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Urban Buildings Have an Obligation to Engage Each Street They Face

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ABOVE: 10th & Convention Plaza corner of the downtown Holiday Inn Select from 1980

In an urban setting it is critical for buildings to “engage” the street.  By street I mean the entire public right of way, not just the road.  In other words, the public sidewalk on each side of the roadway.  By engage I mean interact, have access points & windows.

Downtown’s Holiday Inn Select was built in 1980 next door to the three year old Cervantes Convention Center (now called America’s Center). It occupies the entire block bounded by 9th of the east, Convention Plaza (formerly Delmar) on the south, 10th on the west and Dr. Martin Luther King Dr (formerly Franklin Ave) on the north.

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ABOVE: Aerial view of hotel from Google Maps, click to view

The building fronts onto four streets but only barely addresses ninth, behind a circle drive.

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ABOVE: west facade facing 10th street in completely inactive
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ABOVE: blank wall next to Martin Luther King Dr. Image from Google Streetview, click to view

Sure, a relic of the period. But we have nothing on the books to prevent more of the same. The purpose of zoning is to dictate what the community desires from the built environment. From our zoning the above is still desired.

Our Board of Aldermen have no desire to change the zoning to articulate what is desired in 2011 rather than 1980. Why? So they get to negotiate for their approval, of course.

– Steve Patterson

 

The Density Needed For Walkability Myth

Continuing the walkability theme from yesterday, I thought it would be interesting to explore the assertion that walkability requires density. So I decided to look at 1st tier suburb Kirkwood MO and 2nd tier suburb Ballwin MO to see if this is the case.   If you buy into the theory that walkability requires density then you probably think  Kirkwood is more walkable because it has greater density than Ballwin.

As you will see, walkability has less to do with density and everything to do with how the land is used, a reflection of the era in which they were created.

Kirkwood, MO:

Ballwin, MO:

ABOVE: Map of Ballwin, click to view larger version
ABOVE: Map of Ballwin, click to view larger version

For the Walk Score of both suburbs I just put in the city name, it determined the address it must consider the center point.

So the older, less dense, suburb is more walkable than the newer, more dense, suburb.  How can this be?  Ballwin was planned at a time when people thought nothing of getting in the car for every trip.  The lady of the house had her own car now so she could drive the kids to school, do some shopping and get groceries on the way home. Kirkwood, on the other hand, was laid out long before the car.  Being near the train station was important for reaching St. Louis.

Residential lots in Kirkwood are about the same size as those in Ballwin, the big difference is the Kirkwood lots are narrow & deep whereas the Ballwin lots are wide & shallow.  Commercial districts are vastly different between the two.  Kirkwood has too much newer auto-dependent retail but it also has a nice 19th century downtown.

Fortunately, Ballwin is not a lost cause.  It, and many other 2nd tier suburbs of the same era can be retrofitted to be more walkable.    The existing residential neighborhoods of single-family detached homes can remain unchanged, except for the addition of sidewalks internally and leading out to the commercial areas. Manchester Rd in Ballwin running through Kirkwood and into the City of St. Louis is an ideal corridor to be retrofitted. New structures can be built to infill the massive parking lots.  I can picture enhanced bus service or even a streetcar line the entire distance.

– Steve Patterson

 

Much Of The Region Should Be Walkable, Not Just The City

Late last week I posted about the lack of walkability at a subdivision in the western suburb of Chesterfield, These McMansions Will Be Hard To Give Away A Decade From Now.  As I expected I got this viewpoint in the comments: “I get it – you love urban living, but not everyone else does.  One size does not fit all, and commuting is highly personal, and for an increasing number of people, no longer includes the CBD.”

For the last 3 years I’ve lived downtown, just west of the central business district. The prior 17 years I lived in the CWE, Old North & Dutchtown/Mt. Pleasant neighborhoods.  I commuted by car to jobs in Rock Hill,  North St. Louis and Kirkwood.

The St. Louis MSA (Metropolitan Statistical Area) is 16 counties — 8 in Missouri and 8 in Illinois.

