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Urban Alternatives For South Grand

One of the common arguments used by those trying to push a bad plan through the system is to ask, as Ald. Gregali did, “Has anyone come up with a better plan?” This statement is so infuriating as it implies if private citizens don’t go out and design alternatives they should not have a say in their immediate surroundings.

Myself and others have repeatedly said the senior housing should go on the old Sears site and the McDonald’s should rebuild on their current site. But talk is talk and as the old saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words. Well, I’ve got the next best thing — drawings.

Let’s look at one at a time…

Former Sears Site @ Grand & Winnebego:

  • Click here to view PDF of alternate Senior Housing & Street-Level Retail
  • 3-Story building includes 56 apartments and 11,000sf of retail/restaurant space.
  • Has 60 parking spaces to be shared with the housing and retail. I’m told that senior housing projects often have a less than 1:1 parking ratio.
  • A slight revision is being prepared that would have the parking accessed from the alley which would eliminate the curb cuts on Winnebego and therefore keeping the on-street parking intact.
  • This site is actually larger than the current McDonald’s site and we were only able to get in 56 units (vs 87). As we’ve not seen a site plan for the proposed senior housing at the current McDonald’s I can only speculate. One would be they were proposing considerably smaller units and/or they were expanding the site to the West.
  • The former Sears store that was razed in the late 90’s was three stories in height so it is fitting that we put back a 3-story structure so the street has the massing it once enjoyed.
  • In case you forgot, here is McDonald’s proposal for this site.
  • Current McDonald’s @ Grand & Chippewa:

  • Click here to view PDF of alternate McDonald’s at current location.
  • Grand is narrowed by 10ft, closer to its original width. I’d hear this was planned for the senior housing project as everyone considers Grand to be excessively wide at this point. I’d even go along with the city helping with the infrastructure costs to narrow the street back to the way it was before the wide right turn lane was added.
  • Current standard McDonald’s prototype is placed at corner of Grand & Chippewa and room is provided for additional street-level retail facing Grand. By using McDonald’s standard model we’ve retained their internal layout and service windows so as not to disrupt their efficient work flow.
  • On-street parking is assumed along Grand. A section of curb may need to “bulb” out to provide a sufficient bus stop in this area. Ditto for Chippewa.
  • A retaining wall would be required along the West edge of the property to make up for a roughly 8-10ft drop in elevation. The retaining wall need not be this high as the parking lot could have a slope to the West. Required ADA parking is provided on the flat section near Grand.
  • The current McDonald’s has a single curb cut along each Grand & Chippewa as does this proposed concept.
  • These alternative plans for the two sites in question provide the housing, retail and McDonald’s in a much more urban fashion that I believe everyone could accept. The urban form being present on both sides of the street can serve as a basis for a new urban zoning overlay for the entire blighted area (1 mile from Utah to Meramec, 61 acres) that would help guide future development.

    – Steve


    Recall Florida: The Movie

    The movie? Yes, the movie:

    Janet Reno and the Election Fiasco of 2002 A cautionary tale about the erosion of the right to vote RECALL FLORIDA starts out as a road movie, following former Attorney General Janet Reno as she takes to the wheel of her red pick-up truck and cruises the backroads and byways of Florida in her 2002 bid for Governor. As Primary Day draws near, and the state Democratic party strenuously opposes her candidacy, the film turns into a riveting story on a fundamental right in crisis – the right to vote and have that vote counted.

    RECALL FLORIDA takes the audience behind the scenes, into the nerve center of a grassroots political campaign, to provide a fascinating inside look at – and raise very serious questions about – the election process itself. RECALL FLORIDA exposes our flawed electoral system, from the use and misuse of the new voting technology, to the debate over soft money, to diminishing voter participation.

    Sounds like a good film. Click here for ordering info.

    – Steve


    Ald. Gregali on Florida, McDonald’s & Status Quo.

    Today I received the following comment on the post about the effort to recall Ald. Jennifer Florida:

    You all really need to focus on something else. One, Patterson is crazy. Why didn’t he put out the recall for Ald. Vollmer over the St. Al’s development on the Hill? Why isn’t he taking on the Mayor? Is he going to take on the whole BOA? He’s a wanna be. He lost to Dorothy Kirner and he is spreading his discontent, bitter seed. If he were a leader in the Community he wouldn’t be doing this. It’s malcontent not leadership or the resolution to his problem. He doesn’t even live in the neighborhood.

