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Preservation Board to Orchard: Move Those Meters!

The Preservation Board had many agenda items on their plate last night. The following is a run down of each item and how they voted. If you want to know about the Lafayette Square gas meter issue scroll down, it is the last item.

The first item up for review was approval of an encroachment on the public right of way for a sculpture along the riverfront (agenda item A). The sculpture titled, The Captains’ Return, depicts the “arrival of Captains Lewis and Clark and their dog Searnan, at the St. Louis Levee after the completion of the ‘Corps of Discovery’ expedition of 1804-1806. The idea is to have the sculpture installed by September 23, the date in which Lewis & Clark returned from their expedition.

Two guys off on a journey with their dog, how very Brokeback Mountain. The Preservation Board unanimously approved the temporary encroachment with conditions as noted in the agenda.

Next up was an encroachment at 2028 Lafayette Avenue, a new gazebo/pergola in Lafayette Park. This structure would be attached to the west side of the Park House and visible from Lafayette near Mississippi. From the staff report:

Staff has worked with the designer of the proejct to make the pergola smaller in scale and more compatible with the adjacent historic Park House. The columns on the pergola are still too neo-classical and should be simplified, and the cupola on the roof is still too tall and ornate for the period.

The Preservation Board approved the encroachment with conditions as noted in the agenda.

In an attempt to dress up one of our many new parking garages a piece of public art, entitled Walking Figure, is proposed for the corner of Olive & 7th. The sculpture is owned by the Gateway Foundation. Rollin Stanley testified about how great our sidewalks are but that we need more public sculpture — I agree on both accounts. He also said the sculpture is not liked by all, but that is what makes good public art. Anything to take your eye off the wheel cover motif on the parkign garage is a good thing in my book! The Preservation Board approved the encroachment

A very vocal resident spoke passionately against this sculpture, saying “this is a scheme, who is getting the tax write-off?” He indicated this sculpture has been shopped around quite a bit with the last location where the sculpture was placed was in Europe, but “nobody wants it.” Speaking of the artist, this resident said “he can’t draw, he can’t sculpt.” The Preservation Board approved the public encroachment by a vote of 4-2.

The St. Louis Zoo is proposing a plaza & prominent sculpture (Animals Always) at the corner of Wells and Concourse Drive (basically the entrance from Hampton). HNTB is the engineering firm on the project. This will not be a new pedestrian entrance to the zoo so I am a little confused who will actually use the plaza. The sculpture looks pretty cool, it is made of core-ten steel which will intentionally rust. PB member Luis Porrello abstained from the vote since he works for HNTB. One interesting note, when the I-64 project is done this intersection will become a roundabout. The Preservation Board approved the encroachment with one abstention.

Fourth Ward Alderman O.L. Shelton requested the city expand the boundaries of The Ville local historic district, including the historic design standards. The process to research and recommend the approval was about a two year process. The Ville is the only historic district that currently doesn’t qualify for tax credits. This was due to the fact the that when the district was first approved in the late 80s it was thought nationally that districts of varied architecture shouldn’t qualify. Cultural Resources director Kathleen Shea indicated expanding the boundaries should help qualify the area for tax credits.

A couple of residents spoke in favor of the expanded district, including one woman that rehabs properties in the area. She indicated she has lived in The Ville since 1964. PB member Richard Callow moved that the board approve the petition to expand the district, request staff to prepare legislation to submit to the board of aldermen and that one member of the PB speak at the public hearing in favor of the bill.

The Preservation Board unanimously approved the motion.

Another district was up for discussion, this was an expansion of the Benton Park local historic district. A number of residents were present to speak in favor of the expansion although a couple left early because at this point we are already two and a half hours into the meeting. Preservation Board Chair Tim Mulligan recused himself as he lives in the area to be affected.