ABOVE: STL MSA. Not shown: Bond, Calhoun, & Macoupin counties in Illinois & Washington in Missouri. Click image to view the WikiPedia entry on the region

So? Our region is quite large geographically.  In 2000 we had 2.8 million living in 8,846 square miles.  The City of St. Louis represents only 66.2 square miles of the total area – less than one percent.  Even looking at St. Louis County & City only, the city represents only 11% of the total area.

We can’t all live in the city so I expect much of the region to be walkable.  That is, a person living in a developed area should be able to walk to a store.  Their kids should be able to walk to school.  The fact is this is already a reality for many throughout our region.  The concept of walkability shouldn’t be limited to within the city limits.

Yes, most will drive to reach their places of employment.  But for those living in walkable areas like downtown St. Louis, New Town at St. Charles, Ferguson, etc.  the many non-work trips can be done on foot. Many of the people I know who live downtown don’t work downtown.  They live here, in part, because it provides a walkable lifestyle for everything other than getting to/from their jobs.

Back to that McMansion subdivision in Chesterfield, those residents must drive everywhere.  They have no choice. Every no-work trip will be an auto trip.

There is nearly 20 miles from the street I mentioned before reaching the western edge of the City of St. Louis.

I don’t have figures on how much of the 8,846 square mile region is urbanized (developed) vs rural.  Parts of the city are, unfortunately, auto-dependent.  Some of the region outside the city is at least somewhat walkable.  But how much of the total area isn’t auto-dependent? Maybe 1-2%? I’d like to see that be 10% or more.

But please, don’t assume that I’m speaking of the city vs the remainder of the region when I write about walkability.  Walking knows no political boundary.

– Steve Patterson

 

Zoning Hearing on Leather Trades Building

img_1635The Leather Trades building at 16th & Locust is a handsome building in need of considerable work.  In January 2007 Pyramid Construction applied for a permit to build a display unit on the 2nd floor. On 9/6/07 I attended a party, hosted by Pyramid, in the completed display unit. At the time I lived in south St. Louis but in less than three months later I was moving into a loft across Locust St.  The following April Pyramid ceased operations.

ABOVE: Artist rendering from 2007
ABOVE: Artist rendering from 2007

Pyramid’s real estate holdings were eventually all turned over to other parties for development.  In July, after talking with Desiree Knapp of the team I tweeted that work would begin in September. But it didn’t.

img_1634However, on October 29th Paric Construction applied for a building permit with estimated costs of $10.5 million.  The permit was denied because of our antiquated zoning.  The property is zoned “I-Central Business District” which requires:

26.52.050 Area regulations.

There shall be a lot area of not less than two hundred and fifty (250) square feet for each dwelling unit up to and including eight (8) stories or one hundred (100) feet in height; thereafter there shall be provided a lot area of not less than one hundred (100) square feet for each additional dwelling unit above eight (8) stories or one hundred (100) feet in height. Sleeping rooms without cooking facilities shall have a lot area of not less than one hundred (100) square feet each. (Ord. 59979 § 14 (part), 1986.)

The building sits on a lot containing 16,601 square feet which would allow for 66 units under the zoning code.  In 2007 the plan was for 63 lofts.  I don’t know the number of units in the current plans.  The hearing where the developer’s appeal will be heard tomorrow (December 1, 2010) in Room 208 of City Hall at 1:30pm.

– Steve Patterson

 

Walkability Around The Maplewood MetroLink Station

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ABOVE:worn path where a sidewalk should be, west of the Maplewood MetroLink station on Manchester Rd.

The “Cross County” MetroLink extension opened in August 2006.  In that time many would expect new development and increased walkability around the new stations but we had no plan beyond the line.  I’d plan for and require dense development and walkability over time.  But  not in our region, here we can spend hundreds of millions on transit infrastructure but not change the land planning to justify the infrastructure capital investment.

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ABOVE: Aerial view of the Maplewood MetroLink station along Manchester Rd, just east of Hanley. Image: Google Maps

To make the transit investment worthwhile there must be nearby destinations (housing, office, retail, etc) and the ability to walk to/from transit and these nearby destinations. In cities where transit is planned and zoning is changed in anticipation of a transit line you get new dense & walkable development occurring before the line even opens for riders.

– Steve Patterson

 

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