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New Homes Proposed for 10 year-old Foundations

At Monday’s Preservation Board meeting I learned of yet another unfinished housing project on the city’s northside. Two basments, poured in 1996, remain unfinished. Until recently, they were unfenced and a potential hazzard. The city owns the property, located at 3928-32 N 25th.


A developer is seeking to build new two-story houses on the two foundations. When I first heard that in the meeting I thought that was a smart idea, reuse and all that.

The two houses that were finished in the 1990s were, uh, a little less than ideal:


Maybe at the time they were going for a historic look?


The above house with the little dormer is one of my favorites in this city, located just down the street from the above site. When I get a free moment, I will try to find a picture I took of it back around 1990-91. The house to the left is being rehabbed. In fact, many of the original buildings the alderman has not had razed are being rehabbed.


Two blocks to the east these new homes are getting finished, part of Bolsey Estates (named after the Alderman, of course). I wonder if we will ever have Villa’s Villas? Anyway, the developer seeking to build on the two foundations used these as examples of what they want to build. The Preservation Board withheld their preliminary approval, asking the developer to work with the Cultural Resources staff to improve the appearance given that the properties are located in a historic district. The Preservtation Board previously approved the above designs for Bosley Estates on 22nd street.


While I like reusing existing items I don’t believe we should keep these foundations. The entire premise of this 1990s project is off — the houses are set back way too far from the street which changes the character of the urban area too much. The foundations also seem low relative to the grade, potentially causing future water issues. They also have 1-car garages which might be OK for a small house but a larger 2-story place should probably have a two car garage (which can hold one car and many scooters/bicycles nicely).

The other issue is the spacing — these houses are very far apart. Many new suburban houses aren’t this far apart. Each lot is 52-53ft wide, per city records (by 128ft deep). This total. area should have 6-8 single family homes, possibly more total units if you did a denser project at the corner or perhaps a townhome development. The two houses are finished and occupied so no point in messing with those now but given the 100+ feet of land between the finished houses and the old meat company to the south (awesome building, btw) it would be easy to get 3 detached houses or 3-4 row houses. The existence of these foundations should not lock us into this bad idea from 10 years ago.

For more on this story see Michael Allen’s post on Ecology of Absence. To view the Cultural Resources report on this project, click here.


Paul McKee, Board Member of St. Charles-Based Pro-Sprawl “Urban Choice Coalition”

Paul McKee, the St. Charles developer and land baron behind the “Blairmont” project has continued to remain in the news of late. I ran across his name while researching the board members of a pro-sprawl, anti-city group based in St. Charles County. Mr. McKee is a board member of a group that interestingly is anti government intervention out in the virgin farmlands but is all in favor of intervention in the city.

The following is the mission statement for the Urban Choice Coalition in its entirety:

WE BELIEVE in the right of individuals to live wherever they choose and can afford. We reject the blanket condemnation of growth in suburban counties as being a root cause of urban decay and further reject the pejorative term “urban sprawl” to describe the healthy expansion of new communities.

WE BELIEVE that it is the right of individuals to select the state, city, county, neighborhood or development of their choice to call home and not be denied governmental services, grants or benefits, otherwise available on a national or statewide basis, because of their choice of residence.

It should not be the role of government to deny services to anyone based on their choices of where to live.

It should not be the role of government to set up artificial growth boundaries, outside of which citizens or communities receive any less governmental benefits.

It should not be the role of state or regional government planning agencies to erect growth boundaries and attempt to dictate or dissuade anyone from living where they choose.

WE FURTHER BELIEVE certain public policy issues should be resolved on a statewide or regional basis, but that those decisions concerning who and where to extend local utilities and roads, or to build new schools and local government facilities are, for the most part, best left to local decision makers elected by the people they represent and that these local decisions should not be turned over to or subject to, further review by statewide or regional planning commissions not elected by the people.

WE FAVOR enhancing the quality of life in the urban core and positive inducements to promote “city living” as the best means of attracting new residents and stabilizing older neighborhoods.

