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McKinley Heights Code Made New Family Dollar Better Than Their Boilerplate, Still Has Room For Improvement

In case you haven’t noticed, Family Dollar stores are popping up all over St. Louis. From November 2012:

Family Dollar Stores Inc. will expand its store base by 500 this fiscal year as it looks to capture a bigger share of the dollar-store market. (Charlotte Business Journal)

A good number of those 500 new stores seem to be in St. Louis, I’ve spotted new locations next to Jefferson Commons, Grand @ Magnolia and now Jefferson near Gravois.

New Family Dollar entrance doesn't face Jefferson & Victor.
New Family Dollar entrance doesn’t face Jefferson & Victor.

So what does their typical new construction look like? Not much architecturally, with little to no connection to the sidewalk.

Family Dollar at 6000 Natural Bridge has no connection to public sidewalk. Click image to see my post.
Family Dollar at 6000 Natural Bridge, built in 2006, has no connection to public sidewalk. Click image to see my post from March 2011.
In 2007 Family Dollar built this location on Dr. Martin Luther King, just west of Grand
In 2007 Family Dollar built this location on Dr. Martin Luther King, just west of Grand

When building these two stores in 2006 & 2007 they used a pretty auto-centric approach and the cheapest materials. Now let’s take a look at the south Jefferson location where they built their newest location, starting with the Burger King that occupied the site for years.

Closed Burger King December 2011
Closed Burger King December 2011, looking north along Jefferson
North side of the former Burger King facing Victor St.
North side of the former Burger King facing Victor St.

The Burger King was a typical suburban design in what was previously an urban location. Years of chipping away at the urban fabric devalued the urban experience, but money was made. That is, until it got old, then the money stopped flowing. Uses for former fast food restaurants are limited, often to check cashing places or other businesses that could care less about the city where they are located.  Okay, back to the site on Jefferson.

By August 2012 the site was  back to bare earth.
By August 2012 the site was back to bare earth.

b

The north side facing Victor St has a red brick veneer, but no doors or windows.
The north side facing Victor St has a red brick veneer, but no doors or windows.
The Jefferson facade is narrow, with blank walls at the intersection.
The Jefferson facade is narrow, doesn’t come out to the sidewalk, with blank walls at the intersection.

The McKinley Heights Historic District Design Standards is to thank for the fact this store isn’t awful like the prior examples. The follow section, in particular:

ARTICLE 5: COMMERCIAL DEVELOPMENT CORRIDORS DESIGN STANDARDS

501 NEW CONSTRUCTION AND EXISTING NON?HISTORIC COMMERCIAL BUILDINGS

All new construction within the designated Commercial Development Corridor (the Corridor) must be reviewed and approved by the Preservation Board taking into account the following considerations:

501.1 Height

New buildings must be constructed within 15 percent of the average height of existing buildings on the block. Any additions must be compatible with both the existing building and the surrounding structures.

501.2 Scale

The scale of all proposed new construction in the Corridor must respect the existing scale of any surrounding historic structures by seeking to minimize the difference in height, mass, fenestration and location. Any additions must be compatible with both the existing building and the surrounding structures.

501.3 Location

New or moved commercial structures shall be positioned on the lot to not only enhance the character of the commercial location but also to be compatible with the surrounding streetscape. Any additions must be compatible with both the existing building and the surrounding structures.

501.4 Exterior Materials

All new building materials shall be compatible in type and texture with the dominant materials of adjacent buildings. While artificial masonry such as “Permastone” is not permitted, introduction of new materials for new construction will be considered. A submission of all building material samples shall be required prior to approval. Any additions must be compatible with both the existing building and the surrounding structures.

501.5 Details

Details on new structures should be compatible with the surrounding built environment. Any additions must be compatible with both the existing building and the surrounding structures.

I have numerous problems with the code:

  1. The code is 41 pages of text! Not a single diagram to illustrate what is desired, or what is discouraged. Lawyers might like to read written code, but those trying to design to codes are often visual learners.  The general public can benefit greatly from diagrams, increasing understanding.
  2. If someone wanted to build a 5-story urban/mixed-use building on this site, it wouldn’t be allowed because it would be greater than 15% above the few 1-2 story buildings on the block. Never mind that we have 2 story buildings next to 5+ story buildings in many historic neighborhoods. Increased density, if allowed, not required, would be good for area businesses.
  3. The code is too general: compatible, respect, and enhance are all subjective terms.
  4. Form-based codes, for example, deal with issues such as width of the building facing the primary street, more building should’ve faced Jefferson.

I’m very glad this code is in place, but I’d like to see it and others improved.

— Steve Patterson

 

Where is Dogtown?

I know where Dogtown is in St. Louis, but that wasn’t always the case.

Looking at the city’s list of neighborhoods you won’t find a listing for “Dogtown”

Dogtown is generally the three areas known officially as Clayton Tamm, Ellendale and Franz Park.  Does anyone outside these three areas use these names? Doubtful.

