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Something Big Happening in St. Louis Tuesday-Thursday but not about Baseball

Yes, Tuesday-Thursday the World Series comes to town. If all goes well, the St. Louis Cardinals will defeat the Detroit Tigers all three nights for a World Series win in St. Louis on Thursday evening. But those same three days involve something far less monumental but in the long run much better: future mass transit routes. Three meetings will be held in different parts of town. The presentations will be basically the same although each one will focus a bit more heavily on alternates in that part of town:


Tuesday, October 24, 2006 4:00 p.m.- 6:00 p.m. Presentation at 4:30 p.m. Regional Collaboration Center One Metropolitan Square, 12th Floor St. Louis, MO 63102


Wednesday, October 25, 2006 5:00 p.m. – 7:00 p.m. Presentation at 5:30 p.m. Lift for Life Academy – Cafeteria 1731 S. Broadway St. Louis, MO 63104


Thursday, October 26, 2006 5:00 p.m. – 7:00 p.m. Presentation at 5:30 p.m. Fifth Missionary Baptist Church Fellowship Hall 3736 Natural Bridge Avenue St. Louis, MO 63107

In the past I’ve attended all three but as I have class on Tuesday & Wednesday evenings I’ll only be able to make the Northside one on Thursday evening. If you want to be involved in shaping the future of St. Louis this is certainly a good way to do it.

The reality, however, is Metro is broke and needs more tax money simply to operate the current system. We must certainly plan for the future but until our leadership gets serious about funding priorities it is hard to take this too serious. Who among us will still be around in 15+ years when these proposed routes might have their ribbon cutting?

More information can be found at northsouthstudy.org


McMillan Seeks TIF Financing for suburban-style Walgreen’s in City

Today the St. Louis Board of Aldermen approved three board bills relating to a proposed Walgreen’s at the NE corner of Grand & MLK. Last week I wrote about a fourth bill to rezone some of the property so the medium box and massive parking lot are in compliance with our suburban-oriented zoning codes dating back to 1947 (see post). You can tell how quickly change happens around here huh?

Here are the four bills related to the same project:
BB152, introduced 6/30/06; BB237 & BB238, both introduced on 10/6/06; and introduced a week ago, BB249. It was the last one, BB249, that I wrote about last week as it pertains to zoning.

BB152 relates to blighting the area while BB237 & BB238 both relate to the establishment of TIF financing in the amount of $1.2 million, from what I can discern from the wording. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not very knowledgeable about the minutia of these various tax incentive agreements. But, I am learning out of necessity. Today I looked at BB237 and realized that “Attachment A” was not, in fact, attached online. I requested this document from Jim Shrewsbury’s office and I got it a shortly thereafter. The attachment was the TIF Agreement which contains the bulk of the details.

I’ve reviewed this document now and see nothing relating to any design standards, other than saying the project will meed state and local codes. It does not seem to reference the Federal American’s with Disabilities Act. Nor does the document seem to have any mention of other potential requirements such as provisions for bicycle parking (a 2-bike rack is a reasonable request don’t you think?). Requiring the new project to have street trees in the public right of way between curb and sidewalk would be nice — although this is potentially a city issue and outside the agreement. However, sidewalks from the public walk to the front door is certainly relevant to this agreement. Bike parking and clearly delineated sidewalk access to the new Walgreen’s is not pie in the sky kinda stuff. Sure, I’d prefer an urban corner but short of that we still need to provide basics for those not driving a car. It is these types of agreements where such requirements, minor costs in the big scheme of things, should be incorporated. Alas, it would take Aldermen that understand such issues and have a desire to provide something besides a self congratulating grand total of development project costs.

Note: In the interest of full disclosure, I am a very minor consult on the campaign of Pat Herod who is running against Ald. Mike McMillan in the November general election for the county position of License Collector. This post is unrelated to any consulting for that campaign.


