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More Sprawl Planned Adjacent to Soulard Neighborhood in 7th Ward

A Walgreen’s and attached strip center next to Bohemian Hill and across from City Hospital is not enough. Nor is the under construction strip center at 7th and Russell. The latest in Phyllis Young’s plan to surround Soulard with all the beauty of O’Fallon (Missouri or Illinois — they look the same) is on the former parking lot of Nooter, at Broadway and Park (map). Mere blocks from The Lasalle Park neighborhood, the rebirth of the Chouteau’s Landing area, Soulard Farmers’ Market and other establishments between this site and downtown.

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Site is located to the right in the above image. On another day I’ll have to deal with the bike lane suddenly ending at Park with the Bike St. Louis sign pointing you to the left — like somehow you are supposed to get into the left turn lane, across two lanes of traffic, from the bike lane at the intersection.

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Closer up you see the nearly four and a half acre parking lot which is to become this:
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Is this the future of St. Louis? Filling in every vacant area with generic strip malls fronted by a sea of asphalt parking lots? While I hope not I am afraid this is the best we can hope for given our politically crippled planning department and inept leadership at city hall. Of course the sketches are pretty honest, they never show an ADA-compliant access route for pedestrians from the main public sidewalk. Bike racks, who needs those? Plenty of “free” auto parking? You bet!!! While the above image is from the sign posted in front of the property it could be anywhere in the region. There is nothing about this that says it is blocks from the river in one of the oldest areas of town.

For years cities had massive change forced upon them in the way of urban renewal — interstate highways ripped through established neighborhoods and high-rise public housing projects wiped out more neighborhoods. These areas really stood no chance of survival with such a large scale approach. Today we cannot afford to come in and reconnect areas on such an equally large scale — nor would we want to. The bigger the scale the more watered down the solution. What we need is to methodically and incrementally piece our city back together again.

While this incremental construction would take place over many years, on many parcels and via many different builders/developers the planning must be done upfront and on the bigger scale. This does not mean we design every building. No, what is means is that we set out a community vision — what will we expect of the building types once built. Will they be multi-story and built up to the street with any parking below or behind the structure? Cities such as Seattle, Portland and Denver are seeing great success through the use of districts-scaled plans with the power of zoning. The goal is not to control uses but forms of new buildings, relationships to the street and the disposition of parking. Slowly but surly the vision will come together — getting increasingly urban and dense with each passing project. Biking and walking from place to place will become better and friendlier over time. This approach takes the long view on rebuilding a walkable city that also happens to accommodate motorists along the way.

I have no problems with generic chain stores in this location. What I do have a problem with is the form in which they are proposed. Even smart suburban areas in the US aren’t allowing this sort of lowest common denominator of development anymore. Yes, this is probably better than a vacant parking lot but when we have no standards at all we get development that is a reflection of that lack of vision.

If you share my perspective on this the people you need to talk to are long-time 7th Ward Alderman Phyllis Young, “Planning” and [Sub]Urban Design Director Rollin Stanley and Deputy Mayor Barb Geisman via Mayor Slay.

 

St. Louis’ Leaders Critical of New Urbanism while Supporting Sprawl Development in Old Urbanist Areas

A little bit more of suburbia is coming to the City of Saint Louis thanks to Ald. Phyllis Young. Rebuffed over the planned demolition of occupied homes on Bohemian Hill to the west of Soulard, she’s been working on a suburban scheme for the east edge of Soulard. And our city’s director of Planning & Urban Design, Rollin “Old Urbanism” Stanley? Well, he’s been too busy bashing the suburban Walgreen’s locations in St. Louis while traveling in other states and writing articles about the wonderful old urbanism he enjoys in Soulard — something not found in New Town at St. Charles. Hey Rollin — you know what else is not at New Town —- crap like this!!!! I say you need to step down off that high horse of yours and take a look in your own backyard. We’ve got suburbia breeding like rabbits all over the city — we need some real leadership from those on the payroll!

