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Eminent Domain for Private Use Likely in Hadley Township

This is a first for me, I’m running a guest column. Scott Rendall wanted to tell the following story which relates to my prior post on the Hadley Township area in Richmond Heights:

Joann Bailey lives with her husband one block east of Hanley Rd. in the Hadley Township area, just as she has done since 1964. A retired accountant, she loves where she lives, she loves her modest but well kept and attractive home, she desperately wants to stay, but she may be forced to leave.

Her front window displays a sign reading “Stop Eminent Domain Abuse”, as do the homes of a few other neighbors on her street. But when the Richmond Heights City Council voted to approve the redevelopment of the entire Hadley Township area on Monday, it was clear that if Mrs. Bailey and her neighbors don’t come to an agreement with the developer, the City will use Eminent Domain to force them off their property so that the 60-acre development can move forward.

“Money is not what I want.” says Bailey, “Money is not the issue over my home.” But if the City of Richmond Heights has their way, Bailey’s home will be removed to make room for a parking lot, while others in her neighborhood will have their homes removed to make room for… more expensive, privately owned homes.

The Castle Coalition, a non-profit organization that helps private landowners fight when Cities attempt to use eminent domain to acquire property for other private uses, says there have been more than 10,000 examples of these cases nationwide in just the last five years. The Hadley Township area fits the pattern of many of these land-grabs. The area is one of the first suburban areas in St. Louis developed by African Americans. Indeed, they paid for the original construction of the streets in the neighborhood. The 2000 census indicates that more than ½ of the 1,300 African Americans in Richmond Heights (total pop. 9,800) live in the Hadley Township area. It is an historically African American neighborhood, and today, the property values, or at least the current sale value of the homes, are a small fraction of those neighborhoods around it, where homes go for $130 – 300 K. The homes themselves may not be particularly valuable, but the property is a in a prime location for large scale retail development: Adjacent to the 40/Hanley interchange, across the street from recently built Best Buy, Sports Authority, and Home Depot stores, and right next to the year-old THF developed Wal-Mart /Sam’s Club monstrosity.

Eyed by developers for nearly a decade, THF now owns roughly 24 of the 200 odd properties in the area. Selling to a home-buyer in the area has been impossible for years now as rumors and proposals have swirled around the area. City Council Member Lillian Underwood, who lives in the area herself, has acquired 8 properties. She recused herself from voting, or commenting on the proposals, due to the conflict of interest. But she also told Bailey, who is her neighbor, that she is ‘embarrassed’ of the area, and ‘wants to see it torn down.’ Underwood now stands to make a small fortune if the City can force out the few homeowners who are still resisting moving out.

The City, as recently as a year ago, told Bailey that she would not be asked to leave her home. Since then, Bailey has paid for a new 30-year roof and re-paved her driveway. Recently the City and Developers have been assuring Bailey and other residents that they will be given first crack, and pre-purchase discounts, on the new $200 – 250K homes. But as retirees, Bailey and her husband live on fixed incomes, (as do some of their neighbors) and are concerned they won’t be able to afford the annual property taxes. Bailey says, “We don’t want to give it up, where are we going to find what we have here?”

Missouri Constitution Bill of Rights Section 28 states: That private property shall not be taken for private use with or without compensation, unless by consent of the owner, except for private ways of necessity, and except for drains and ditches across the lands of others for agricultural and sanitary purposes, in the manner prescribed by law; and that when an attempt is made to take private property for a use alleged to be public, the question whether the contemplated use be public shall be judicially determined without regard to any legislative declaration that the use is public.

Following the U.S. Supreme Courts decision in Kelo vs. City of New London, Governor Matt Blunt established a commission to study new guidelines for use of eminent domain. The commission delivered a report in December that recommended that “The public benefits of economic development, including an increase in tax base, tax revenues, employment, or general economic health, standing alone, shall not constitute a public use.” It is likely that legislation that follows these guidelines will be enacted in August of this year.

Bailey spoke to the City Council and assembled citizens at the Monday meeting before the vote was taken. She pointed out that Maplewood, a city with significant fiscal problems, had just passed an ordinance that prevents the use of eminent domain for private use. She begged the City Council not to take her home. The Council said nothing. Less than an hour later, they voted to approve the Michelson development.