Todd Brandt,VP of the Benton Park Neighborhood Association, spoke in favor of the expanded boundaries. He mentioned renovated and newly constructed homes that are of questionable aesthetics. They are seeking some control to protect the value of the neighborhood. Some examples shown by the staff in their report

A number of residents spoke in opposition to the expanded district. One has lived in the neighborhood for 42 years (since birth). She was very passionate in her testimony. Her basic concern was the standards would force out low income residents such as herself.

This is a common problem where you are trying to get design standards implemented. She said people “try to make their properties presentable.” My view is often it is the people trying to “make improvements” that end up spending lots of money destroying the historic character of their homes. The Preservation Board unanimously approved the petition to expand the boundaries. Like The Ville previously, this goes next to the Board of Aldermen.

As an aside, I plan to look at some of the recent rehabs and new construction in the near future.

It is now three and a half ours into the meeting and the next issue is a proposed new home at 1419 Dolman in the Lafayette Square Local Historic District. Staff had issues with a few items in the design such as the building width and some window placement. The foundation material was unknown.

The applicant indicated a willingness to address concerns of the Preservation Board and the neighborhood. The building is on the Lafayette Square agenda for March 7, 2006. The Board gave preliminary approval.

A very interesting project was next on the agenda. The applicant is seeking to purchase a city-owned property that is a serious state of deterioration. The building is a short two-story structure with not much left. The applicant is seeking to add a third floor with a second empire mansard roof. The staff feels this building never had a third floor and it should not be added.

I see both arguments. A good question came up, do the remaining brick walls indicate brick pockets for a level third floor or a sloping roof? Nobody seemed to know. I’m torn on holding to what would have been built vs what makes sense today.

Discussion among board members centered on making sure the renovated structure “blended in.” But staff’s point is that it didn’t blend in when originally built and therefore we should not re-write history a hundred years later.

The Board gave preliminary approval as indicated in the agenda.

Must have food…

One of my favorite subjects began shortly after 8pm, replacement windows in a historic district without a permit. Basically the owner replaced a two wide double hung with some awning windows.

Time for this owner to go back to the window company that should have obtained the proper permits because the board denied approval of the non-conforming replacement windows already installed.

A new in-fill project is Soulard looked good but had a couple of small issues with the staff. The biggest issue was a request for a new curb cut on the side street. This odd site only has 14 ft along the alley.

Board approved the project with two conditions, one being that the project have a “Baltimore Chimney” on the south elevation as indicated on the north elevation. The other is that it not have the curb cut.

Another Soulard project is the expansion of Molly’s at 816 Geyer. The board approved the project with the condition the east elevation either be all brick or have windows.

This project has additions to two sides of an existing structure. It is intended to give the appearance of several buildings. However, the new facades do not have any front doors, either useable or fixed for appearance sake.

More new construction, this time in Lafayette Square. Staff had no major issues with the design. However, the neighborhood spoke against the project simply on the basis that neither the architect or owner submitted their proposal to the neighborhood.

The board gave preliminary approval.


And finally, the gas meters in front issue!!!! Take a look at the last item on the agenda (linked above) for more info and photos. The project, called Lafayette Walk, includes 37 units in a total of six buildings. Building #1 is the first built, located at the corner of Mississippi and Chouteau. Building #2, not yet built, will be the other one facing Mississippi.

This item took a lot of time and I’m not going to go through all the points. Here are the highlights:

  • Staff indicated the issue of utilities has never come up before but will require utility locations on future drawings. Laclede Gas would not return their calls. Front doors & transoms are possibly not as indicated on final approved drawings but it is hard to tell because the drawings were photo reduced.
  • Developer admitted they could have done a better job in working with utility companies to locate the utilities. Sought to create a compromise by modifying the front stairs to help hide the electric meters. Gas meters, while still located in front, would be lowered and the pipe into the house would go through the foundation wall and not the more visible brick wall. They indicated they would have the electric installed on the side of the buildings on those not yet constructed. I felt the developer made a very professional presentation and took appropriate blame.
  • Discussion and debate from staff, the board members, developer and area residents focused on the electric and natural gas utility companies, AmerenUE and Laclede Gas, respectively. Mary One Johnson kept harping on “the law” requiring utilities in front even though that is most likely not the case. Building codes will indicate what cannot be done such as running utilities through units but otherwise it often comes down to what the local utility company is willing to do. Based on my experience this can come down to who you talk to from the utility, how you ask them, how insistent you are about a better solution and finally it often comes back to money in the form of paying additional fees to get the best look. Staff admitted they are not aware of all the rules regarding utility requirements but in their defense I’ve known utilities to make up frequent new rules.
  • About four Lafayette Square residents spoke on the issue. They were adamant the situation be corrected, not just allowed to remain. They were organized and concise. Basically they said the neighborhoods design standard (which are a city ordinance) should be strictly enforced. They also asked that city building inspectors be aware of historic standards and not approve mechanical work such as these utilities that do not comply with historic standards. The neighborhood indicated a willingness to look at compromises.
  • One of the best points made by the neighborhood regarding the developers, “they are big boys, this is what they do for a living.” Ouch. Sadly I think this is a valid point. They indicated the developer screwed up and therefore they should be required to correct the mistakes, regardless of cost.
  • Density came up as an issue with this project. The neighborhood said a number of times, “too much in too small a space.” Well, yes and no. I don’t think 37 units on that site is too many, it just depends upon how you arrange the units. In this case they went for two-story row houses and as a result you’ve got some narrow alleys and many units face a pedestrian walkway rather than a public street. A mixed-use plan with a 3-4 story corner building would have allowed for as many units (maybe more) without the feeling of being a bunch of row houses wedged into the space. Remember, density is not the issue. We need density and lots of it. It just has to be done right.
  • “Forgiveness should not be easy,” said one resident. Well, it was not. The Preservation Board took the most strict route they could. Anthony Robinson, an architect, moved they require all utilities (including those already installed on building #1) to be relocated to a semi-public facade. This sets up a conflict between the city, developer and utilities. Perhaps if Laclede Gas wants to serve this site they’ll now have to return a few phone calls.
  • The other piece of the picture was the front doors to the units. They were thought to be too short (standard 6ft 8 in) rather than a better proportioned 7ft tall. The transoms over the doors were also thought to be out of proportion to what is acceptable for the standards. The motion also requires the developer to change the doors and transoms, even on the completed units.
  • A stop work order was discussed but I’m not quite clear if they are allowed to proceed or not.
  • Interestingly the grand open house for Lafayette Walk is Thursday 3/1/06 from 4pm to 8pm.

  • The meeting concluded at 10:25pm. This is way too long. As the amount of development in the city continues to rise and as more and more historic districts are established something needs to give. A 3-minute policy may need to be implemented for all speakers or they may need to meet twice per month if they have many items to review.

    – Steve


    St. Louis Not The Only City Where a St. Aloysius Is Threatened

    January 27, 2006 History/Preservation, Politics/Policy, Religion Comments Off on St. Louis Not The Only City Where a St. Aloysius Is Threatened

    The National Trust for Historic Preservation recently had a story about church closings and possible demoltions in the New York City area, including a St. Aloysius in Harlem:

    Architecturally, the three Harlem churches meet the commission’s criteria for landmarking: special character or special historical or aesthetic interest. But that’s only part of the churches’ significance. “They tell the story of immigrants to this country who were poor and who were unable to manifest any kind of individual pride in terms of places they were forced to live in,” says Michael Henry Adams, a Harlem architectural historian of Harlem and author of Harlem: Lost and Found. “But they were able to manifest a group pride by building these great buildings as an indication of their faith in God and also the opportunities of this great country. They’re symbols of the promise of America.”

    In these cases parishioners are working with preservationists to save their history, even though the churches will likely be closed and the buildings used for other purposes.

    Click here for the full story.