Of course this is really out of his hands — Stanley is only let out of his office for the big grandiose plans such as the failed riverfront and gateway mall. He is allowed, while out of state, to disparage the proliferation of suburban development but not in town to those actually making decisions. Clueless Young and spineless Stanley are two reasons why we are getting the development we are.

Case in point. The new auto-centric strip center on the very edge of Soulard.

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Above, the under construction strip center is the blue box on the right. Ald Young and planner Stanley both live in the 9xx block of Lami, shown on the map. As you can see, the neighborhood is quite dense relative to the industrial mess created to the east during another failed urban renewal project during the 1960s.

Stanley writes of his house & neighborhood in the October 2007 issue of Planning magazine:

I walk two blocks to a little grocery store, and there are several restaurants and bars nearby. A century-old farmers market is a few blocks further. The Ace Hardware store is a four-minute bike ride away in the industrial area where many residents used to work.

Is this “new” urbanism? Not at all. My neighborhood is the result of 140 years of urban evolution. It represents neighborhoods all over the U.S., North America, and the world.

He goes on to deride the corner store in New Town at St. Charles for not having the history of his building, a former bar now upscale residential.

For those of us who live in “old urbanist” communities, it’s painful to see our tax dollars fleeing to the hinterlands to pay for the roads the state so loves to build — just to serve all those new developments. The same dollars could go to create public transit, which would serve so many more people. Now that would be good urbanist policy.

Nice, very nice. The man can’t get good urban development blocks from his own house but he can take time to bad mouth in a national magazine the more urban development happening in the corn fields!!! Uh, something is wrong with this picture. Shouldn’t those of us in old urbanist areas be setting the bar for urban design?

OK, back to this blight under construction…

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Above you can see, in the early stages at right, a former office/warehouse building getting a make over. In the background, across 7th street (most often assumed to be Broadway) at Russell. With the exception of the two gas stations on the West side of 7th at Russell, the area to the West is compact, urban and walkable. But first a bit of history.
A 1960s urban renewal project cleared the Eastern section of Soulard and re-directed Broadway along 7th street. With the exception of a few buildings along the old Broadway, the entire area known as Kosciusko was razed. This new wider 7th street cut off Soulard from the commercial spine of Broadway. But it was a good excuse to raze a big area for industrial uses.

The problem is that now this industrial area where residences and businesses once stood, is itself getting a bit tired. One ugly block building at 7th & Russell sat vacant for some time with a for sale/lease sign. Someone came up with the concept to turn it into a strip center — change a few openings, tart up the facade facing Soulard/7th, at a free-standing Starbucks Drive-Thru and of course toss some parking out front. And in St. Louis logic, because the building was not occupied and not the final desired result — we are calling it “blighted.” Thus, the project qualifies for public subsidy.
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Above, looking SE along 7th you can see the old building being prepped for a new facade. In the foreground is the sidewalk removed to create an auto entrance for the new Starbucks Drive-Thru.

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See, a Drive-Thru. Not a neighborhood coffee house that happens to have a drive-thru. No, a Drive-Thru that will most likely lack an ADA-compliant access route from the public sidewalk to the accessible entrance of the building. Perhaps the city expects those in wheelchairs to wheel-thru to get their latte?

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So like I said, the Soulard side is being given a new stage set.

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The standard EIFS system provides the backdrop of the generic backlit signage seen on strip malls from coast to coast. In the foreground is one of the parking lot curbs already in place. None seem to indicate any provisions for accessing the site via foot.

