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Time To Review Campaign Finance Reports

With a major primary election to be held August 8th many political eyes are focused on races such as the close contest for State Senate in the 4th District. I’m reading the news accounts on these races but that is not my focus when I visit the Missouri Ethics Commission website. Nope, I’m checking out local reports for all 28 aldermen, city-wide officials such the Comptroller and the various ward committees.

Others reporting on campaign reports simply look at the summary page and repeat how much was raised, how much as spent and how much is left. The predictable conclusion is supposed to be the candidate with the most money wins. Yawn.

Instead I’m digging through the many local reports to see who is giving to which candidate, do the reports jive from one candidate to another and are there any glaring conflict of interest issues. Right out of the gate I found one minor issue.

The July quarterly report (covering April, May & June) from the Dorothy Kirner campaign shows a $25 contribution to Jennifer Florida’s campaign in June and a $15 contribution in July. Well, the July contribution is a quarterly report too soon Ms. Kirner. But, the $25 contribution from June is valid. However, Jennifer Florida’s report for this quarter doesn’t show any receipts at all — not even the $25 from office-mate Dorothy Kirner.

[UPDATE 7/26/06 – In reading Kirner’s report closer I see the $25 was to FX Daly, not Florida. Only one contribution was reported by Kirner to Florida and that is in the current period we are in now which will be reported on October 15, 2006. My apologies to Ms. Florida for the error on my part. – SLP]

Reports were due at the Missouri Ethics Commission by July 15th. However, it looks like Freeman Bosley Sr. from the 3rd Ward has been distracted by the recent recall effort and has failed to submit a report. As of today the Missouri Ethics Commission does not show a report was received on behalf of Bosley or the 3rd Ward Democrats. Same is true for Terry Kennedy, Lewis Reed, Charles Quincy Troupe, and Dionne Flowers. A number of other reports were received after the July 15th deadline, including several today. Two aldermen, Flowers and Williamson, do not show any report submitted for the 1st Quarter due April 15th.

I’ll have a thorough report for you hopefully next week after I’ve had a chance to examine all the reports.

– Steve


New Blog Focuses on City’s 15th Ward

July 14, 2006 Ald Jennifer Florida, McDonald's on Grand, Politics/Policy, South City Comments Off on New Blog Focuses on City’s 15th Ward

A new blog called 15thwardstl.org has been started by local architect Steve Wilke-Shapiro, a resident of the 15th Ward. The blog’s subheading gives a good clue as to the focus: Politics, development, and civic life in St. Louis’ 15th ward.

Wilke-Shapiro had this to say about the blog:

“While inspired by my experience as part of the McDonald’s fight, I don’t intend for it to be a diatribe against Jennifer Florida. There are plenty of issues and opportunities in the 15th not directly related to her.”

That seems fair. I think he will bring some much needed attention and focus to all aspects of his ward. In the years I’ve known him he has always been extremely level-headed, thoughtful and passionate about the city. He has a few posts in place and promises many more from a growing list of topics.

– Steve


Board of Adjustment Upholds Conditional Use for McDonald’s Drive-Thru

Today the city’s Board of Adjustment upheld the earlier decision to grant a conditional use permit to allow a drive-thru to McDonald’s on the former Sears site.

I’ve got a lot of things I want to say but I’ve pledged not to use that kind of language here. So, I’ll just say this for now:

With development like this, I have serious reservations about the ability of the City of St. Louis to reach its full potential.

– Steve


Ald. Joe Roddy Latest Target of Recall

In 2005 Ald. Tom Bauer was recalled as his constituents were upset over development deals in the 24th Ward. Recently residents began a recall effort against 15th Ward Alderwoman Jennifer Florida, initially over issues related to the proposed McDonald’s relocation but quickly expanding into other issues. KWMU radio is reporting 17th Ward Alderman Joe Roddy is now being targeted for recall over — development issues. The group is originating out of the Forest Park Southeast neighborhood:

That’s where a group wants Joe Roddy out as 17th ward alderman. They cite Roddy’s support for the sale of a patch of Forest Park to Barnes-Jewish hospital as one reason for the recall effort.

But they also say some residents have been upset for years with his support for Forest West Properties, a company owned by Barnes-Jewish hospital, which owns a number of vacant buildings in the neighborhood.

