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Opinion: Downtown Needs a Form-Based Code, Not An Old Height Restriction

December 7, 2016 Downtown, Featured, Planning & Design, Zoning No Comments

The building at 620 Market, like most, has had numerous uses since it was first built, I recall attending a meeting at East-West Gateway when they were on the 2nd floor — back in the 90s. The most recent occupant was Mike Shannon’s restaurant, which closed January 30, 2016.

7th St facade of 620 Market St, May 2012 photo
7th St facade of 620 Market St, May 2012 photo

When St. Louis’ Chinatown, known as Hop Alley, was razed in the 1960s for Busch Stadium (1966-2006), a 35 ft height restriction was placed on the 620 Market deed. A taller building could have allowed occupants to look down into the new stadium. For a decade now the replacement Busch Stadium has been to the South and the old site a slowly developing mixed-use project between the Cardinals & developer Cordish, called Ballpark Village. Ironically, Phase 2 of Ballpark Village will include a tall building where occupants can look down into the current stadium.

Meanwhile, Mike Shannon has been trying to sell 620 Market. I’m sure, for the right price, he could find buyers willing to accept the 35 ft height restriction. Like anyone who owns real estate, he correctly views the substantial public & private investment in Ballpark Village as increasing the value of his property. Shannon’s former employer, the Cardinals, don’t want to agree to lifting the height restriction unless they get a say in what may replace the current building.  See Messenger: Mike Shannon takes on the Cardinals in battle to sell his building.

Results from the recent Sunday Poll:

Q: Agree or disagree? Cardinals/Cordish should get to approve/reject proposals for Shannon’s site in exchange for releasing 35ft height restriction.

  • Strongly agree 1 [4%]
  • Agree 0 [0%]
  • Somewhat agree 3 [12%]
  • Neither agree or disagree 4 [16%]
  • Somewhat disagree 1 [4%]
  • Disagree 6 [24%]
  • Strongly disagree 9 [36%]
  • Unsure/No Answer 1 [4%]

I’d forgotten to uncheck the option allowing user-entered answers, I turned it off after the first, which read: “no subsidy for Cordish unless restriction lifted” Agreed, but that should read ‘no ADDITIONAL subsidy for Cordish unless restriction lifted’.

This is another demonstration of failed urban design policy in St. Louis. Within the central business district the only regulation on height of new construction should be minimum height — not maximum.  Issues such as heights and design could easily be addressed within a form-based code, replacing our 1940s use-based code. Even a form-based overlay for Ballpark Village and surrounding a decade ago would’ve been a good idea.

St. Louis would rather battle parcel by parcel rather than determine a larger vision through a public process. Great for those in control, bad for creating a healthy city.

— Steve Patterson



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