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

December 7, 2016 Downtown, Featured, Planning & Design, Zoning Comments Off on Opinion: Downtown Needs a Form-Based Code, Not An Old Height Restriction

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

 

 

Zoning Should Not Be Used To Force Washington Ave To Become A Retail Street

There are some who envision one mile of our Washington Ave (from 4th to 18th) as being a retail street like the Delmar Loop or Chicago’s Magnificent Mile along Michigan Ave. One person even wants to use a proposed form-based code overlay to mandate a retail use on the ground floor. Yes, the idea of using a form-based code to regulate uses is illogical. The whole point of moving from use-based zoning to form-based zoning is to get the form correct.

Recognizing uses change more often than the physical form of buildings.

It was a December announcement that prompted this push for a retail street:

LockerDome, which currently has 45 employees, moved to a 6,800-square-foot storefront on Washington Avenue in 2012 but has outgrown that space, said its chief executive and co-founder Gabe Lozano.

After a 120-day build-out set to begin in the second half of 2016, LockerDome’s employees will move to occupy an 18,000-square-foot building a block away at 1314 Washington. (Post-Dispatch)

LockerDome is a St. Louis-based tech company.

LockerDome has been at 1221 Washington Ave since 2012, the space was previously occupied by an architectural firm. Their windows are never covered,
LockerDome has been at 1221 Washington Ave since 2012, the space was previously occupied by an architectural firm. Their windows are never covered,
In January I saw a woman, presumably an employee, working and eating lunch in one of the windows.
In January I saw a woman, presumably an employee, working and eating lunch in one of the windows.
Lockerdome will be moving to 1314 Washington Ave, currently occupied by the gym Fitness Factory. Their windows are never covered.
Lockerdome will be moving to 1314 Washington Ave, currently occupied by the gym Fitness Factory. Their windows are never covered.

Both have the form right, both have windows we can see into day & night. Some think a gym is an acceptable use on a retail street — but a high-tech firm is not. I personally don’t care what’s going on behind the facade. I can see into the windows when I pass by.

But one person would prevent LockreDome from occupying the ground floor of this building — he doesn’t want offices on ground floors. Yet, firms want to be located on Washington Ave. because it is the most vibrant part of Downtown/Downtown West. With the upper floors converted into residential there are too few options for large offices. For that matter, there are too few spaces for a larger retailer like a CVS/Walgreen’s.

What makes a credit union/bank lobby ok, but not a creative office?

It’s the non-creative offices that are the buzz kill…

The blinds at Rise Community Development have been closed since they moved intro 1627 Washington Ave, (right). The same space has been used for a clothing reseller and a restaurant,
The blinds at Rise Community Development have been closed since they moved intro 1627 Washington Ave, (right). The same space has been used for a clothing reseller and a restaurant,
Between Broadway (5th) and 6th the Stifel financial headquarters keeps their ground floor blinds shut.
Between Broadway (5th) and 6th the Stifel financial headquarters keeps their ground floor blinds shut.

Regulating uses is arbitrary — which is why I want the city of St. Louis to abandon old-fashioned Euclidean use-based zoning and adopt form-based zoning. Form-based zoning, however, can be used to regulate the form – largely windows & doors at the ground level where pedestrian activity it to be encouraged.

Many ground floor offices downtown keep their blinds closed 24/7 — that’s something a form-based code could/should address. We need uncovered windows where we can see activity going on inside. But could Washington Ave become a retail street like the Delmar Loop or Magnificent Mile?

No — both of those were built for retail purposes.

This mile of Washington Ave has had many uses over the decades — the middle part included sweatshops where immigrants manufactured clothing, shoes, hats, etc. Items sold in stores all over the country, possibly in the Sears catalog. It wasn’t a retail street then.

Today Washington Ave is largely a restaurant street, with the occasional niche retail merchant. Besides bars/restaurants the other common “retail” use is hair salons.

Both storefronts at 1619 Washington Ave are salons.
Both storefronts at 1619 Washington Ave are salons.

Another problem are the many gaps in continuity.

Our convention center occupies two blocks of Washington Ave -- from 7th to 9th
Our convention center occupies two blocks of Washington Ave — from 7th to 9th
Former CPI parking lot between 16th-17th
Former CPI parking lot between 16th-17th

Get the form right — including being able to look into ground floor spaces. Don’t fret about the users.

— Steve Patterson

 

The Future of Grant’s Farm is Uncertain

The future of Grant’s Farm is coming between siblings — children of the late August Anheuser “Gussie” Busch, Jr. (1899-1989). I find it unsettling to see wealthy siblings, in their 50s & 60s, disagreeing m public.