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Above, the strip center on the right with soon to be parking out front. The future Starbucks Drive-Thru is in the background on the right. You can also make out the Arch if you look closely. Rather than encourage 7th street, at left, to build up as an urban corridor. The city’s 2005 “Strategic Land Use Plan” appropriately lists this area as “Neighborhood Commerce” which is defined as:

Areas where the development of new and the rehabilitation of existing commercial uses that primarily serve adjacent neighborhoods should be encouraged. These areas include traditional commercial streets at relatively major intersections and along significant roadways where commercial uses serve multiple neighborhoods or where the development of new commercial uses serving adjacent neighborhoods is intended. Mixed use buildings with commercial at grade and a mix of uses on upper floors are an ideal type within these areas. These areas may include higher density mixed use residential and commercial and may initially include flexibility in design to allow ground floor uses to change over time e.g., ground floor space that can transition from residential to commercial use as the local demand for retail goods and services strengthens in the area.

Sounds good to me! So what happened? Well, the zoning remains J-Industrial. Translation, the Alderman and developer can do as they please and make changes on a case by case basis. The very last thing they want is anything remotely coming close to requiring, via zoning, the mixed-use neighborhood commercial described above.

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But instead we are getting a typical strip center with parking out front on what is clearly a major intersection adjacent to a very pedestrian-friendly neighborhood. These developers would likely put this in the center of Soulard if they could. To their suburban eyes this is a big improvement. To me this is one more reason why we will remain at 350,000 people. Our development standards could not be any lower.

Here are some quotes from the 17-page attachment to BB257 currently before the St. Louis Board of Aldermen:

The proposed land uses, zoning, public facilities and utility plans are appropriate and consistent with local objectives as defined by the General Plan of the City of St. Louis which includes the “Strategic Land Use Plan” (2005). Any specific proposal to the LCRA for development of the Area or any portion of the Area shall contain, among other things, adequate provisions for traffic, vehicular parking, safety from fire, adequate provisions for light and air, sound design and arrangement and improved employment opportunities.

Really? This plan is consistent with the land use plan I quoted above? I think they try to get around the neighborhood commerce issue by stating the area isn’t in a residential area.

4. PRESENT LAND USE AND DENSITY OF SURROUNDING PROPERTIESThe properties surrounding the Area are primarily used for commercial and industrial uses.

Residential density for the surrounding neighborhoods is approximately 0 persons per acre.

Zero persons per acre? Did you see the map above? This is one of the oldest areas in the city and one that is naturally more dense than 20th century areas. But as you might expect they found a reason to blight what was an ugly but sound building.

6. FINDING OF BLIGHT

The property within the Area is unoccupied and in poor condition (as defined in Section A(2) above). The existence of deteriorated property constitutes both an economic liability to the City of St. Louis and presents a hazard to the health and well-being of its citizens. These conditions, therefore, qualify the Area as blighted within the meaning of Section 99.300 et seq. of the Revised Statutes of Missouri 2000, as amended (the Land Clearance for Redevelopment Authority Law).

Wow, who knew that a vacant commercial building was hazardous to our health? Maybe someday I’ll get to vote on the legislation that declares this new project blighted because it is so effing suburban in nature. Of course in 17 pages amended to the bill they talk about all sorts of requirements:

The Area shall be subject to all applicable federal, state and local laws, ordinances, regulations and codes, including but not limited to, the City Building Code, Zoning District Regulations, and stipulations of the Planning and Urban Design Agency (“PDA”) of the City. The population densities, land coverage, and building intensities of redevelopment shall be governed by the Zoning Code. No changes in the building codes or ordinances are required.

All federal laws? Like the Americans with Disabilities Act that requires an ADA-compliant access route from a public sidewalk? Naw, the city will give them the tax abatement anyway because they don’t care about pedestrians. Still, the above seems pretty general. Do they get anymore specific? Yep!

Rehabilitation shall respect the original exterior in terms of design and materials. Window and door shapes and detailing shall be compatible with the original design

New construction shall be compatible in design with the surrounding neighborhood, if any, in terms of scale, materials, set back, profile and site layout.

Respect original exterior? You mean the brutal concrete block original? Gee, the site layout certainly isn’t compatible with Soulard or even the urban storefronts along Broadway in the same block. Damn that boiler plate language. Anything else?