McMillan Seeks to Rezone Property for a Walgreen’s; Ignores City’s Strategic Land Use Plan

mlk_grand - 01.jpgIn what may be one of his last bills as Alderman, Mike McMillan (D-19th) is seeking to rezone a large area for a Walgreen’s to be located at Grand & MLK. The properties facing Grand are already zoned “H-Area Commercial District” but the Walgreen’s suburban design is reaching far back into the block which is zoned “C-Multi Family Dwelling District.” See Board Bill 249 introduced today, Friday the 13th.

If this Walgreen’s is built by Stephen M. Schott of Komen Properties, sole manager of property owner Page Partners III LLC, the area will be further eroded due to this “investment”. Besides the loss of the beautifully detailed structure shown at right, a major corner will for decades loose its urban form.

Since the days of “urban renewal,” a misnomer if there ever was one, government policy has been largely anti-city — seeing the mix of commercial and residential as a bad thing. Dating back to the depression, lending policies largely avoided mixed urban areas considering them too “cluttered.” Hundreds of millions have been spent through the last 50-60 years razing and “reconstructing” large tracts of the city under the false assumption that cities don’t work. We now know that many of these old concepts about cities were wrong and damaging.

Politicians these days don’t seem to care much about the quality of the development, just the total price tag to add to their campaign literature. Never is this more true than in the 19th Ward. At opposite ends of the urban quality scale are great new housing developments (where poorly planned “projects” once stood) and really horrible new sprawl-based strip development. McMillan seems unable to distinguish between the good development and not good development. He likely takes on the city’s low self esteem approach of ‘any development is good development.’

The building at right is located at 1408 North Grand (map) and it stands in the way of parking for a new suburban-style Walgreen’s. Since this area is not included in either a historic district or even a Preservation Review District, the city’s Preservation Board will not review the demolition permit. It will become one of the many thousands of urban buildings that are razed so suburban thinking can continue its invasion into a once urban city.

But the land where the above building is sitting, facing Grand, is not at issue for a zoning change. It is the land behind the building, currently vacant, that needs to be rezoned to permit the sprawl to happen. Rollin Stanley, director of the city’s Urban Planning and Design Agency, made a big deal about creating and getting approved a new “Strategic Land Use Plan.” Indeed, it is a tremendous effort. Sadly or perhaps expectedly, it is ignored like so many other plans that line corners of city hall. It is ignored because it has no teeth. It is completely unenforceable at this point. More good money down the drain.

The area where the Walgreen’s is to spread its asphalt is in two designated areas, Neighborhood Commercial Area and Neighborhood Development Area. These follow the current H-Area Commercial District and C-Multi Family Dwelling District for the area in question, respectively. If we look at the phrasing of the Strategic Land Use Plan which was passed by the Board of Aldermen you’ll see it is clearly attempting to take the city back toward its urban roots:

Neighborhood Development Area

Residential /non-residential areas with substantial amounts of vacant land and abandoned buildings suitable for new residential construction of scale/associated neighborhood services, respecting stable properties that may be considered as part of any new development. Opportunities for new housing construction/replatting at critical mass scale defining a new neighborhood character over time.

Neighborhood Commercial Area

Areas where the development of new and the rehabilitation of existing commercial uses that primarily serve adjacent neighborhoods should be encouraged. These areas include traditional commercial streets at relatively major intersections and along significant roadways where commercial uses serve multiple neighborhoods or where the development of new commercial uses serving adjacent neighborhoods is intended. Mixed use buildings with commercial at grade and a mix of uses on upper floors are an ideal type within these areas. These areas may include higher density mixed use residential and commercial and may initially include flexibility in design to allow ground floor uses to change over time e.g., ground floor space that can transition from residential to commercial use as the local demand for retail goods and services strengthens in the area.
[Note: picture at right is actual picture used by the city in conjunction with this land use designation]

mlk_grand - 03.jpgLooking North up Grand from the site we see existing structures maintaining the urban form along Grand. However, with each new notch in McMillian’s investment belt the urban form is replaced with suburban forms. Well, at least commercially. Let me explain.

