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Top-Down Auto-Centric Thinking Continues In Ferguson, Still Time To Change

We all know the phrase: “Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.”  Those living in low-income areas, especially those of color, have been sent this message for decades: Mill Creek Valley, Pruitt-Igoe, etc. In other words, we know what’s best for you so just accept what we decide to give to you. In the near term the gifts seemed like a good idea, but in hindsight they were ill-conceived and corners were cut. Pruitt-Igoe:

As completed in 1955, Pruitt–Igoe consisted of 33 11-story apartment buildings on a 57-acre (23 ha) site, on St. Louis’s lower north side. The complex totaled 2,870 apartments, one of the largest in the country. The apartments were deliberately small, with undersized kitchen appliances. “Skip-stop” elevators stopped only at the first, fourth, seventh, and tenth floors, forcing residents to use stairs in an attempt to lessen congestion. The same “anchor floors” were equipped with large communal corridors, laundry rooms, communal rooms and garbage chutes.

Despite federal cost-cutting regulations, Pruitt–Igoe initially cost $36 million, 60% above national average for public housing. Conservatives attributed cost overruns to inflated unionized labor wages and the steamfitters union influence that led to installation of an expensive heating system; overruns on the heating system caused a chain of arbitrary cost cuts in other vital parts of the building.

Nevertheless, Pruitt–Igoe was initially seen as a breakthrough in urban renewal. Residents considered it to be “an oasis in the desert” compared to the extremely poor quality of housing they had occupied previously, and considered it to be safe. Some referred to the apartments as “poor man’s penthouses”.

Despite poor build quality, material suppliers cited Pruitt–Igoe in their advertisements, capitalizing on the national exposure of the project.

The people were expected to adapt to the solution, rather than the solution adapt to the people. Locally and nationally little has changed since the 1950s.

Early residents were thankful, those displaced not so much. Within a decade what had seemed like a great solution turned out to be an expensive nightmare. Most of the site remains vacant four decades after being cleared.

The players today are different — non-profits and the private sector in place of the federal government. The attitude, however, is the same: ‘we want to do something to help you — why should we ask for your input?’ The unintended consequences of the well-intentioned were huge. Eventually the federally government realized the folly of this way of thinking — changing to rules & regulations to require environmental impact studies, public input, etc. This is not to suggest these will avert all unintended consequences — they won’t — but the results are better than those designed in isolation. Which brings me to Ferguson.

As I wrote about a week ago two community plans intersect at former ferguson QuikTrip site. Rather than QuikTrip officials quietly talking with the St. Louis Urban League for six months I think they should’ve empowered the local residents by getting them involved in the process of determining what to do with the site. The Urban League’s slogan is “Empowering Communities. Changing Lives.”

This was an opportunity for Ferguson’s residents to have a say in their future — to have a seat at the table. Empowerment through engagement.

Rendering of the Empowerment Center of Ferguson shown on March 16, 2015
Rendering of the Empowerment Center of Ferguson shown on March 16, 2015

The speakers for their presentation was exclusively top-down players:

  • Michael P. McMillan President and CEO, Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis
  • Michael Johnson Board of Directors, QuikTrip Corporation
  • Warner Baxter Chairman, President & CEO, Ameren
  • Patrick J. Sly Executive Vice President, Emerson
  • Thomas J. Irwin Executive Director, Civic Progress
  • Kathleen T. Osborn Executive Director, Regional Business Council
  • Susan Trautman Executive Director, Great Rivers Greenway
  • Steven Sullivan President and Executive Director, Provident

The proposed new building would be built in the same spot as the old QuikTrip — not up to the sidewalk to make the area more pedestrian-friendly as suggested by the Great Streets Initiative. Great Rivers Greenway said they’d hire some who complete the 4-week jobs 101 course to be Gateway Rangers to bike the North Riverfront Trail — the planned trail next to the site wasn’t mentioned.

Today’s buildings are more disposable than those build 100 year or more years ago, this QuikTrip opened in 1989 — it lasted 25 years until burned following the shooting of Michael Brown. As I said in the comments on Monday, the building had been fully depreciated. Yes, the St. Louis County Assessor still said it had value, but the business view is different — for tax purposes you want deductions: a facility you can depreciate or lease payments.

