the alley. Use the freakin’ alley. THat’s right. Build that sucker tight, just like in NYC, and make those truckers double park back down a tiny loading dock.

    Check out the Tums factory across from Busch Stadium. Now those are some urban truckers. Those drivers get those 18-wheelers turned around and back up down a a 10 foot wide loading dock.

     
  33. Jim Zavist says:

    “The problem is our developers, elected officials, architects, planners, engineers and related professions haven’t learned how to develop in a tight land market.” I disagree. We all know how to, but we simply don’t have to! There are few places in the city, including this site, that qualify as “a tight land market”, and when we have allies like those in city government that delight in assembling parcels at bargain-basement prices through condemnation, there’s even less reason to think “urban” or “dense” or “structured parking”. We can build at suburban scales and still make money, so why go further and think “outside the box” – pun or no pun? Until land values reach a point where it makes financial sense to construct structured parking, surface parking will continue to be the de facto “solution” in 90-95% of the city!

     
  34. Pete says:

    Steve, being a developer of historic structures I share the views of preservation and trying to “keep it original”. One issue I face with renovation of the old is that my plans are different every time and I have to allocate cost to the architecture line item. It adds up quick.

    When a national brand retailer comes into play, their corporate organizations dictate the cookie cutter design to reduce soft costs of their development budgets and also maintain the brand identity. It is unfortunate that the city government can’t demand that new infill support retail structures be built in a like kind way as it relates to the city’s previous architecture. These national retailers have more excess cash, therefor they should be held to tighter design standards.

    If Wash U can add buildings that loook like or similar to the originals, why can national brand type developers put more thought into design of new buidings in the city?

     
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