Before I go any further, I have a confession: I’ve never been inside the gates of Grant’s Farm or the Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site located across…Grant Rd. I’ve certainly driven past on Gravois many times, even exploring the perimeter like Pardee Rd. On Sunday we drove around the site completely. Though the site contains many buildings, it’s still very much unspoiled nature.

The Gravois Rd entry gates to Grant's Farm
The Gravois Rd entry gates to Grant’s Farm

One comment on the Sunday Poll post was:

FYI your 3rd choice isn’t an option. Do a little research on what municipality Grant’s Farm lies in and what it’s zoning laws and ordinances are. Also look up what part lies in a flood plain. Not going to have to worry about any commercial or residential development here!

While poll answers are presented in random order, this was a reference to the poll answer: “Sell to a developer for houses &/or retail”  Not only is it possible, this is the concern of the four Busch siblings that would like to sell the animal preserve to the St. Louis Zoo.

Four Anheuser-Busch heirs worry that their brother, Billy Busch, will turn Grant’s Farm into a subdivision.

No one man can finance and maintain the sprawling South St. Louis County animal park, said Trudy Busch Valentine and Andy Busch. It’s just too expensive.

They have seen housing plat maps already drafted for the Grant’s Farm land, they both said, and know it’s an option for any owner if times get tough.

Billy Busch responded, saying he wouldn’t sell off land. St. Louis County classifies the land as single family, Grantwood Village has it zoned “Animal Preserve.” The Lindbergh School District would likely object to a loss of tax revenue if it went to the Zoo.

County records show the site as 214 acres, though news reports say 198 acres
County records show the site as 214 acres, though news reports say 198 acres
Parking & farm land on the East side of Grant Rd is a different ownership from the trust.
Parking & farm land on the East side of Grant Rd is a different ownership from the trust.
Pedestrian entrance from Grant Rd parking lot
Pedestrian entrance from Grant Rd parking lot
The National site is less than 9 acres
The National site is less than 9 acres

Here are the results of the Sunday Poll:

Q: Six Busch siblings can’t agree on Grant’s Farm, what would you like to see happen?

  1. William “Billy” Busch buys it, builds Kräftig Brewery on part, allows Zoo to use part. 31 [58.49%]
  2. St. Louis Zoo buys it, the region fund a new sales tax to cover annual operating expenses. 12 [22.64%]
  3. Stay as is, owned by the family trust & operated at an annual loss by AB InBev 9 [16.98%]
  4. Other — county buys, becomes affordable housing: 1 [1.89%]
  5. Sell to a developer for houses &/or retail 0 [0%]

A century ago such a family would’ve donated the land to the Zoo, along with an endowment to help cover upkeep. Are taxpayers willing to pay to keep this land as an animal preserve? Doubtful. The future seems uncertain.

— Steve Patterson

 

Cleveland’s Healthline Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), Part 4

This is my final part on Cleveland’s Healthline Bus Rapid Transit (BRT). However, donations to offset the cost are still accepted here.

Earlier posts:

One of the articles that got me seriously looking at BRT was from Forbes in September 2013: Bus Rapid Transit Spurs Development Better Than Light Rail Or Streetcars: Study. Two parts stood out:

“Per dollar of transit investment, and under similar conditions, BRT can leverage more (development) investment than LRT or streetcars.”

For example, Cleveland’s Healthline, a BRT project completed on Cleveland’s Euclid Avenue in 2008, has generated $5.8 billion in development —$114 for each transit dollar invested. Portland’s Blue Line, a light rail project completed in 1986, generated $3.74 per dollar invested.

and…

The U.S. has seven authentic BRT lines in Cleveland, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Eugene Ore., and several in Pittsburgh. None achieve the internationally recognized “gold standard” of BRT like Bogota’s TransMilenio line. But one planned for Chicago’s Ashland Avenue might.

“There’s no gold standard BRT in the U.S. yet,” Weinstock said, “but if we continue with the Ashland project on the current trajectory, Ashland could be the first gold in the U.S.”

I’ll address Chicago’s Ashland Ave in a future post. BRT — more development return than LRT or streetcars?

Long-time readers know I love rail — especially streetcars. Public transit was often about real estate development, to get people to a new project, developers would build a streetcar line to get them there. Cities would lease part of the public right-of-way (PROW) so they could operate. Cities, including St. Louis, would have multiple private companies providing public transit. Eventually cities would increase the fees for the track & overhead wires in the PROW or even require the operators to repave roads where they operated. This quickly made streetcar operations unprofitable. One solution, of course, was to abandon the track and use rubber tire vehicles — the bus.

Eventually governments bought up all the private systems — remaining streetcar lines and those that had been converted to bus. Remember, their origin was rooted in the development of real estate. With land developed these lines became strictly about moving people to/from. We need to retuning to the days of the connection between transit and development!