– Steve Patterson

 

Shaming Owners of Rundown Properties

St. Louis could learn something from Webster.  No, not the suburb Webster Groves, Webster Mass:

WEBSTER, Mass. – The health board in a Massachusetts town has approved a plan to shame owners of rundown buildings into fixing and securing their properties.The plan approved Monday by the Webster board allows the town to place 4-by-8-foot signs on the sides of dilapidated buildings with the owner’s names, address and telephone number. (Mass. town approves plan to shame property owners)

St. Louis could just print lots of signs with the same info — no, not Paul McKee:

lraThe LRAreceives title to all tax delinquent properties not sold at the Sheriff’s sale. Also receives title to properties through donations. The SLDC Real Estate Department maintains, markets, and sells these properties and performs land assemblage for future development.” Maintains?

– Steve Patterson

 

Is Food The Secret Ingredient To Revitalizing Neighborhoods, Commercial Districts?

I’m a foodie! So much so I started a second blog, The Budget Vegetarian Foodie, to express my thoughts on food. But lately, I’m starting to think about the roll of food in revitalizing neighborhoods, commercial districts and entire inner cities.  Hear me out.

Although independent restaurants do exist in the far suburbs, those areas are known for ubiquitous chains.  The core of any major metropolitan region you have far fewer chains but lots of locally owned establishments.

Recently I was in the Walgreen’s at North Grand and ML King when the guard asked out loud if anyone knew where Crown Candy was located.  I responded, “14th & St. Louis Avenue.” As I reached my car he asked if I had time to show someone where it was located.  I did so I agreed. When we got to the intersection I pulled over to chat with the two women — in their Social Security years and from out of state — they had a list of 5-5 restaurants and wanted to know where they were located. One seemed to know the region a bit.  I love food tourists!

ABOVE: Chef at the North City Farmers' Market prepares summer rolls
ABOVE: Chef at the North City Farmers' Market prepares summer rolls

Farmers’ markets are gaining in popularity throughout the St. Louis region. The chef above also made an awesome ratatouille entirely from

Sidewalk cafes work great in walkable neighborhoods where sidewalks exist — much different than sitting in front of a Qdoba facing the parking lot of the Walmart Super Center. The process of bringing in food, I think, will bring people:

As the rate of obesity, diabetes and other nutrition-related health problems rise in the U.S., focus is again turning to low-income neighborhoods that have few healthy food options. Food co-ops are stepping in, in some underserved communities. (NPR)

The NPR story features the recently opened Old North Grocery Co-Op (a non-profit I donate advertising space on this blog) but mentions the model is being used throughout the country.  While proving healthy food options for those without access outside a small area, these efforts are also a draw for the middle class. We all eat and for many who desire living in a walkable urban environment seek local places to buy food – grocery stores and restaurants.

ABOVE:
ABOVE: Vendor sells Mexican grilled corn at the downtown farmers' market.

From my observations I’d say the following need to be considered when looking to revitalize a neighborhood:

  1. A grocery store(s) within a 1/4 mile walk of most residents. A place where a variety of fresh vegetables and fruits can be purchased with few processed foods offered.
  2. A seasonal farmers’ market, with actual farmers.
  3. A community garden.
  4. A variety of locally owned cafes, bakeries and restaurants so that someone has a choice for breakfast, lunch, dinner and late night on weekends.
  5. An open policy toward food vendors with carts & trucks.

In short, attract the foodies and you will create a buzz for your commercial area.  Once you’ve got a commercial district with a positive buzz people will want to live nearby.  Of course revitalization is more complicated than I presented here. We should discuss over a good meal at a sidewalk cafe.

– Steve Patterson

 

Five years since the Praxair explosion

June 24, 2010 Neighborhoods 6 Comments

Five years ago today the normally quiet Lafayette Square neighborhood was rocked by a massive explosion at the Praxair industrial gas facility on Chouteau:

ST. LOUIS – A blaze at an industrial plant sent huge fireballs shooting into the sky Friday afternoon, casting a towering cloud of black smoke over the area as traffic backed up and nearby residents evacuated their homes.

There were no injuries, St. Louis Fire Chief Sherman George said. There also was no word on the cause of the rapid-fire series of spectacular explosions at Praxair Distribution, which processes propane and other gases for industrial use.  (Source)

Video from a nearby resident:

Today the building and site remain vacant.  The 4 acre site, located at 2210 Chouteau, is listed for $2,250,000.

ABOVE: the burned out structure remains
ABOVE: the burned out structure remains

Nearby residents started Praxair Watch to oppose the reopening of the facility.

The 2.105 acre site to the east is listed for $750,000.  Between the two sites is a former street, Mackay Place:

ABOVE: the former Mackay Place with the Praxair site on the right
ABOVE: the former Mackay Place with the Praxair site on the right

This former street is owned by the same limited liability corporation that owns the site to the east.

The Praxair explosion was featured on an episode of the History Channel’s Modern Marvels as an “engineering disaster.”

– Steve Patterson

 

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