QuikTrip just razed their 2851 Gravois location built in 1991 — to be rebuilt. QuikTrip sold this property two years ago in a 15-year sale leaseback.   The two-year older Ferguson location wasn’t sold to an investor, so no deductions. The 1.14 acre site was too small to build a new QuikTrip.  So they opened a new location a mile and a half north at 10768 W. Florissant Ave. on 3+ acres.

It was either the night of the shooting, August 9th, or the next night when the older QuikTrip was burned that QuikTrip Board Member Michael Johnson called the Urban League’s Michael McMillan to offer to donate the property. I can’t blame them — they probably had wanted to close the location anyway. So began the six month process involving corporate CEOs and heavy hitters collectives like Civic Progress.

A few misunderstood my point a week ago — involving the public or at least respecting the plans the public helped draft  — isn’t an “either or” situation. They could’ve done exactly as they did but announced this building will represent the new W. Florissant Ave with a up to the sidewalk design to respond to the needs of the high pedestrian population. Instead they just decided to put the new building where the old building was.

St  Louis County records list the irregularly-shaped property as being 1.14 acres.
The building was located on the East edge of the site, set back from W. Florissant and Northwinds Estate Drive
QuikTrip never made added an accessible route to the entrance, as required by the ADA
QuikTrip never made added an accessible route to the entrance, as required by the ADA
The North side is the easiest to meet the one route minimum, but most pedestrians will come from W, Florissant.
The North side is the easiest to meet the one route minimum, but most pedestrians will come from W, Florissant.

Locating the building at the street corner would make access from the sidewalk easy. Keeping the building at the back will require a circuitous route(s) — not pedestrian-friendly. Bare minimum — not empowering!

Additionally, if the Urban League builds at the back of the lot behind parking it’ll be difficult to convince others along W. Florissant Ave  to rebuild in an urban manner — effectively killing an important part of the plan. The St. Louis region is known for developing plans that sit on the shelf and collect dust — now we’re killing plans through willful ignorance.

When I asked during the press conference about why the building wasn’t up to the sidewalk Mike McMillian, said “remediation.” I guess that means QuikTrip isn’t remediating the contamination enough to build over the old tank location, but even that doesn’t make sense.   To remediate the site enough for residential use would be onerous — but a commercial building should be able to be constructed after the tanks are removed and basic remediation has been completed. I think they simply failed to consider the pedestrian population of Ferguson.

Nothing is built yet — the site isn’t ready yet. I hope they’ll do the right thing and work to set a good example for future buildings this stretch of W. Florissant.

— Steve Patterson


Two Community Plans Intersect at Former Ferguson QuikTrip Site

Before Michael Brown was shot & killed last August, community planning had been completed to improve parts of Ferguson & neighboring municipalities. In 2011 Great Rivers Greenway District completed the Maline Greenway Concept Plan, in June 2014 East-West Gateway Council of Governments completed the West Florissant Avenue Great Streets Master Plan — both included extensive community participation along their linear boundaries.

The boundaries of each plan, coincidentally, intersect at the burnt out QuikTrip (9420 W. Florissant Ave). The 1.14 acre site, on W. Florissant Ave, is bordered by Maline Creek on the South. Next week I’ll post about the Urban League’s intentions for this site and how they ignored two published plans with extensive community involvement. Today more detail on both plans.

West Florissant Avenue Great Streets Master Plan:

The Vision for West Florissant Avenue comes from community and stakeholder input received through multi-faceted outreach efforts. These have included public workshops and virtual walking tours, interviews with community leaders, input from the Community Committee and Technical Advisory Committee, an Agency workshop, and an online survey and mapping tool. The Vision Statement has distilled this community and stakeholder input, with the most significant community values expressed as how the corridor should look, feel, and contribute to the community’s future. 

Maline Greenway Concept Plan:

The Maline Greenway Concept plan presents the findings of a yearlong planning process that involved inventory, analysis and recommendations. Input from residents within communities along
the greenway helped shape the plan. The report includes background information on the District, summary of existing conditions, review of public input, description of the Maline Greenway concept, implementation overview and a summary of recommendations that include not only the trail alignment opportunities but also recommendations that address the social, economic and environmental quality of life for the communities. The Concept Plan helps to guide partnership opportunities, provides an analysis of the corridor, identifies community connections and alignment opportunities.