Forest West Properties is buying large numbers of parcels in Forest Park Southeast and seeking demolition of many existing structures, a good many of which could make excellent rehab candidates.

Unlike Florida, Roddy was challenged in the March 2005 primary election. Roddy received 966 votes (63%) to challenger Rodney Burchfield’s 577 votes (37%).

The piece of Forest Park in question had been a part of the same ward as the main section of Forest Park until the last redistricting (2002) when it became part of Joe Roddy’s ward. I think this plan has been cooking for longer than a year — that it would be easier to argue this section of Forest Park was separate if it was indeed in a separate political ward than the main park.

I fully support the recall effort of Joe Roddy. And I’m guessing a good many people out there are tired with the same old status quo from the likes of Bauer, Florida and Roddy. Who’s next? The list of bad development projects is longer than the list of Aldermen…

– Steve


Appeal of McDonald’s Variance to be Decided Today

June 21, 2006 Ald Jennifer Florida, McDonald's on Grand, Planning & Design, Politics/Policy, South City Comments Off on Appeal of McDonald’s Variance to be Decided Today

The McDonald’s relocation on Grand issue will likely be decided by the Board of Adjustment today. I’ve written so much about this issue to date it is hard to continue but I am sure many of you are tired of reading about it. Again, it will soon be over (barring any lawsuit depending upon the Board of Adjustment’s decision).

Here is the short summary to get you caught up if you are just joining us. The McDonald’s located on the corner of Grand & Chippewa (3737 S. Grand) since 1974 is looking to relocate to the other side of Grand on the site of the old Sears store (@ Winnebego, 3708 S. Grand). This places the McDonald’s in a different neighborhood than where it is currently as well as placing it on a corner with a minor residential street rather than being on a major corner.

Today I want to focus on a few points: Issuance of a variance to the zoning code and the design issues involved.

First the idea of a variance.

Prior court cases have determined in zoning matters “the authority to grant a variance should be exercised sparingly and only under exceptional circumstances.” The City of St. Louis acknowledges this from a 1994 court decision:

Authority to grant variance from zoning requirements should be exercised sparingly and in keeping with spirit of zoning plan and public welfare. Arens v. City of St. Louis, 872 S.W. 2d 631 (1994).

You see, the city has no obligation to grant a property owner a variance from the code. A variance is usually granted in the case of a hardship or that without the variance the property would not be able to be used at all. If the Board of Adjustment were to be “in keeping with the spirit of the zoning plan” they’d look at the redevelopment plan for the area which specifically prohibited drive-thru service windows.

A restaurant asking for a variance to the zoning to allow a drive-thru window is not reason enough to grant their request. The courts have agreed.

The zoning administrator failed to exercise good judgment when originally granting the variance. The “substantial and competent” evidence does not support allowing a drive-thru at this location. Numerous people testified that it would harm the “health, safety and welfare” of the public. Furthermore, the zoning administrator, either knowingly or carelessly, characterized letters from Mayor Slay, State Sen. Coleman and State Rep. Daus as being in support of the project. This was untrue, their letters were strictly in support of a new project on the current location of the McDonald’s (see post). The zoning administrator ignore the original evidence presented on February 19, 2006.

If the Board of Adjustment upholds the variance this afternoon I believe they will be acting politically rather than rendering a sound judgement based on evidence presented. We can look at the “F” Neighborhood Commercial District zoning (see code) to see what the spirit of the code truly is:

26.40.015 Purpose.

The purpose of the “F” Neighborhood Commercial District is to establish and preserve those commercial and professional facilities that are especially useful in close proximity to residential areas. The district is designed to provide convenient shopping and servicing establishments for persons residing in the immediate neighborhood to satisfy those basic home and personal shopping and service needs which occur frequently and so require retail and service facilities in relative proximity to places of residence, so long as such uses are compatible with and do not detract from adjacent residential uses. (Ord. 62588 § 5 (part), 1992.)

Clearly, this zoning district is not intended to be a regional auto-centric area but instead a draw for the “immediate neighborhood.” Well, the immediate neighborhood, Gravois Park, doesn’t need or desire a drive-thru restaurant.