The Michelson plan leaves a few homes which are east of a creek, the Conrad proposal had an option of leaving the same homes. I certainly feel for people that thought they could enjoy retirement in their homes to find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time.

– Steve


Richmond Heights City Council Supports More Sprawl

Monday evening the Richmond Heights City Council selected the worst of three proposals for the area being called Hadley Township. In a prior post I reviewed the three proposals and I considered the ‘new urbanist’ proposal from Conrad Properties as the best of the lot. Even my strong dislike for THF Realty didn’t stop me from thinking their proposal was second.

The site plan (108K PDF) is the flawed start of the Michelson/Heine-Croghan proposal that was selected. Let’s start at the corner of Dale Avenue and Hanley Road. The buildings on either side are supposed to form a “gateway” to Richmond Heights. The color rendering on their proposal shows a picturesque sidewalk scene but reality will be quite different. As long as Hanley remains a major street without calming methods such as on-street parking it will no be a street to walk on. Dale has more potential but the M/H-C proposal doesn’t appear to include any on-street parking either. Furthermore, the building that is to form this gateway is single-story with a predictable clock tower to add some visual height.

While I appreciate the efforts to retain some existing housing they’ve done so by cutting these houses off from the new development. This results in a bunch of cul-de-sacs where the streets now cross the creek. We should be connecting, not separating.

Retail ranges from a big box to a medium box to a strip center. Yawn. I guess we didn’t quite get enough of this mix from THF’s sprawl center to the south or the waste of land off Eager to the west. But look at what appears to be the sidewalk in front of the big box, it becomes a service drive behind the medium box and strip center.

Their proposal calls for a hotel in the exact same corner that the THF proposal did. Surprise, right by the highway. Like the THF proposal, it is unlikely that a hotel guest will be able to walk along sidewalks to a nearby restaurant.

The numbers tell the real story. The selected proposal has a total of 156 residential units with all but 16 of those as either attached or detached single-family. The THF proposal had total of 637 residential units (136 single-family detached, 373 condos and 128 apartments). Not bad. The Conrad proposal topped all with 850 total residential units (50 single family detached, 350 single family attached, 350 condos and 100 apartments). Richmond Heights was afraid of urban density.

But it is the density of Conrad’s or THF’s proposals that would have created a walkable neighborhood and much more tax base. The Conrad proposal called for the most public assistance in total dollars but theirs was the least as a percentage of the total project cost ($58-$68 million, 16-19%). By contrast, the Michelson/Heine-Croghan proposal is seeking $47 million in assistance which is 28% of their proposal. The tax payers in Richmond Heights are getting taken!

Richmond Heights had a chance to create a spectacular area but they have instead settled for low density mediocrity.

– Steve

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Conrad is Best Team to Redevelop Richmond Height’s Hadley Township

This post will cover a lot of ground including mass transit, pedestrian connections, politics, historic preservation, suburban sprawl and of course; eminent domain. But I’ve given away the conclusion in the headline. Of the proposals presented at last night’s meeting in Richmond Heights on redeveloping a part of that suburb known as Hadley Township, the Conrad team was by far the best.

THF, which I despise, actually had a much better proposal than I would have anticipated. The architecture firm of Heine-Croghan, which had a proposal as a developer, showed a lack of experience doing urban planning. Mills Properties, that had submitted a fourth proposal, was not at the meeting because apparently their approach wasn’t comprehensive enough to be compared to the others. Translated that means it didn’t take enough people’s homes to be considered by Richmond Heights.

From the literature I picked up at the meeting it seems that a fifth proposal, not on Richmond Heights’ website, was received. It was from QuikTrip, the Walgreen’s of gas stations. Maybe they wanted to do the world’s largest gas station comprising all 57 acres? Just imagine the number of pumps? People with Hummers might have to fill up again once they got to the other side of the QuikTrip.