mlk_grand - 09.jpgAcross from the proposed Walgreen’s box is a typical suburban strip center currently under construction, also by Komen Properties of Clayton. While the former buildings were nothing sacred architecturally at least they held true to the street. These new developments look more like something you’d see in a new suburb than in a city. But this is simply building upon the sprawl center across MLK built a few years ago.

mlk_grand - 11.jpgMLK Plaza is a typical big box strip center ungraciously plopped down in the city. Bounded by Grand (sorta, see the map link above), MLK, Page and Spring it offers the area shopping choice but nothing else. It certainly does not build upon the areas urban form. The center turns its back to Spring Ave, a fairly busy street in the area. While this does offer better pedestrian access than say Loughborough Commons or Gravois Plaza, its auto centric origins are clear.

mlk_grand - 12.jpgAlong Page Ave many residents in the area, often unable to afford a person car, are pedestrians and users of mass transit. However, the suburban planning behind the MLK Plaza doesn’t really consider pedestrian access beyond a couple of limited access points. The development, at roughly 4.5 acres, is focused on the auto and its parking — not on pedestrians and urban form with parking behind or adjacent. The public street is ignored while the private parking lot is worshiped. A public street was closed as were a couple of alleys for this project.

Pedestrians have made some “adjustments” to the fencing in order to gain access and egress from the site where most convenient. The grass is worn and ground compacted due to the high number of pedestrians coming and going from this area. This shows a couple of things. One, the retail was needed in the area as it was long starved for quality choices but more importantly that many people access this retail via foot. Rather than reinforce the original urban form of the neighborhood and support the many existing pedestrians this project instead imposes the suburban value system upon the city.

mlk_grand - 14.jpgThese buildings which face both Page and MLK and are just south of the proposed Walgreen’s may be next to fall for the sprawl machine. Who’d want to invest the money to make these into lofts when they are being surrounded by nothing but sprawl. Had McMillan led his word toward a more urban vision it might bode well for fine buildings such as these.

But all it is not bad in the 19th Ward. McCormack Baron Salazar is remaking the area formerly occupied by the Blumeyer housing project.

mlk_grand - 23.jpgJust a couple of short blocks east of Grand & MLK where the new Walgreen’s is proposed and where sprawl abounds is a handsome new senior living center. While not perfect, this complex of buildings holds to the odd street grid, reinforcing it rather than rejecting it. Entrances are well placed and the overall design is one that embraces the public street and sidewalk, a big departure from the old housing projects in the area. McCormack Baron Salazar should be proud of the project — how it reinforces the street grid and adds to the walkability of the community. They should be a little more than upset how a couple of blocks away the area is being suburbanized, negating much of their efforts.

The folks over at John Steffen’s Pyramid Construction should have checked out the plans for this project before moving forward with their disastrous Sullivan Place project.

mlk_grand - 32.jpgAlso by McCormac Baron Salazar is the Renaissance at Grand, new housing where the “projects” once stood. At right we looking north on Compton with the above senior project at the termination of the street at MLK. In this project they’ve returned the walkable street grid that was removed during the days of urban renewal and failed housing projects. Again, another commendable project.

The point of this is to demonstrate the area is receiving substantial investment, much of it through incentives, which helps reinforce the urban pattern and to create a walkable community. It is just blocks from all the sprawl commercial being constructed in the area. This is what happens when you don’t plan for an area, or you ignore a good plan like the Strategic Land Use Plan, and then allow just any development. Sometimes the result, as shown here, is quite positive. Other times, the sprawl that is engulfing Grand/MLK/Page, is tragic and conflicting with the strong inroads being made. We the public are helping to fund both.

We need political leadership that can help bring these urban residential projects in the area together with urban shopping environs. This does not mean a ban on Walgreen’s or other stores but fitting them into the fabric so that we have both a walk able urban environment that accommodates those in cars as well. It can be done, it just takes some effort and vision.