But presumably it should be the role of the state governent to enact massive tax breaks for one person, say Paul McKee, so that he may assemble large areas of land within a single municipality within the state. Of couse the legislation passed by the Missouri legislature isn’t limited to McKee’s well-known but unannounced housing project but the various requirements pretty much make it tailor made just for him.

It would seem to be that an individual property rights type person, one who opposes big government intervention in land planning matters, would also oppose such intervention everywhere. But to McKee and his co-sprawlers they want it all — the ability to rape open farmland with single-use projects which are auto dependent as well as receive huge tax breaks for assembling land (which happens to contain people & buildings) on the scale of urban renewal projects like Pruitt-Igoe.

Oh yes, I see, they believe we need to have “positive inducements” in order to attract people to this idea of “city living.” Why the quotes on city living McKee & Co? I know why, you don’t really understand city living. Or maybe you do? You are likely afraid of the whole idea of people enjoying dense and walkable mixed-use neighborhoods. Sure, you talk a nice game about the “rights of indiviuals” to live where they like but you are all afraid they will stop picking the auto-centric housing subdivisions you call “communities.” And face it boys, the sprawl neighorhoods you’ve littered on the landscape for years has absolutely nothing to do with free choice — government planning has created the zoning codes that mandate everything from the lot size to the street width.

Pro-sprawl zoning in the suburbs has limited choices  — you can’t just build a corner storefront with your living space above anywhere you think their might be demand.  Oh no, in their world we must divide everything up — no mixing of residential, retail and office.  They  don’t really support individualism or free thinking about land use, they like what exists and simply want nobody to stop them until they’ve managed to merge St. Louis with Columbia MO.

The only way New Town at St. Charles got built in the urban manner that it did (urban relative to lot sizes, setbacks, street widths, etc…) is that the City of St. Charles agreed to adopt DPZ’s smart code for New Town.  Without this new zoning, what we see in New Town would not have been legally allowed as the area was zoned for industrial uses.  So where are McKee & Co when it comes to the sprawl-mandated zoning that predominates St. Charles County?  Right behind it 100%!

Another section above is how they like decisions left to local decision makers.  I’m just guessing because that is cheaper for them than having to contribute to a bunch of regional and state officials.  This weekend’s Post-Dispatch story on McKee pointed out his contributions to Aldermanic President Lewis Reed and Mayor Francis Slay.  Of course, to get that new tax bill passed he had to drop some money around the state as well.

To see the list of directors for the Urban Choice Coalition don’t look for it on their website.  You might even get the impression from their anonymous site that they are ashamed of their views — not wanting to be associated with it.  I can’t say that I blame them really, I would not want to put my name on that BS either.  So for the board list I had to go to the Secretary of State’s records, click here for their last report.  Basically it is all the people that financially benefit from the planned sprawl of the countryside in St. Charles County, including engineers, road builders, and the Executive Director of the Home Builders Association of Greater St. Louis.

Everyone agrees that North St. Louis needs major new investment and infill construction.  I just don’t think McKee and his anti-city, pro-sprawl buddies are the right people for the job.


Planning Commissioners Journal Editor/Publisher in St. Louis

Wayne Senville, the publisher & editor of the quarterly national publication, the Planning Commissioners Journal, is doing a 6-week road trip across the country along US Route 50 (see prior post). Today Senville was in St. Louis after spending yesterday in O’Fallon IL.

We spent about five hours today walking and talking about the state of planning, common issues faced by planning commissions and citizen planners. I gave Senville a good tour of St. Louis, focusing mostly on downtown but with lunch at Crown Candy Kitchen. I tried to balance out the good with the bad, and we have plenty of both.


Early this morning on the way to meet Senville I detoured from my normal Broadway route to take in the riverfront — I hadn’t been down there in like a year. Why go, I’ve seen the arch and I’ve seen the muddy river. I was surprised by the great selection of bikes to rent, including the 4-wheel pedal vehicles.


I really love some of the remaining warehouse buildings in the north riverfront area.


I checked out the new Pinnacle Casino under construction. Part of the building complex, straight ahead, seems to have made an attempt at giving a good face to the street — we’ll see how it turns out in the end, it looks like it may have a raised sidewalk about the normal street level. However, I simply cannot be sure at this stage.