    And who is the real problem? Schmid couldn’t get anything done. Jennifer inherited the mess on Grand Ave.

    Schmid created the problem. Ald. Florida has taken the initiative and has made a marked improvement in the Grand and Gravois area.

    You can’t let a few zealots control what elected officials are doing. Most of the electeds ideas are good. They will never please us 100% but I think she is doing 100% better than Schmid ever could. He can’tr make a decision or complete a project.

    Focus on Schmid and shut Patterson up!!!

    The email address used for the above was the work email of 14th Ward Alderman Stephen Gregali. Of course, as you all know, email addresses can be false. Rather than assume it was actually from Ald. Gregali I emailed him asking as much. Shortly after Ald. Gregali responded:

    Mr. Patterson, I believe someone is using my name in vain.

    If you could forward to me the content of the discussion I would appreciate
    it. I do not appreciate someone trying to disparage my reputation.

    I took him at his word and sent back the link.
    … Continue Reading


    HUDZ Committee & Aldermanic Courtesy

    The controversial Board Bill #39, to amend the Grand/Gravois/Meramec redevelopment area to allow a drive-thru on a single parcel along the mile-long area (encompassing 61 acres), is not on the formal agenda for the Housing, Urban Design and Zoning Committee meeting for this Wednesday morning at 10am (room 208 city hall).

    Committee Chair Alfred Wessels (13th Ward), probably one of the strongest supporters of aldermanic courtesy, has the ability to allow for last minute additions to the agenda. We’ll see if he tries to pull a fast one to help out his colleague in need.

    Wessels has told me directly he supports the old practice of “deferring” to the wishes of an alderman as they assume he/she knows what is best for their own ward. Back in the day when nothing new was being built and aldermen were just handing out patronage jobs and putting up stop signs, where requested, such a practice might have been OK. Wessels has been in office so long it is likely a challenge for him to think any differently than they have for decades.

    But this old school tradition sells the city short — big time. Today’s developments are bigger in scale than anything we’ve seen for a good 40 years yet we are treating major planning issues like small time concerns. Nobody in city government is looking out for the city as a whole. We’ve adopted a new strategic land use plan but it is a worthless document until our zoning is modernized from its 1940s roots.

    Planning wise the city is in a mess. Aldermen are selfishly protecting their territories to the detriment of the city as a whole. Aldermanic courtesy must end if we are to update our zoning and look at how we are to redevelop those areas of the city that have been damaged through suburban sprawl and abandonment over the last 50 years. We cannot thrive under the current political structure.

    Those aldermen, such as Florida and Wessels, who support Aldermanic Courtesy need to be sent back to their day jobs or at the very least get a strong message that we will no longer tolerate them deferring their legislative duties to the wishes of a single person.

    – Steve


    Nothing Like a Recall To Bring Feelings To the Surface

    The last few days, since the recall attempt of Jennifer Florida was announced, have been interesting. Many views exist on both Ald. Florida and the recall process in general. Similarly, many views exist on the main controversy leading up to the recall petition. I want to share some background information on recalls as well as my latest thoughts on McDonald’s, Florida, Pyramid and such.

    First, the so-called recall madness.

    In 2003 voters in the 21st Ward were successful in recalling Ald. Melinda Long. Long was elected in April 2001 after defeating incumbent Bennice Jones King in the March 2001 primary. Not even two years later, on March 4, 2003, she was recalled (results). In a four-way race in April 2003, King was reelected to office as an independent candidate (results). Long was one of the candidates that ran again.

    In the 4th Ward Peggy Ryan was recalled in a very tight vote on March 8, 2005. Once again, the alderman that was recalled ran for the office. Three others also ran for the now vacant seat. O.L. Shelton garnered the most votes in the special election to replace Ryan on June 7, 2005 (results).

    A few months later, on September 20, 2005, Ald. Tom Bauer was recalled (results). On December 13, 2005 William Waterhouse was elected to represent the 24th Ward in a three-way race which included the former Ald. Tom Bauer as an independent.

    A recent recall attempt was waged against 22nd Ward Ald. Jeffrey Boyd but petitioners failed to have enough signatures after it was determined not all of the signatures were valid (dead folks can’t sign petitions).

    So what does all this say? Are citizens recall crazy? Is it a system run amuck? I don’t think so. In the first two in the 21st Ward & 4th Ward it can be said the recalls were motivated by rival political factions rather than a particular development issue. In the 24th Ward it was several development related issues that got citizens mad enough to take action. In the case of the 24th Ward the development issues were unquestionably mostly at risk of affecting those within that ward although I would argue they had larger implications as well.