The West side of W. Florissant is very similar to the East. lots and lots of paving
The West side of W. Florissant is very similar to the East. lots and lots of paving. August 2014

From the Existing Conditions chapter of the West Florissant Ave plan, p20:

Ferguson’s zoning was updated as recently as 2011 and includes a downtown form-based code. Ferguson’s guiding comprehensive plan document is the Vision 2015 Plan Update that dates to 1998.

Page 24:

Although sidewalks are provided on both sides of West Florissant Avenue along most of the corridor, the pedestrian realm is generally uninviting and often unsafe. Buildings are spaced too far apart to walk, sidewalks are interrupted by frequent driveways and parking entries, and there are few pedestrian amenities or street trees.

Page 25 talks about transit and possible Bus Rapid Transit (BRT):

West Florissant also carries transit, specifically MetroBus Route 74 (Florissant line), and though the headways are long (30 minutes), Route 74 is one of Metro’s heaviest-used lines, with over 1.1 million boardings in 2013. West Florissant is crossed by MetroBus Route 61 (also in Metro’s top ten heaviest-used routes, with 800,000 boardings) at Chambers Road. The heavy transit use along the corridor results in a correspondingly heavy pedestrian demand. There is a clear opportunity to encourage transit- and pedestrian-oriented development at this intersection of West Florissant and Chambers Road.

While the current roadway configuration works relatively well for those traveling by automobile, and offers a transit option, other modes and users are largely shortchanged. West Florissant Avenue’s auto-dominated character and design, width, and traffic speeds, as well as the lack of any bicycle facilities, make it hostile to and unsafe for cyclists. Conditions for pedestrians are somewhat better, with the presence of sidewalks, but the pedestrian experience in many places along the corridor is unpleasant and unsafe.

With new high-quality transit service given priority along the corridor, and with rush-hour headways of 10 minutes, the opportunity exists to remake West Florissant Avenue into
a transit-first street, with transit-oriented, pedestrian-scale development clustered around some key stations along the corridor. The corridor has a relatively wide right-of-way, which will make allocating space efficiently to serve the multi-modal needs of all its users easier than if the street were narrower.

Chapter 5 Concept Plan, page 86:

New infill development should be guided by new zoning and guidelines that require buildings and entrances to be built up to the sidewalk, forming a consistent street wall. Until redevelopment occurs, individual property owners should be encouraged to beautify the edges of existing parking lots that front the avenue, so that the pedestrian experience is improved.

The study area of West Florissant Ave is long, but you have to start somewhere. From the Executive Summary:

Project construction should start at the south end, where there is high potential for redevelopment projects such as new housing, retail and mixed use projects. Thus investing public funds in this zone first follows a strategy that looks to catalyze private investment as soon as possible. Maline Creek is also planned to be reconstructed, so developers will be attracted to the critical mass of activity which will result in an appealing place for housing to be developed. Putting the South Gateway into construction in the first phase will also help create a rationale for the street design and use of medians and access management, simply because these street treatments are already in place immediately to the south, at Buzz-Westfall Plaza.

Maline Creek was identified as the point where the commercial development stops and residential begins, the former QuikTrip is on the residential side of Maline Creek.

Looking East at Maline Creek from West Florissant, the QT site on the left.
Looking East at Maline Creek from West Florissant, the QT site on the left. August 2014

From the Maline Creek Greenway Concept Plan Executive Summary:

Numerous park and open space areas exist along the proposed Maline Creek corridor which could potentially function as trailheads and Greenway amenities. Creating attractive linkages between parks and open spaces will promote public use and create the opportunity for the greenway to become a regional attraction. (p1.5)

After the trail leaves Ferguson’s Forestwood Park

Continuing east, the trail is planned to be located in open space at the north side of Maline Creek to West Florissant Avenue. From West Florissant Avenue the trail is planned to proceed south across the creek and then go east on the south side of the creek for approximately 2000 feet. A pedestrian bridge is planned in this area to cross the Maline Creek to reach the north side open space and continue east to Lucas and Hunt Road near Westview Middle School (p1.9)

The QuikTrip site could, perhaps, allow the trail to stay on the North side of Maline Creek.