Which brings me back to Cleveland’s Healthline, it had an amazing $114.54 dollars of development for every dollar spent on the BRT line. Below is page 9 from More Development for Your Transit Dollar: An Analysis of 21 North American Transit Corridors.

Click to open larger version
Click to open larger version

As you can see from the BRT, LRT, and streetcar limes above the return on investment is all over the board. In the top section (Strong TOD Impacts) we see the LRT cost more than the BRT or streetcar lines, but had significantly less development.  A return of $3,74 on every dollar looks good until compared to $41.68 or more. Kansas City’s MAX bus line doesn’t even meet the basics to be BRT — yet it has had a return of $101.96 per dollar!

The report begins talking about the Metro subway system in Washington D.C. — a long & costly undertaking:

A growing number of US cities are finding, however, that metro or subway systems are simply too expensive and take too long to implement to effect significant changes in ongoing trends toward suburban sprawl. As such, cities are turning to lower-cost mass transit options such as LRT, BRT, and streetcars. These systems, which frequently use surface streets, are much less expensive and can be built more quickly than heavy-rail subways or metro systems. Over the past decade, some evidence has emerged that some LRT systems in the US have had positive development impacts. Outside of the US, in cities like Curitiba, Brazil, and Guangzhou, China, there is copious evidence that BRT systems have successfully stimulated development. Curitiba’s early silver-standard BRT corridors, completed in the 1970s, were developed together with a master plan that concentrated development along them. The population growth along the corridor rate was 98% between 1980 and 1985, compared to an average citywide population growth rate of only 9.5%. However, because bronze-, silver-, or gold-standard BRT is still relatively new to the US, evidence of the impact of good-quality BRT on domestic development is only now beginning to emerge and has been largely undocumented. (p14)

A detailed look at the Corridors with Strong TOD Impacts begins on page 110:

The analysis shows that all of the corridors in the Strong TOD Impacts category had Strong government TOD support and either Emerging or Strong land potential.

The only two transit corridors in our study that rate above bronze — the Cleveland HealthLine BRT and the Blue Line LRT — both fell into the Strong TOD Impacts category and were in Emerging
land markets. The Blue Line LRT leveraged $6.6 billion in new TOD investments, and the Cleveland HealthLine BRT leveraged $5.8 billion, making them the two most successful transit investments in the country from a TOD perspective. Portland achieved this over a much longer time period and in a stronger economy than Cleveland did.

In the Strong TOD Impacts category, three corridors with below-basic-quality transit had Strong land development potential and Strong government TOD support: the Portland Streetcar, the Seattle SLU Streetcar, and the Kansas City Main Street MAX.

In each of these cases, local developers and development authorities did not feel that the transit investment was all that critical to the TOD impacts. Thus, we can conclude that if the land market is strong enough, and the government TOD efforts strong enough, a below-basic transit investment might suffice; but a higher-quality transit investment could have even greater impacts.

Not all of the investment along Cleveland’s Healthline is urban. We visited this CVS  — built right after the line opened. The building is set back behind a fenced parking lot.

A typical suburban CVS is among the new development along Cleveland's Healthline
A typical suburban CVS is among the new development along Cleveland’s Healthline. Click image to view in Google Maps.
Like most newer CVS stores, it has an ADA accessible route out to the public sidewalk.
Like most newer CVS stores, it has an ADA accessible route out to the public sidewalk. In this view from the entry pedestrians must go left to the intersection to reach the EB & WB stations. If the entry were at the corner less walking would be required.

As I noted previously. a lot of the new development was on college & hospital campuses — it would’ve happened anyway — but it faces the street rather than looking internal (like SLU, BJC, etc).

I’ve got to read the full report a few more times so absorb it all — while recognizing it was written with a pro-BRT viewpoint.

Any TOD effort is most successful when land-use planning and urban development efforts are concentrated around a high-quality mass transit corridor that serves land with inherent development potential. Assistance from regional and city-level agencies, community development corporations, and local stakeholders can help create more targeted policies to direct development to such transit corridors. Local foundations can be critical to the process of funding redevelopment and providing capital and equity for projects. Local NGOs, which can communicate the projects to the public to help broaden support, are also important.

Although cities in the US are still far from fully transforming their declined urban neighborhoods into high-quality, mixed-use urban developments, they are well on their way. Gold-, silver-, or bronze-standard BRT, when combined with institutional, financial, and planning support for TOD, is proving to be a cost-effective way of rebuilding our cities into more livable, transit-oriented communities.

Regardless of their bias, the above is true — we’ve invested hundreds of millions in light rail and have little TOD to show for it because of poor land-use planning.

Like streetcars & LRT, I think BRT is a great option to consider in the St. Louis region, We can argue about the mode, but we need to take action to have land-use planning that will strongly support transit-oriented development!

