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Opinion: Razing Vacant Buildings A Short-Term Strategy With Negative Long-Term Consequences

July 26, 2017 Featured, Planning & Design, Politics/Policy Comments Off on Opinion: Razing Vacant Buildings A Short-Term Strategy With Negative Long-Term Consequences

Razing buildings might seem like the answer, but the unintended consequences shouldn’t be overlooked.Sure, no vacant building but then you’ve got a vacant lot unlikely to be developed. Dumping, high weeds, etc are all nuisances that can happen at vacant lots. While rehabbing an old building is more expensice than building new, it’s also more likely than new infill construction — especially in marginal (low demand) neighborhoods.

Obviously St. Louis doesn’t have the population it had in 1950 — but that was a time of severe overcrowding. The number of housing units didn’t meet the need. As, mostly Northside, neighborhoods continue to empty out it becomes harder and harder to support these areas. What does that mean? Sparsely populated areas with few remaining structures should likely be cut off so limited resources can be focused on more populated areas. However, doing so will have a huge impact on low-income/minority neighborhoods.

This was part of the 1970s Team Four plan, still widely criticized today. From 2014:

Some corners of St. Louis still have hard feelings over the so-called “Team Four” plan of the early 1970s, which studied that approach. And a similar effort to “right-size” Detroit was scuttled a few years ago amid sharp resident opposition. (Post-Dispatch)

You can’t tear down buildings indiscriminately all over the city and not expect consequences.

When I travel throughout neighborhoods I think about many buildings that people, including the Alderman, wanted razed. Many of these are now rehabbed and occupied. Holding onto these structures until a plan could be put together helps bring a positive vibe to struggling neighborhoods.

This building on the NE corner of MLK & Marcus once had a huge hold in the West facade, but it was saved.
This long-vacant building was rehabbed as part of the same project.
Buildings on 14th Street crumbled fore decades but most survived to be rehabbed, Spring 1991

As mentioned above, people were upset about “right-sizing” Detroit. also known as urban triage. From 2009, early on in the effort:

Today, though, more and more people in leadership positions, including Mayor Dave Bing, are starting to acknowledge the need to stop fantasizing about growth and plan for more shrinkage. Growth is as American an ideal as the capitalistic enterprises that fuel it. So by itself, this admission is a step forward.

It’s way overdue. Detroit has been shrinking for 50 years. The city has lost more than half of the 2 million people it had in the early 1950s, but it remains 138 square miles. Experts estimate that about 40 square miles are empty, and Bing has said that only about half the city’s land is being used productively.

The next steps are complicated and largely uncharted. Moving residents into more densely populated districts has legal and moral implications; it must be done with care and the input of those who would be moved. And what do you do with the empty space? The city is already dotted with big vegetable gardens, and one entrepreneur has proposed starting a large commercial farm. Some people advocate bike paths, greenways, and other recreation areas. Surrounded by fresh water, and buffeted by nature reasserting itself on land where factories used to be, Detroit could someday be the greenest, most livable urban area in the country. A city can dream, can’t it? (Newsweek)

You can’t want vacant buildings razed and not expect the least populated areas to be written off. Don’t want to be written off? Stabilize vacant buildings and work to get them rehabbed.

Just over half of those who voted in the recent non-scientific Sunday Poll also don’t think razing buildings will help.

Q: Agree or disagree: Tearing down vacant buildings more quickly will help St Louis.

  • Strongly agree 8 [18.18%]
  • Agree 3 [6.82%]
  • Somewhat agree 5 [11.36%]
  • Neither agree or disagree 4 [9.09%]
  • Somewhat disagree 3 [6.82%]
  • Disagree 7 [15.91%]
  • Strongly disagree 13 [29.55%]
  • Unsure/No Answer 1 [2.27%]

Obviously, there isn’t consensus on this issue.