Canvas awnings with signs are permitted, provided they are compatible with the overall design and architectural details of the building upon which they are to be placed and are placed neatly within the window or door opening. Signage on awnings may be located on the sloping portion of the canvas awning, on the front of a canopy or on the awning valance. In no case shall signage be allowed on both an awning and a building for the same business. Logos and graphic elements may be up to ten (10) sq. ft. in size (depending on the size of the awning), while names or brand copy shall be in proportion to the size of the awning, but in no case shall lettering be more than twelve inches (12”) high.

Wow, that is a lot to absorb and it is only a portion of the sign section. What about landscaping?

The property shall be well-landscaped. Perimeter street trees of a minimum caliper of 2-1/2 inches and generally 30-35 feet on center, depending upon tree type, utilities, curb cuts, etc., shall be provided along all public or private streets – preferably in tree lawns along the curb. If necessary, sidewalks shall be notched to accommodate the trees.

Ornamental or shade trees should be provided in the front lawns along with evergreen accent shrubs.

Existing, healthy trees shall be retained, if feasible.

Man, they seem to cover everything. What about fencing?

Fencing in the front yards and facing side street shall be limited to ornamental metal with a black matte finish. Fencing behind the building line and not facing a street may be chain link with a black matter finish, or a good quality, privacy fence provided it is not wood stockade style. Fencing facing a side street may be ornamental metal or a good quality board fence up to six (6) feet in height provided landscaping is provided between the fence and the sidewalk.

Of course all this is required to meet the “Urban Design Objectives;”

The property shall be developed so it is an attractive residential asset to the surrounding neighborhood.

Hmm, I must have missed the part where the get to the items that make this “an attractive residential asset to the surrounding neighborhood.” Ah, here we go — parking regulations:

Parking shall be provided in accordance with the applicable zoning and building code requirements of the City, including PDA standards. This will provide adequate vehicular parking for the Area.

Surface parking shall not extend beyond the established building line. Surface parking along public streets shall be buffered by a continuous evergreen hedge at least two and one-half (2-1/2) feet high on planting and maintained at three and onehalf (3-1/2) feet high at maturity. Three percent (3%) of the interior of all parking lots containing more than twenty-five (25) spaces shall be landscaped with trees, at least two and one-half (2-1/2) inch caliper in size on planting. The trees shall be planted on islands, the largest dimension of which shall be at least five (5) feet, planted with low lying ground cover or other plant material.

I highlighted one sentence from the above — “surface parking shall not extend beyond the established building line.” It would certainly appear to me that all of the parking is beyond the building line — by the very nature of being in front of the building!!! And sorry, an evergreen hedge is a poor buffer in such an urban context. The detailed addendum to the bill even covers discrimination and minority participation:

A Redeveloper shall not discriminate on the basis of race, color, creed, national origin, marital status, sex, age, sexual orientation or physical handicap in the construction and operation of any project in the Area and shall take such affirmative action as may be appropriate to afford opportunities to everyone in all activities of the project, including enforcement, contracting, operating and purchasing.

So what is missing? The part about the city allegedly being “old urbanism” and provisions so that say the city’s top urban planner can walk a few blocks on a sidewalk to get to this new residential asset!!! Or perhaps, in exchange for granting tax abatement, we require say a bike rack for parking of something besides cars! You’d think, in 17 pages, with all the talk of types of fencing, heights of shrubs and diameter of trees they could squeeze in a few words that mandate a simple sidewalk to get you from the public sidewalk to the front door of each business! Is that so difficult for this city to comprehend? We’ve got people that are living in homes that can see this strip mall out their windows and yet provisions to walk to a business is not even a requirement for 10-year tax abatement? This city is a joke and Rollin Stanley’s words about “old urbanism” fall flat when we see what is permitted under his watch.
Despite the project nearing completion the legislation to grand the tax abatement was just introduced on 9/21/2007 and is still pending before the “Neighborhood Development” committee of the Board of Aldermen. I’m sure they’ll all bring their official rubber stamps.