Before you tell me these people bought next to a commercial district and they should expect this sort of thing please consider the following, the “F” Neighborhood Commercial District permits many uses:

A. Any use permitted in the “E” Multiple-Family Dwelling District;

B. Art galleries and studios;

C. Bakery Shop;

D. Barber and beauty shops;

E. Bed and breakfast guesthouse, subject to the provisions of Chapter (B.B. 355);

F. Bed and breakfast homestay, subject to the provisions of Chapter (B.B. 355);

G. Bed and breakfast inn, subject to the provisions of Chapter (B.B. 355);

H. Bookstores;

I. Butchershops;

J. Computer stores;

K. Drug stores;

L. Dry cleaning stations (not having on-site processing);

M. Financial institutions;

N. Florists;

O. General offices;

P. Grocery and other retail stores;

Q. Hardware stores;

R. Professional offices;

S. Shoe repair shops;

T. Video and record stores;

U. Mixed uses which include any of the permitted residential and commercial uses;

So while it is reasonable for the residents of Gravois Park to expect any or all of the above uses in the commercial zoning area along Grand, you’ll note a restaurant is not one of them. In fact, in the “F” Commercial District opening any restaurant requires a variance. In this case McDonald’s is requesting two variances — a restaurant and a drive-thru service window.

This is not about being next to a commercial district. For example, I’m sure many of the residents would love to see an urban storefront building on the site in question with an art gallery, hardware store, a florist and bakery — all uses that do not require any variance. Furthermore, I believe most would welcome a restaurant of any type so long as it does not have drive-thru service & excessive parking which comes with noise, trash and light pollution (from parking lot lights).

Also of note are the other uses that require a variance in the “F” Neighborhood Commercial District: bars and taverns, liquor stores, parking lots, private clubs or lodges, theaters and gas stations. I guess we are supposed to be thankful a liquor store didn’t want to relocate to the old Sears site.

Variances from zoning are a necessary evil. Sometimes the letter of the code is too restrictive to a property owner and it is reasonable to grand them a variance so as not to create a situation of hardship. The lot in question is roughly 40,000sf (200ft x 200ft) — not granting a variance for a drive-thru window will not render this vacant land unusable.

Proponents of the project; Ald. Jennifer Florida, Pyramid Construction and McDonald’s; have all argued the McDonald’s will close if they are not allowed to relocate from their current site to this site. They say, they cannot possibly reconstruct a McDonald’s on the current site. This is simply untrue, and I’ve proven as much.

If you care to review the various drawings you should probably start with McDonald’s original proposal. Then you can take a look at their revised proposal prepared for today’s hearing. They had indicated at the last year, through Ald. Jennifer Florida, the revised design would comply with what is considered one of the best guides to integrating drive-thru facilities in urban areas, The Toronto Urban Design Guidelines (large file).

Sadly what they have proposed represents only a minor attempt to satisfy concerns about urban design — they basically moved the building close to one of two streets and made a few other improvements. However, this revised design fails miserably compared to the standards. For a point by point analysis of the revised design vs. the Toronto standards click here.

Perhaps you say it can’t be done. Well, a local licensed architect was kind enough to prepare a couple of examples of placing the new standard McDonald’s building on the site in a more urban fashion more closely following the Toronto standards. See Alternate #1 and Alternate #2. Both are similar with parking toward the back while #1 has a second building facing Grand. You may think that is a long way to walk from the parking to the McDonald’s but in reality those arriving by car will most likely use the drive-thru. By eliminating both curb cuts on Grand this leaves on-street parking intact and reduces conflicts with traffic exiting the site as well as Winnebego.

But what about their current site? Again, I believe they can rebuild on the current site. Yes, it will require a retaining wall to create a more level site but I don’t think they can argue financial hardship. Click here to see the standard McDonald’s building sited on their existing location in an urban fashion. This location even permits them the ability to construct the new building while the current restaurant remains open.

And if McDonald’s choses to rebuild on their current site then Pyramid could build senior housing on the old Sears site, see concept.

The Board of Adjustment will once again take up this issue at 1:30pm today in Room 208 of City Hall. I hope they do the right thing and follow the spirit of the code and deny the variance (grant the appeal). They should see the overwhelming public opposition, the substantial evidence questioning the health, safety and welfare of the public as well as numerous alternative solutions.

– Steve