We need to have a serious community discussion about the future of this city. What’s our plan — controlled shrinkage or aggressive infill? Probably both is the best way to proceed. This reminds me about an old planning joke about a city tearing down enough downtown buildings for parking, only then realizing there wasn’t enough downtown left to attract anyone.

— Steve Patterson

 

 

St. Louis Board of Aldermen: Board Bill #99, Last Meeting Before Summer Break

July 14, 2017 Board of Aldermen, Featured Comments Off on St. Louis Board of Aldermen: Board Bill #99, Last Meeting Before Summer Break
St. Louis City Hall

Just one new bill being introduced at the St. Louis Board of Aldermen today, the last meeting before Summer break. .

ON AGENDA FOR INTRODUCTION TODAY 7/14/17:

Note that just because a bill is on the agenda doesn’t mean it’ll be introduced, similarly, bills not on the agenda might be introduced if they suspend the rules to do so.

  • B.B.#99 – Pres. Reed – An Ordinance pertaining to the collection of funds to assist in the prevention of domestic violence in support of individuals impacted in the City; authorizing the Comptroller to establish “The Domestic Violence Prevention and Family Support Fund” to provide grants to social agencies who serve victims of domestic abuse, bullying, childhood abuse and sexual assault, and provide education aimed at the prevention of these offences.

The meeting begins at 10am, it can be watched online here. See list of all board bills for the 2017-2018 session. Next week’s meeting will be the last prior to their Summer break, board meetings should resume on Friday September 8th.

— Steve Patterson

 

St. Louis Board of Aldermen: Board Bills 95-98

July 7, 2017 Board of Aldermen, Featured Comments Off on St. Louis Board of Aldermen: Board Bills 95-98
St. Louis City Hall

There are 4 new bills to be introduced at the St. Louis Board of Aldermen today.

ON AGENDA FOR INTRODUCTION TODAY 7/7/17:

Note that just because a bill is on the agenda doesn’t mean it’ll be introduced, similarly, bills not on the agenda might be introduced if they suspend the rules to do so. As of 9:15pm last nigh the pages containing the full PDF of each bill were not yet public. Note: Links added below on 7/14/17 @ 1:15am.

  • B.B.#95 – Davis – An Ordinance recommended and approved by the Board of Estimate and Apportionment authorizing and directing the Director of Airports and the Comptroller of the City owner and operator of St. Louis Lambert International Airport to enter into and execute the “Hunter Engineering Lease Agreement AL-004” between the City and Hunter Engineering, granting to the Lessee, subject to and in accordance with the terms, covenants, and conditions of the Agreement, certain rights and privileges in connection with the occupancy and use of the Premises, which is defined and more fully described in Section 201 of the Lease Agreement that was approved by the Airport Commission and is attached hereto as ATTACHMENT “1” and made a part hereof, and its terms are more fully described in Section One of this Ordinance; containing a severability clause; and containing an emergency clause.
  • B.B.#96 – Coatar – An ordinance authorizing and directing the Mayor and Comptroller to execute, upon receipt of an in consideration of the sum of five thousand dollars ($5,000.00) and other good and valuable consideration, a Quit Claim Deed to remise, release and forever quit-claim unto Midtown Locust Properties, LLC certain City-owned property located in City Block 74, which property is known as 910 South 4th Street.
  • B.B.#97 – Vaccaro – An ordinance amending Ordinance 68536, permitting the seamless transfer of a liquor license between a company selling their business and the company purchasing the business.
  • B.B.#98 – Green – An ordinance amending the City of St. Louis Revised Code to add certain protections for the homeless.

The meeting begins at 10am, it can be watched online here. See list of all board bills for the 2017-2018 session. Next week’s meeting will be the last prior to their Summer break.

— Steve Patterson

 

Judge: Special Business District Did Not Comply With State Law, Board Members Failed To Disclose Conflicts of Interest

July 3, 2017 Featured, Politics/Policy, Taxes Comments Off on Judge: Special Business District Did Not Comply With State Law, Board Members Failed To Disclose Conflicts of Interest
In 2013 The Locust Business District completed a fenced surface parking lot on Olive.