Before I get into looking at the proposals for the area I want to talk about the area and how it got to this point. To the North is the highway that is about to get rebuilt. To the East a stable neighborhood. To the South the THF Realty monstrosity known as Maplewood Commons and to the West, across Hanley, the most f*cked up collection of strip malls, big boxes and offices that are sadly all relatively new. Among them is a new MetroLink light rail station that will be opening late this year.

The area in question was, at one time, a very stable and middle class African-American neighborhood. But because of the prime location speculators have been buying up properties for years. One was the aforementioned Mills Properties. The City of Richmond Heights has also acquired a number of properties within the area. The Richmond Heights Public Works department is located within the redevelopment area as are some other offices for the municipality. In short, the area suffers from being too well located to remain a nice middle class neighborhood.

In other similar areas, say Olivette just North of the tony suburb of Ladue, middle class houses were bought and razed for larger homes. But this didn’t happen here. I’m not sure if the speculators knew the land would be worth more if they could turn it into more strip malls or if it was because of the racial makeup of the neighborhood that they thought they couldn’t sell new in-fill houses to the white masses. Either way it has put these people’s neighborhood in the middle of a real estate game where they are simply the pawns. Yet as more and more speculators have bought property in the area it makes it harder and harder to sell your place to a new owner-occupant. The self-fulfiling downward spiral begins with the remaining home owners left realizing they will be forced to leave their family homes.

… Continue Reading


THF’s Bornstein Blames Tenants for Lack of Bike Parking

At a public meeting in Richmond Heights tonight I had a chance to talk with THF Realty’s Alan Bornstein. I waited until after all the residents got through trying to find out what they will be paid for their family homes before I took my turn.

I am biased. I like good urban design and despise the dreck that THF builds throughout our region and others. I especially hate the recently completed big box development in Maplewood that lacks any bike parking even though it is surrounded by residential neighborhoods. As a kid I would often bike to nearby stores (often to buy model cars — oh the irony).

Mr. Bornstein is an avid cyclist.

He and/or THF actually give thousands of dollars every year to cycling causes. However, when it comes to providing physical environments that encourage bicycling or walking we see nothing but accommodations for cars. In their Maplewood project you’ll see a sidewalk here and there but they don’t connect the dots. Two new restaurants are opening this week yet you can’t walk there unless you are willing to walk through the project’s drives and parking lots. So sad that lots of people lost their homes in the interest of the public good and yet we can’t even walk from place to place on a sidewalk or lock a bike to a bike rack while dining or shopping. It is sad that this is what passes for development now and even sadder that we don’t demand better.

I asked Mr. Bornstein why the Maplewood project had no bike parking and he said it wasn’t in the tenant’s program. The project wasn’t mixed use and the tenants didn’t call for parking therefore it was not a consideration. That was the best he could do? I gave him a condensed lecture on why they need to learn about connecting places and how they should perhaps read a book on New Urbanism or check out the Project for Public Spaces. He wasn’t interested. It felt good to give him a piece of my mind.

I’m sure I could have approached him differently and had a pleasant conversation that would have ended with a brush off. He makes millions doing what they do, working for Wal-Mart heir Stan Kronke building sprawling parking lots next to obsolete big boxes. I’m not going to change his mind with a rational argument about good urban design. He knows better designs exists. His firm caters to the big tenants. It is what they do.

THF Realty shouldn’t be allowed to put up a pup tent anywhere much less be given redevelopment rights that include the power of eminent domain.

– Steve


Public Meeting Tonight on Redevelopment Proposals in Richmond Heights


The City of Richmond Heights is holding at meeting this evening to show proposals for a redevelopment area called Hadley Township. The meeting will be held at The Heights on Dale Avenue from 7pm to 9pm.

The site is just North of the big box mess on Hanley created by THF Realty. Four proposals for this area were submitted to Richmond Heights, including one by THF Realty.

I’ve downloaded all four proposals but haven’t had a chance to review them in detail. I plan to stop by the meeting tonight to see them in person.

At first glance we see lower income housing being marked for replacement while across the highway multi-million dollar mansions have little to fear. The more money you have the less likely you are to lose your home to redevelopment proposals.

Click here to see more information on the project including all four proposals.

– Steve