 

Loughborough Commons Community Improvement District Meeting Today, 3pm.

lc_cid92007.jpgThe Board of Directors of the Loughborough Commons Community Improvement District are meeting later today at the downtown law firm of Greensfelder, Hemker and Gale, P.C.  This ‘CID’ was set up to use some of the tax revenues collected at Loughorough Commons to fund improvements.  It is a quasi governmental entity and therefore subject to open meetings laws.

At right is the public notice found today at City Hall, click to view PDF copy.

 

A ‘Rural Renewal’ Program Would Provide Habitat for Deer and other Wildlife

The tony collection of McMansion subdivisions known as Town & Country, MO is back on the issue of Deer overpopulation. It seems their 1-3 acre lots amongst the natural woods are overrun with deer. The reality is that our natural environment is overrun with low-density and often tacky housing that requires an SUV to go anywhere. From a KSDK report:

“Deer like the suburbs that we build,” said Erin Shank, a Missouri Department of Conservation urban wildlife biologist. “They like that broken forest interspersed with meadow-like lawns. That’s really ideal for them, so their populations have really grown over the last several decades.”

Wow, it seems they have managed to design an environment ideally suited to the main deer population but only a small segment of the human population. A number of years ago Town & Country engaged in a horrible plan to relocate the deer but many perished due to shock (see Grim Harvest). Some municipalities allow hunting using bows to avoid shooting some VP from shooting a lawyer friend in the face. Town & Country, however, does not yet permit hunting. Some are advocating traps where they are instantly killed via a bolt to the brain. Ick. Others say the deer are fine and simply plant other vegetation that deer don’t like, a logical solution in my view.

But I have some other ideas as well. We could start by banning vegetation all together. These people with their 4-bedroom/4-car garage houses on an acre of land like the illusion of country living but we know they really are not. So I say we prohibit them from growing any sort of plants outdoors — at least the ones known to attract deer. Hey, if they don’t like it they can always move much easier than the deer. I don’t think this is going far enough though. Those brick front houses look bad enough as it is but without vegetation it would be a horrible sight. The kids there already suffer from not being able to walk or bike anywhere so they really shouldn’t have to live without hostas and ferns.

I say we hire PGAV or Development Strategies to do a blighting study on the area. We argue that all of Town & Country and everything else in St. Louis County outside of the I-270 highway loop is Ecologically Obsolete. With places like Creve Coeur, Chesterfield and Dardenne Prairie all working on town centers to create walkable destinations we can justify that others are old fashioned and obsolete forms of development. New Urbanism represented by New Town at Charles or even old urbanism represented by original city development as well as the older ring of suburban development such as downtown Ferguson, Maplewood, Webster Groves and such is more ecologically sustainable.

So much like the maps of the 40s & 50s that justified razing entire sections of the city because a percentage of the structures lacked indoor plumbing, we can create maps of the region where the obsolete development pattern is too low to sustain a walk-to town center & transit. Everything below a certain threshold would be targeted. I call it Rural Renewal. St. Louis County would identify areas for land clearance, returning the land to nature with wildlife and vegetation taking over former manicured lawns. The deer population would once again be controlled with bobcats and other natural predators. Of course we’d need to use eminent domain to take all the homes, strip shopping centers and fast food joints. We’d need to clear thousands of acres at a time.