    In the 15th Ward a different situation is occurring . We’ve got a banned use (drive-thru service) being railroaded through the system on a parcel two blocks from an extreme ward boundary. The bulk of the residents affected by the decision just happen to live in an adjacent ward boundary. And through some twisted logic, these people are not supposed to be able to have an impact on their own immediate surroundings simply because this arbitrary ward boundary was drawn on map.

    I think an increase in recalls of late is a signal that citizens have a greater awareness of the dealings of aldermen and what is going on. More citizens are taking an interest in the future of the city and are participating at the grassroots level to bring about positive change. Most Aldermen, in my view, are responsive to citizens’ views only when it comes to fixing a sidewalk, adding yet another stop sign, or requesting a new dumpster — all things an administrative staff person with the city should be able to handle provided City Hall was well organized. When it comes to bigger development issues the Aldermen want to play architect, urban planner and contractor. They do not see citizens in the process but as obstacles to the deal. This is a fundamentally wrong approach to development and eventually repopulating our city.

    A recall is, by nature, reactive. Therefore, those participating in a recall are branded as being reactionary. Well, the alternative is to be pro-active but I don’t think a pro-active approach to recalls would be wise. So, yes, recall petitioners are reactionary in the sense that they are seeing what they feel is something unjust and in reaction taking steps to correct the situation. If you agree the actions of an elected official is unwarranted and/or unethical yet do nothing is that being apathetic. Democracy is not served by those unwilling to participate.

    Ward boundaries are also brought up as an issue. Are these imaginary lines really that sacred? If so we have our priorities mixed up. The boundaries serve as a way to know whom is your representative. It does not remove it from the rest of the city or region. Taxes are not collected on a ward basis. Wards are not independent entities in the way a municipality is. Furthermore, we change the boundaries every 10 years based on the U.S. Census. The parcel in question was part of the old 10th Ward with Grand as the dividing line to the 15th. But in 2002 the dividing line for the 15th got moved two blocks further East in this area. Two whole blocks. Less than three football fields. People in the 20th Ward will be able to see the proposed McDonald’s from their homes. Yet, by some people’s convoluted way of thinking they are not supposed to be able to have an opinion. However, a person living nearly a mile away on the opposite corner of the 15th ward is automatically assumed to have a say.

    I live on a corner lot in the 25th Ward but the other three corners are all in the 9th Ward. Before I bought the building the residents worked to get it shut down due to drug dealing and major nuisance activity. Did anyone tell them not to complain because it was not their ward? I certainly hope not. Eventually the building was condemned for occupancy. After the bank foreclosed on the owner I was able to purchase and rehab the building. By rehabbing a boarded up former drug house I helped the area, not simply the 25th Ward portion of the area.

    If we are ever going to succeed in repopulating the city we must think beyond ward boundaries. We must create a strong city based on outstanding commercial arterials and a great network of neighborhood streets. This cannot be accomplished with a ward vs. ward mentality.

    Furthermore, I believe we need to reevaluate our neighborhood boundaries. Major streets such as Grand are used as dividing lines. Look at the case of Cherokee Street between Jefferson & Gravois. Originally that street was the centerpiece of the neighborhood but since at least the days of former Mayor Vince Schoemehl Cherokee has been viewed as the edge of two neighborhoods rather than the commercial center. This is really a subject for an entire post, so I will stop here.

    Some posters here and elsewhere seem to question the recall process altogether — that an official would have to do some sort of major criminal offense before a recall is warranted. Others seem to think it is OK to attempt to recall an official as long as it is warranted. The big question that is coming up, therefore, is whether or not this recall is warranted. It is no secret that I think the recall is just.

    All officials have to make unpopular decisions, that is part of their jobs. No matter the decision someone will be unhappy. And no, we do not want them to make decisions based solely on if it would spark a recall attempt. But, if an official strays too far away from the wishes of their constituency then a recall is warranted. I do believe that is the case here.