    – Steve


    ‘BEHOLDER’ Is Interesting Story of Power & Corruption

    January 18, 2006 Local Business, Politics/Policy, Religion Comments Off on ‘BEHOLDER’ Is Interesting Story of Power & Corruption

    Recently I watched a new independent film, Heart of the Beholder: This American Dream Became a Holy Nightmare. It is the tale of a family that owned a chain of video stores that refused to remove certain films deemed indecent by a small by powerful group of zealots. These zealots blackmail a prosecutor into closing down the video stores, ruining the lives of this family. In the end the prosecutor gets his just rewards. It is an interesting story that everyone should see, especially those living in St. Louis.

    I had not lived in St. Louis long when the story of St. Louis Circuit Attorney George Peach being arrested for soliciting an undercover police officer. That was in 1992. Yes, this movie is based on events that happened here in the St. Louis area in the 1980s and early 1990s.

    First I want to say the picture is not anti-religious. In does not make light of or disparage Christians but does look at those who are a bit too self-righteous.

    One of the movies the group picketing the video stores wanted to remove is one of my all-time favorites, Blazing Saddles. Mel Brooks’ movies are many things but they are not morally offensive.

    The movie is not being shown in theaters because they are having a hard time getting a distribution deal. I leant my copy to a friend and she watched it twice just to pick up all the details. You can order a copy by clicking on the image at right.

    – Steve


    Website Documents History of St. Boniface

    January 10, 2006 History/Preservation, Religion, South City Comments Off on Website Documents History of St. Boniface

    Among the Catholic Churches closed in 2005 was St. Boniface in Carondelet. Today I learned of a website which documents some of the history of the church including photos and audio interviews. Sadly the author is also tracking former religious objects on eBay.

    Check it out here

    – Steve


    New Urbanism and the Christian Faith

    January 7, 2006 Books, Religion 6 Comments

    The other day I was having lunch at the new Prancing Pony Cafe & Bookstore in New Town at St. Charles and one book caught my eye, Sidewalks in the New Kingdom: New Urbanism and the Christian Faith. I thumbed through a bit of it while waiting for my lunch companions to arrive but what I read was intriguing. I am personally not the religious type but many of my friends and family are. I think I’ll be ordering this book in bulk for birthday and Christmas gifts.

    Here is what one person wrote in a review on Amazon.com:

    People of all religious persuasions can find wisdom in this plain-spoken portrait of how humanity and culture are enriched by the informal social contacts of city life. Jacobsen, a pastor at the First Presbyterian Church in Missoula, Montana, builds a case for why Christians should have special concern for traditionally designed urban areas. At the same time, the book explores themes of community and identity that are relevant to people of all spiritual traditions.
    He argues that we have been lulled into “worshipping false gods in the name of American values.” The concepts of individualism, independence and freedom are wrongly associated with life in the suburbs, Jacobsen tells us. Pointing out that identical tract homes and big box retailers are not expressions of individual choice, he says we have allowed corporations to bend our communities to their bottom-lines instead of our communal needs.

    The car, so often equated with freedom, does not, in Jacobsen’s view, equal the Biblical sense of liberation, instead it represents a form of escapism. He writes that we have allowed ourselves to be isolated from one another by our cars and our low-density developments. The result is a loss of civility and a dismissal of God’s command to “love the stranger.”

    He notes that cities give rise to critical mass, a condition that stimulates and incubates new ideas, significant events and formal art. Sidewalks in the Kingdom is a powerful call for Christians to endorse our cities in the same way they have embraced our natural environment. Should the concept catch hold, Christians everywhere may soon be fleeing the suburbs for a city near you.

    If you are a person of faith but are unsure about New Urbanism give this book a read and let me know what you think. I’ve provided a link above to Amazon.com but you can also order the book online through local independent retailer Left Bank Books. Also, the author’s website offers a sample chapter.

    I started reading the sample chapter and I wanted to quote one small bit:

    It is important to note that we have not been backed into sprawl and standardization as the dominant mode of development because of poverty, national crisis, or other limiting factors. Instead, we have boldly and confidently marched toward these unsatisfying arrangements with no one to blame but ourselves. We have done so, I believe, because we have been worshiping false gods in the name of American values.

    I am so ordering a copy for myself!

    – Steve