I met Wayne at the Gelateria at Washington and 14th. I had given him directions from his hotel in O’Fallon via East St. Louis and Eads Bridge. His question to me way, “What was that big thing over the street?” That would be the St. Louis Centre bridge over Washington Ave that has yet to come down. We walked down that way to see the taxi cabs still parking on the public sidewalk, saw a number of parking garages (hard to avoid), including the new 9th street garage that DESCO built in place of the National Register listed Century Building — you know the one clad in marble (vent: f’ing bastards). At least some wealthy suburbanites want to give the gift of public art to the city, not more parking garages.

We, of course, had to take in the Gateway Mall as that is a timely planning discussion. Then it was time for lunch and what better place than Crown Candy?

After lunch we ran into Jane Smith, an Old North St. Louis resident and local group administrative assistant. Smith shared her thoughts on the neighborhood (a resident since the late 70s) and about the exciting plans to de-mall the mall. In the early 90’s I lived across the street from Jane and her husband Bruce on Sullivan. Bruce and Jane have since bought one of the new homes on North Market street. Jane is one of the organizers of the new Old North Farmer’s Market that started a couple of weeks ago. Jane indicated some of the final funding for the renovation of the buildings on and near the old mall came in last Friday. Funding for the actual streetscape is still in the works.

Wayne and I walked the 2-block mall and another 2 blocks down to North Market St. where the neighborhood group along with RHCDA have collaborated on renovations of existing buildings as well as new in-fill construction — a good example of how you don’t need to clear-cut an area entirely.


After Wayne dropped me back off downtown at my scooter I went over to City Grocers to get a few things before returning home. A woman had just parked her 125cc Yamaha Vino so we made that area of 10th Street an unofficial scooter zone.


And finally workers were installing a new sign for the J. Buck’s restaurant which opens next week. I had a great time meeting and talking with Wayne Senville. His journal does a great job of educating citizens interested in planning issues, such as those who get appointed to planning commissions.

Click here to see all 112 photos from today.


Saint Louis’ Former Pruitt-Igoe Site Should Be Developed as a Green Neighborhood

The long abandonded site of the former Pruitt-Igoe urban renewal project, imploded in the early 1970s, should be redeveloped into a LEED-Certified green neighborhood. Yes, 35 years after being vacated and imploded, the majority of the site remains vacant (excluding weeds and trash).

For those not familiar with the new green lingo, LEED stands for “Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design” and is part of a rating system created by the United States Green Building Council (USGBC). Originally started as a means for rating new buildings, the USGBC (in conjunction with others) is developing a program known as LEED for Neigborhood Development.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

Many, if not most, of the readers here have seen the above image, the classic symbol used to argue the failure of modern architecture and of high-rise public housing. To me it is more importantly a symbol of the failure of modern urban planning where compact, connected, pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods were replaced with disconnected superblocks, unpleasant to those who traversed the area. This post is not about debating the design or causes of failure of the Pruitt-Igoe complex that once occupied nearly 60 acres on St. Louis’ near north side (google map), this is about what should happen on the site now.

As the headline indicates, I want to see the now overgrown site developed into a “green” neighborhood, following the USGBC’s LEED for Neighborhood Development Rating System, still in a pilot stage at this writing (download 157-page PDF here). In these rating systems they have required items for all projects and then a point system to determine at which level the project is certified. Here are some highlights (various terms quoted from full document):

In the area of Smart Location & Linkage points can be earned through brownfields redevelopment, reduction in auto dependence, bicycle networks, proximity of housing to jobs and schools. Under the area of Neighborhood Pattern & Design prerequisits include open community (no gates) and compact development. Points can be earned through diversity of uses, diversity of housing types, a portion of the project as affordable housing (rental and for sale), a reduced parking footprint, walkable streets, access to public spaces, universal access, and even local food production. Additional points can be earned by having certified green buildings, building reuse and adaptive reuse, minimal site disturbance in both site design and construction. Points can also be given for the solar orientation and advanced technologies such as district heating & cooling. These are all explained in great detail in the full document.