    The McDonald’s/Pyramid land swap has apparently been in the planning stages for some time but it came to the forefront in January when a building permit was applied for. Gravois Park residents, some of whom live in the 15th ward and some that do not, contend they were previously told by Jennifer Florida the McDonald’s would not be relocated to their neighborhood. Jennifer Florida outright lied to a group of people (including me) during a meeting in Dutchtown. What I wrote on February 15, 2006:

    I sat next to Alderman Florida on Monday as the proposed McDonald’s at 3708 S. Grand was discussed before the Commercial District Committee of the Dutchtown South Community Corporation. She claimed to not have any graphics to show the group of the proposal, instead she showed site plans for the nearby Southside National Bank project. Yet, in her possession was a site plan for the McDonald’s project. When questioned on the subject she claimed the site plan she had was not the final plan. Digging a deeper hole she said a current site plan did not exist, that nothing had been submitted. We were puzzled at the idea of a public hearing on the zoning of a drive-thru could be held without a site plan. The truth is it can’t.

    The site plan in her possession was the final plan submitted to the city in January. I finally obtained said plan through the Sunshine Law process but due to some delays on the part of the city I was not able to get a copy until after the hearing had been held. I believe she intentionally held back the plans for the project because she knew that neighborhood groups like Gravois Park and the adjacent Dutchtown would not be pleased with the standard formula McDonald’s.

    I understand elected officials can’t make everyone happy. But, elected officials can operate in a manner in which everyone is informed, debate occurs and then a decision is reached. That wasn’t the case here. A decision was reached by Florida, she kept the information hidden as long as possible from the public, and then belittled anyone that dare speak out against the project. This is not conduct befitting an Alderwoman.

    Early on she should have sensed where this was going. She could have asked Pyramid to withdraw the permit application to allow for public hearing to resolve disputes. That didn’t happen, they forged ahead without a chance for any real public input. Public input didn’t happen until the first conditional use hearing on the drive-thru held on February 19, 2006. This would be the hearing where the administrator entered into the record that they had letters of support from Mayor Slay, State Sen. Coleman and State Rep. Mike Daues. Again, through the Sunshine Law, I was able to see these letters did not mention McDonald’s at all. At the hearing nobody from the general public supported the McDonald’s but many from the neighborhood spoke out against it. Florida, however, called the McDonald’s a “linchpin” for future development and has suggested it will reduce crime. The hearing really didn’t matter, decisions had already been made. You see, Florida and her buddies at Pyramid & McDonald’s had no interest in public discussion. And since opposition began they’ve been even less interested.

    Good politicians have the ability to step back and say, “You know, I thought this would be a benefit to the area but I can see many are not happy. We should get together and work on a master plan for this section of Grand to see what we can come up with.” This area has been in Florida’s ward for four years now. When I expressed to her that I was pleased to see the Lawrence Group would be doing some additional buildings in future phases of the South Side National Bank building she indicated she was insistent on them being two stories and up to the street. On one hand she comes across as getting urbanity and being able to push developers to do better. That Jennifer Florida I really like. It is the other Jennifer Florida, the one that yells at residents, “You can’t get everything you want” that I don’t care for.

    Placing a drive-thru on the old Sears site is a very poor decision, one that will have effects on the area for a good 20-30 years until it can be razed. But how much damage will it have done to the perception of the commercial street and the adjacent residential uses? This is fundamental land use planning issues folks. This is not the addition of a stop sign or a replacing a dumpster or simple things an alderman can do without much long-term impact. Land use decisions for a major corridor used by thousands of citizens from many neighborhoods and wards is simply too critical to be left up to one person.

    Then we have the issue of the redevelopment plan. Ald. Florida argued under oath the plan’s prohibition on drive-thru uses is only applicable when seeking tax incentives. So what does she do, she gets the LCRA to approve an amendment to the plan removing the prohibition on drive-thrus for only the parcel McDonald’s wants — a clear case of spot zoning. Next she introduces BB39 on the first day the Board of Aldermen are back in session to legally amend the ordinance to allow drive-thru uses on that parcel. Again, she argued just days earlier that the drive-thru prohibition is only applicable if you are not seeking tax incentives. Thus, it would appear they are setting the ground work to give McDonald’s some sort of financial incentive to move.

    Many new readers are just joining in. This is a very complicated issue and I can see where those just now hearing of it may draw the conclusion that people rushed to recall her. The truth is Florida and major campaign contributor Pyramid are rushing this through the system without adequate public participation.

    If you are interested in knowing the details check out my category called “McDonald’s on Grand.” The posts are in reverse order so you’ll need to start at the bottom and work your way up. Along the way you’ll begin to get a clear picture of the process and timeline as well as see supporting documents. If, after reading all this, you still don’t think the recall is warranted then we’ll have to simply agree to disagree. For me, if this is not grounds for a recall then I don’t what is.

    – Steve