In the interest of transparency and community involvement I think the community should share in setting the vision for the use of 9420 W. Florissant Ave. More next week.

— Steve Patterson


Lindell & Euclid: Worth the Wait

In April 2006 it looked like Opus Development would be moving forward on a high-rise condo tower at the NE corner of Lindell & Euclid. They’d revised the base and been granted a variance to permit the height. However, the project was abandoned even before the economy crashed.

Now Opus is back with a new proposal for the corner, Ald. Lyda Krewson tweeted on December 6th “Lindell Residences proposed for Lindell/Euclid – 217 first class apts.” with this pic attached:

Artist rendering of proposed building at Lindell & Euclid.
Artist rendering of proposed 12-story building at Lindell & Euclid. A later tweet in response to questions Ald. Krewson says they propose 240 parking spaces on three levels –two below grade, one above.
NextSTL then tweeted this image of the retail base.
NextSTL then tweeted this image of the retail base.
Revised proposal in April 2006
April 2006: Opus’ proposal for 26-story building, with a revised base from the Feb/March 2006 proposal.

Back in 2006 the historic code required heights to be relative to other buildings. The language, like many of our historic codes, was poorly written. Today the Central West End’s form-based code isn’t wishy-washy: maximum of 12 stories at this location.

The new form-based code and the mixed-use project one block south with apartments over a Whole Foods likely renewed interest in this conner. Ok, it is apartments instead of $300k condos. No big deal, when I rented an efficiency in The President 2 doors to the east in 1990 an A.G. Edwards VP rented the large apartment next door! Rental apartments aren’t a bad thing at all.

The NE corner of Lindell & Euclid was built in 1968. A high-rise was planned for this site when the economy crashed.
The NE corner of Lindell & Euclid was built in 1968.
The SW corner of Lindell & Euclid has been a parking lot for 20+ years
The SW corner of Lindell & Euclid has been a parking lot for 20+ years, will hopefully draw interest from developers for retail & residential.

While a tall tower makes the skyline more interesting, the latest proposal will have a bigger positive impact. The decision to go underground with most of the parking makes the base more appropriate.

I’m glad the 26-story building proposed in 2006 didn’t happen, the new proposal was worth the wait.

— Steve Patterson


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.


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:



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


Poll: New Construction Should…

I’m not a preservationist, though I often favor saving old buildings. I do so because they frequently exhibit the urban qualities I think creates a desirable built environment, while new construction rarely has any qualities I find redeeming.  Still, new construction is a must. But what should it look like?

[Reporter Tracy] Smith asked Paul Goldberger, architecture critic for Vanity Fair, how we decide what to save: “We want to save the best of every period, ideally,” he replied. “We also want to protect certain kinds of neighborhoods — like Beacon Hill in Boston, or Georgetown in Washington. That’s really important.

The dark underside of historic preservation is that we often preserve not so much because we love what we’re protecting; it’s because we fear what will replace it,” he continued. “And, unfortunately, we’ve been right a lot of the time.” (CBS News)

True, replacements for old urban buildings have often been urban disasters, turning their back on the sidewalk or placing vast surface parking lots between the sidewalk and entrance. In St. Louis if new construction is wrapped in red brick it often gets approved, regardless of form, proportion, etc.

New Town at St. Charles mimics older buildings in St. Charles & St. Louis
New Town at St. Charles mimics older buildings in St. Charles & St. Louis
This 2008 building at Park Ave & Dolman near Lafayette Park
This 2008 building at Park Ave & Dolman near Lafayette Park is urban, but not detailed to convince anyone it is old. Or is it?

The CBS story showed new buildings that looked old, well enough to fool many. Some buildings around Lafayette Park are this detailed. Do you think that is good, bad or do you even care?

The poll this week is a rather philosophical one, a question of your aesthetic viewpoint. How do you think new construction should look? The poll is in the right sidebar, you can create your own answer if you don’t like the ones I’ve provided. I’ll present the results on Wednesday June 12th, along with my thoughts on the topic.

— Steve Patterson