In each of these areas they outline the number of possible points that can be earned toward certification and at what level. In each area they spell out an intent, the requirements and the various submittals necessary to obtain certification. As an example, under ‘Walkable Streets’ within Neighborhood Pattern & Design the intent is to,

Provide appealing and comfortable pedestrian street environments in order to promote pedestrian activity. Promote public health through increased physical activity.

The intent is straightforward but the requirements are lengthy and include many project-specific calculations. However, a few of the requirements among this list are pretty logical:

a) A principal functional entry of each building has a front facade that faces a public space such as a street, square, park, paseo, or plaza.

c) Continuous sidewalks or equivalent provisions for walking are provided along both sides of all streets within the project. New sidewalks must be at least 4 feet wide. Equivalent provisions for walking include woonerfs and footpaths.

d) All streets along non-residential or mixed use blocks within the project, whether new or existing, are designed for a maximum speed of 25 mph.

St. Louis’ Mayor Slay should take a bold step by sending out a RFP (Request for Proposals) to develop this embarrassing site into a mixed-use LEED-certified neighborhood. In a somewhat related matter, the Missouri legislature recently passed legislation aimed at large scale redevelopment of areas in need (75 acre minimums) without any real development criteria other than the minimum size. The state needs to revisit this issue, incorporating many of the guidlines for development encouraged by the drafters of this rating system.

Click here to visit the USBGC’s website on LEED for Neighborhood Development.


21st Ward: Unfinished Subdivision for Sale

This past April I did a post on the unfinished subdivision, Ville Phillips Estates, in the City’s 4th Ward. It was an interesting story involving multiple aldermen, a recall election and buyers stuck in the middle. It is my understanding newly elected Alderman Sam Moore intends to set things right at Ville Phillips Estates.

Here is the sequel, similar story but different setting and actors.


The subdivsion started by current and former 21st Alderman Bennice Jones King is called King’s Estates. City records show building permits issued in 1999 for new homes on each of the seven lots, none were started. In 2001 King was not re-elected, Melinda Long was instead voted into office. Apparently Long went on a quest to take properties up and down the 21st ward’s section Natural Bridge — enough of a plan to get her recalled just two years into her term (KSDK story on recall vote).


Bennice Jones King was re-elected and is the current aldermen. Additional city records show new building permits were issued for new homes in 2005. Three of the seven were built, two are sold and owner-occupied. A third, shown above at left, is completely finished but boarded up. MLS (Multiple Listing Service) records show Pyramid Realtors was the listing agent for the houses. However, Pyramid had nothing to do with the development and construction of the homes. The development and construction was by Mosley Construction, Inc of Kirkwood.

From Mosley’s website:

In our twenty five years in commercial construction and construction management, we have never failed to complete
an awarded contract. Our commitment to quality and hard work is what we deliver to our clients.

Boy, time to update that website.


In December 2006 UMB Community Development Corporation foreclosed on the properties. Mosley Construction has not returned my call. My email to Mosley Construction from 6/5/07 was returned, “user is over quota.” Twenty-first ward Alderman Bennice Jones King has not responded to my email, also from 6/5/07.

I also contacted real estate attorney Daniel J. Burke from the firm Armstrong Teasdale which handled the foreclosure on behalf of UMB Community Development Corp. Today I spoke with a representative from UMB, Mary Amburg, who called me back regarding my request to speak with someone about the disposition of the properties. Ms. Amburg indicated they are accepting bids for the sale of the four remaining lots and the one finished but unsold house, the offer deadline is 5pm tomorrow. When I asked for a website or other information to pass along she said none existed.


Homes across the street are more of what you’d expect to see in the city although this area does have newer homes from the 1940s-1960s.  Very few streets in this area have alleys with homes having front garages or rear garages accessed via front driveways.  Apparently this site was part of a dairy at one time. From the city’s development webpage on this project, last updated on 6/27/2005:

This former dairy location is being developed by the Mosley Group into five dwellings that will be for-sale, market rate homes. Construction of the new housing is expected to begin in 2004.

The land, as you might suspect, was city owned property.  This project received 10-year tax abatement and who knows how much additional subsidies.   The homes that sold and the last listing on the finished home were all around $200,000.  The street name is Kingston Court, click here for a map.