In January 2016 the Locust Business District was sued by a property owner within the district. Last month the property owner, Bob Wood, was victorious. Yes, for 18 months he’s tried to improve transparency of just one of the city’s many special districts. From March:

But for more than a year, Bob Wood has been battling in court with the Locust Business District, which collects a special property tax estimated to bring in about $325,000 this year to fund security and events in an area stretching from Downtown West to Midtown.

Wood, the owner of the Majestic Stove and Adler Lofts in the district, took his case to trial in St. Louis Circuit Court this week, where his attorney, Elkin Kistner, grilled Locust Business District board members about meeting minutes, budgeting and the tedium of administering a taxing district.

Wood said he was looking for Judge Joan Moriarty to say that some of the district’s management and budgeting practices were illegal. A ruling in the case is expected in about two months. (Post-Dispatch)

I’ve been following the case since it was filed. The ruling was in Wood’s favor:

Budget practices at the Locust Business District did not comply with Missouri law, board members failed to disclose conflicts of interest and the district made unlawful donations of tax money, a St. Louis judge ruled Tuesday.

The ruling by St. Louis Circuit Court Judge Joan Moriarty caps over a year of litigation against the special taxing district, which uses property taxes to pay for security, marketing and events in an area stretching from Downtown West to midtown. (Post-Dispatch)

Judge Moriarity’s 16-page ruling doesn’t mince words, for example:

The District routinely spends money without Board approval. Its Rules, Policies and Procedures explicitly authorize expenditures by the Chairman of the Board of up tp $2,500 without board approval.

The Board frequently considers matters presented to it by Commissions who have personal, financial interests in those matters. Such matters present conflicts of interest. Commissioners who are so conflicted do not make written disclosures of the nature of those conflicts, nor do they always refrain from participating in Board discussions of, and votes on, such matters. (See ruling

By some estimates there are at least 100 such districts in the greater St. Louis region, there are probably at least a few more like this. Don’t expect your elected official to make sure this doesn’t happen — it can benefit them greatly.

— Steve Patterson

 

St. Louis Board of Aldermen: Board Bills 91-94

June 30, 2017 Board of Aldermen, Featured Comments Off on St. Louis Board of Aldermen: Board Bills 91-94
St. Louis City Hall

There are 3 new bills to be introduced at the St. Louis Board of Aldermen today. First, a bill on a later version of lsat week’s agenda so it wasn’t on my post last week.

  • B.B.#91 – Tyus/Green –An Ordinance pertaining to income which is exempt from the City earnings tax, repealing Ordinance 65094, removing an exemption on any income received by a person in the form of or related to the grant, vesting or exercise of stock options, performance shares or performance?based stock related incentive plans from the city earning tax, and containing an emergency clause.

ON AGENDA FOR INTRODUCTION TODAY 6/30/17:

Note that just because a bill is on the agenda doesn’t mean it’ll be introduced, similarly, bills not on the agenda might be introduced if they suspend the rules to do so.

  • B.B.#92 – Boyd –An ordinance repealing section 17.62.220 of section one of Ordinance 62047 approved July 20, 1990, pertaining to the administration and use of the parking meter fund, and enacting in lieu thereof a new section pertaining to the same subject matter.
  • B.B.#93 – Pres. Reed/Muhammad –An ordinance recommended by the Board of Estimate and Apportionment, making a supplemental appropriation to the Annual Budget Ordinance ____for Fiscal Year beginning July 1, 2017 and ending June 30, 2018 amounting to the sum of Three Hundred Ninety Thousand Dollars ($390,000), and containing an Emergency Clause.
  • B.B.#94 – Muhammad –An ordinance authorizing the honorary street name, “Terry ‘Chip’ Jones Way,” on E. Lee Avenue between N. Taylor & Dryden.

The meeting begins at 10am, it can be watched online here. See list of all board bills for the 2017-2018 session.

— Steve Patterson

 

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