The good thing, I suppose, is McMillan can do little urban damage from the License Collector’s office. Unfortunately, his hand picked replacement for alderman will likely offer more of the same.

Komen Properties of Clayton, in addition to the sprawl here, had proposed a Home Depot for Goodfellow & I-70 (see prior post).
Additional photos available on Flickr.

[UPDATE 3:50pm: It should be noted I am a bit biased in two areas. One, I love cities and hate sprawl. Second, I am a very minor consultant to Mike McMillan’s opponent in the race for License Collector.]


Alderman Seeks to Vacate Street Grid for Bottle District

Ald. April Ford-Griffin (D-5th Ward) will introduce Board Bill 247 tomorrow which would further erode our street grid. Here is the bill’s summary:

An ordinance recommended by the Board of Public Service to vacate public surface rights for vehicle, equestrian and pedestrian travel in 1) Biddle: 7th to Broadway, 2) Carr: 7th to Broadway, 3) Sixth: O’Fallon to Cole, 4) O’Fallon: 7th to 6th, 5) 20 feet wide north/south alley in City Block 557 as bounded by O’Fallon, 6th, Biddle and 7th in the City of St. Louis, Missouri, as hereinafter described, in accordance with Charter authority, and in conformity with Section l4 of Article XXI of the Charter and imposing certain conditions on such vacation.

This is unacceptable. Many developers say they can’t develop a parcel at a time, that they need to assemble larger parcels. Fine, but must they take away our streets in the process? These developers own five and a half city blocks, why must they remove the street grid as well? If you cannot produce a good urban project on nearly six blocks of contiguous land you need to go back to the drawing board. [See Google Map]

In reviewing the various drawings for an editorial I did in the West End Word I saw they will have a 6th Street — actually called 6th on the drawings. In looking through the legal language of the bill it looks as though the city will still retain the ground — we’d just be vacating the “surface” rights. This gives the developer the ability to remove the public street and control what does back. They cannot, however, build upon this land unless another bill were to go further and actually give them the land.

The problem here is we are taking a public street and making it a private street. So while the new 6th Street may have some visual appearance of a public street it will not be. It will be under the control of the management of the Bottle District, just as Westfield controls the food court at a suburban mall.

We need to keep our public streets public. Let them develop all the real estate around the public streets. Work on some public financing to make necessary capital improvements to the streets and sidewalks . But do not turn over control of our public streets to private corporations!

I ask that you all contact April Ford-Griffin and ask her to look at keeping these streets public. I’d also let Streets, Traffic and Refuse Committee Chair Freeman Bosley Sr. if you are not keen on our public streets being turned over to private entities.


SLU Profs To Give Presentation on the “Crisis of Modern Public Housing.”

Two Professors from Saint Louis University, Joseph Heathcott and Todd Swanstrom, will be presenting what promises to be a very interesting topic:

The Crisis of Modernist Public Housing: Pruitt-Igoe in St. Louis and Bijlmermeer in Amsterdam

Pruitt-Igoe, of course, is the failed housing project on the near north side that was imploded in 1972, less than 20 years after completion. The architect, Minoru Yamasaki, also designed the World Trade Center destroyed on September 11, 2001. The Pruitt-Igoe site has been vacant for nearly 35 years.

This will be contrasted with Amsterdam’s Bijilmermeer project which Heathcott and Swanstrom visited this summer while researching abroad. Both projects had seemingly similar origins yet vastly different outcomes. Heathcott and Swanstrom should be able to shed some light as to the reasons why.

This presentation will be held on Thursday, November 2, 2006 at 4:30pm at the SLU Cook School of Business in Room 236 (Building #7 on campus map, caddy corner from The Coronado) and is sponsored by the St. Louis Metropolitan Research Exchange (STLMRE) and the SLU Department of Public Policy Studies. The event is free and open to the public with a reception to follow!