— Steve Patterson

 

Developing Vandeventer & Forest Park: IKEA — Exception Or New Rule?

Big box stores with surface parking lots don’t fit in urban contexts — they’re sub-urban. For example, the Menard’s in O’Fallon IL I drove past on Saturday, a MetroBus stop is right out front but there’s no accessible pedestrian route to get to the entrance. See it on Google Street View here.

Decades ago the big boxes were the downtown department stores, but those days are long gone. However, a few big box retailers have taken over some of the vacant space left behind by shuttered department stores.

Taget in Chicago's former Carson Pirie Scott department store designed by Louis Sullivan. February 2014. Click image to view the Wikipedia entry on the building
Taget in Chicago’s former Carson Pirie Scott department store designed by Louis Sullivan. February 2014. Click image to view the Wikipedia entry on the building

More often, big boxes have been trying to fit into walkable urban neighborhoods; they’ve been concealed by smaller liner storefronts, stacked, etc. The Target at Hampton & Chippewa is built over parking, but it still has surface parking facing Hampton & Bancroft, with docks & garage facing Chippewa. Inevitably someone says “it’s better than what was there” or “It’s better than the location in [insert any suburban municipality.”  Sorry, but new development will be around for 20+ years, so standards should be higher than simply doing marginally better than  awful suburban development or old derelict properties. Which brings me to IKEA St. Louis, located on the SW corner of Forest Park Ave & Vandeventer Ave.

IKEA's blue & yellow big box set behind a surface parking lot at Forest Park & Vandeventer. View from the point where the two public sidewalks meet.
IKEA’s blue & yellow big box set behind a surface parking lot at Forest Park & Vandeventer. View from the point where the two public sidewalks meet.

Opening day I ran into an acquaintance at IKEA — she also arrived via MetroBus — she hadn’t yet seen my post on the pedestrian access points. Upon arriving at the corner pictured above how would a pedestrian know where to find accessible routes to the entry? By big box standards, IKEA St. Louis did an excellent job providing pedestrian access routes from each go the three adjacent streets, but the massive setback from the sidewalks

The big question now is what will happen at development sites around IKEA St. Louis? Other buildings, old & new, within a block of the intersection are all urban — built up to the public sidewalk.

Two other corners contain urban buildings a historic firehouse and a new apartment complex built around a parking garage
Two other corners contain urban buildings a historic firehouse and a new apartment complex built around a parking garage
The 3-story building on the NW corner was razed 4+ years ago. At right you can see the South end of the historic Gerhart Block that I posted about on Friday.
The 3-story building on the NW corner was razed 4+ years ago. At right you can see the South end of the historic Gerhart Block that I posted about on Friday.

In July 2011 I posted about the building on this very same corner being razed. The Southeast corner, except for the firehouse, is to be retail.

The firehouse is supposed to remain, will help "hold" the corner. But how will everything else relate to the street & sidewalk?
The firehouse is supposed to remain, will help “hold” the corner. But how will everything else relate to the street & sidewalk?
Behind the firehouse is largely an old industrial site
Behind the firehouse is largely an old industrial site
But even the old industrial office is urban in form
But even the old industrial office is urban in form
The urban form continues across Spring Ave
The urban form continues across Spring Ave
nnn
And across Forest Park Ave more urban form. Will the new retail to the South respect the urban pattern?

One of the most critical development parcels is immediately to the West of IKEA, at 4052 Forest Park Ave.

Looking West from the IKEA property line. The other three sides are bounded by Forest Park Ave, Sarah Ave, and Duncan Ave
Looking West from the IKEA property line. The other three sides are bounded by Forest Park Ave, Sarah Ave, and Duncan Ave. The former Ford plant in the background is now lofts
Looking South across Forest Park. IKEA is to the left, just out of view. The development parcel straight ahead will ideally be of similar massing as the lofts on the right, with storefronts at sidewalk level.
Looking South across Forest Park. IKEA is to the left, just out of view. The development parcel straight ahead will ideally be of similar massing as the lofts on the right, with storefronts at sidewalk level.
Looking East on Duncan Ave, from Sarah Ave. The CORTEX master plan wants Duncan to be a pedestrian-friendly spine through the district. The form of new building(s) on the parcel on the left will matter greatly.
Looking East on Duncan Ave, from Sarah Ave. The CORTEX master plan wants Duncan to be a pedestrian-friendly spine through the district. The form of new building(s) on the parcel on the left will matter greatly.

This site could be developed similar to new apartments at Forest Park & Vandeventer — a parking garage concealed on all sides by habitable buildings. The difference here is it should have storefront spaces on the ground floor. A boutique hotel, like one of these chains, should occupy part of the upper floors.

Hopefully IKEA St. Louis will be the exception, not the rule.

— Steve Patterson

 

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