This could all be justified, of course, based economic development for the region. By returning an area to nature we’d force residents into existing areas, assuming we also limited fringe development. People living in an $800K house in Town and Country could do wonders with a $500 house owned by the LRA! Think of the economic benefits of such a renewal plan — one that could easily past muster after the Kelo decision on eminent domain. We’d see a surge in new construction within the I-270 highway loop giving new vitality to both the city and older areas of St. Louis County. Low density areas in the county, but within the I-270 loop, would be targeted for redevelopment to accommodate those displaced for the new rural areas. Rail transit (commuter, light rail) and quality localized service via bus and/or streetcar would be far more feasible than currently. We’d naturally eliminate some of the 91 municipalities in St. Louis County as well as excessive school districts, fire districts and so on. These new large ‘rural renewal’ areas would become wonderful natural areas again — attracting tourists to our area. This could become a model program for other regions to follow.

It would, of course, be difficult on those being displaced but they really shouldn’t stand in the way of progress and that which is beneficial to the larger region. The environment and the economy both outweigh their private land interests. We’ve been through large scale land clearance projects before and the suburbanites always seemed supportive of such efforts.

 

Excise Division to Hold Hearing on Qdoba’s ‘Summer Garden’ & ‘Full Drink’ Request

The Qdoba chain’s latest store in the St. Louis region is open at Loughborough Commons. This afternoon the Excise Division will hold a hearing to determine if they should get a “full drink” liquor license and an outdoor “summer garden” permit. While the poor planning at Loughborough Commons disgusts me and I’m not fond of formula chain places I can’t imagine anyone telling them no at this point.

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The place is done, including the patio. The outdoor area will soon be ideal for watching those folks driving around the new strip center to order their latte at the Starbuck’s drive-thru window.

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What would happen if immediate neighbors all showed up at 2pm protesting the idea of people buying a bud light to go with their burrito? And further yet, drinking said bud on the patio.

So who is the excise division? Well, they are part of the Department of Public Safety — you know that department now headed by Charles Bryson. The DPS website doesn’t tell us much:

Excise Division

6 Employees
Robert W. Kraiberg, Commissioner
314-622-4191
The Excise Division is charged by City Charter with the regulation and control of liquor within the City of St. Louis. The Division is responsible for determining licensing in accordance with the City Liquor code, authorizing issuance of all liquor and non-intoxicating beer licenses, enforcement of City Liquor Laws and Ordinances and initiation of civil action to suspend, cancel or revoke licenses when violations to statutes occur.

That cannot be the extent of information about liquor licenses? So I went back to the main city site and used the search field. This is what I got:
cinliquor

The default is to search stlouis.missouri.org — the “CIN Main Site” or I could search stlcin.missouri.org which is a bit more descriptive. The third option is to the search the internet which we all can easily do from our browsers anyway. I picked the default and basically found press release information — even though press releases are found in the second search option according to the search page. So, I selected the second option and there I found a FAQ page on Liquor licenses. Why this is not linked directly from the Excise Division/Department of Public Safety site I don’t know.

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So we see a full drink license “cannot be issued if the surrounding neighborhood disapproves.” Gee, define surrounding. It seems they have a “formal procedure” that can only be obtained via a phone call from 8-5 Monday through Friday. I’d say secret procedure is more like it.  You know I think this whole web thing might actually take off so it would be OK to invest in getting more and more information available to the public via the internet.

People want solutions so here we go.  Explain the types of licenses in greater detail, linking to the appropriate ordinance(s).  Make the necessary forms available online as editable-PDF documents.  Explain the formal procedure so that everyone applying for a license, as well as neighbors, know the same rules.  List who makes the decision and what their criteria is.   Are these people appointed, elected or staff?

Back to Qdoba for some final thoughts.  A chain place can afford to build out a full establishment on the assumption that nobody will object to their having a liquor license and a patio permit.  I know I certainly don’t object — a few beers will likely make Loughborough Commons more tolerable.  But the local person seeking to open an establishment can’t afford such a proposition.  Can they get necessary approvals before spending their life savings on a building or lease space?  Without the finished space the neighbors might have concerns about what is planned.  Without the liquor and/or patio license up front a lender might see the proposition as too risky.
I may need to visit City Hall Room 416 today at 2pm to find out more.

 

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