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Saaman To Raze Three Large Homes in Central West End

Local Architect Paul Hohmann recently sent me pictures of three homes that Saaman Development LLC plans to raze. These are all located on Washington between Vandeventer and Sarah. Since they are not located within a historic district or preservation review district the Preservation Board did not get any review, the demolition permits have already been issued by the city. All three are located in the 18th Ward where Terry Kennedy is Alderman.

4011 Washington

saaman_wash - 02.jpg

Here was Paul’s take on this property:

4011 is in the worst shape, with the floors sinking down at the center of the house. There is heavy visible deterioration of the joists and wall studs. Its hard to say if this one is too far gone without further investigation. The damage appeared to be concentrated at the center but extensive enough to make the floors unstable.

Re-building would involve extensive temporary shoring, sistering the joists and replacing the beams, re-building portions of the interior walls, not to mention jacking everything back up to level position.

That is a lot of work but we are seeing entirely new wood structures built within old masonry walls so it may be worth considering.

saaman_wash - 04.jpgNot only is the exterior impressive but so is some of the interior woodwork. I just love grand staircases such as this one.

City records show 4011 Washington was built in 1889.

… Continue Reading


I Agree With the Group Trying to Stop the Lindell Tower

That is right, I agree with the group that wants to stop the 26-story Lindell Tower project. No, I don’t want to stop the tower project itself, but I want to stop the city’s process of old codes, aldermanic control, and backroom deals. The tower project, as now proposed, will be a nice addition to both the city skyline as well as the Euclid & Lindell streetscapes (my review). The archaic system by which projects move through the city, however, remains unwelcomed.

Yes, the tower is getting an exception due to its height. Was that exception granted as part of the system that I want to destroy, yes. Does the fact it is being approved through a unsavory process mean it is a bad design, no. The group trying to stop the project claims it is a bad project, that the height is out of scale. While it is true the height does not align with the adjacent buildings that does not mean it is out of scale.

I think this group of well-meaning citizens are fighting the wrong battle. I respect their beliefs and love their passion but I think they’ve latched on to this height thing to the point it is clouding their judgement. I personally love differences of height. Scale and massing are two different subjects entirely. Given all the really atrocious design being plopped down in this city such as Pyramid’s Sullivan Place & the McDonald’s drive-thru, Wohlert’s Magnolia Place where St. Aloysius thankfully still remains today, or Loughborough Commons in Matt Villa’s ward I just can’t expense time debating 26 floors vs. 20 floors or whatever the number may be.

Where I agree is the process, but that is getting lost among the discussions of the specific project and the debate on the number of floors. Relative to the actions I’ve seen from numerous other Aldermen I think Lyda Krewson has done an outstanding job trying to balance the perspectives of her constituents as well as the city at large. Is she part of the system? Absolutely. Does she need to be pressured into changing the system to serve the citizens or be voted out? A resounding yes!

In fact, every single member of the St. Louis Board of Aldermen needs to feel heat over the process of backroom deals, lack of comprehensive planning and zoning dating to the 1940s. That folks, is the battle we all need to be fighting together.

[NOTE I have had to make considerable edits to the recent comments that follow. The reason? Someone posted a comment pretending to be a person oppossing the tower project but I know in fact it was not her. I deleted the pretend comments as well as responses that related to those pretend comments. I understand that sometimes people want to post anonymously but it is quite another to pretend to be someone else. I hated having to delete so many comments but they were not based on a true representation of fact. The offending person, whom I’ve been able to track, has been asked to stop pretending to be someone else. 4/26/06 @ 5pm.

– Steve


New Retail Garden Center Opens in CWE

Please do not buy plants at Home Depot. Preferably, don’t buy anything at Home Depot or the new Lowe’s when it opens in Loughborough Commons. I would be thrilled to see both of these big box chains close their St. Louis area stores due to everyone shopping at locally owned stores instead. But, I’m getting sidetracked on a big box rant. This is a positive post!

Bowood Farms

A very cool looking new garden center has just opened in the West End at 4605 Olive:

Bowood Farms has been growing quality plants since 1989, specializing in perennials, roses, ferns, groundcovers, grasses, shrubs and vines. We have an extensive line of missouri native plants as well. Now we are bringing these quality plants directly to you so please come check out our new St. Louis retail garden center when it opens this spring. Please call for hours and directions. We can also special grow native plants for you landscape projects, please call to inquire.

4605 Olive St.
St. Louis, MO 63108
Telephone: (314)454-6868

This company is making a huge investment in the area. They’ve done a great job with the buildings so far and they are planning more, including a cafe. From hellmuth+bicknese architects:

The project is being designed as a destination point featuring a central street side cafe with a terrace overlooking the plant displays. A high loggia surrounds the open-air displays with an upper gallery beneath a green roof. The cafe itself contains a bar and seating area with 14′ ceilings and views to the plant displays through a green screen archway. The inside seating area is around 860 SF with an outdoor terraced seating area of 1,200 SF.

The cafe are is still under construction but the retail garden center is open for business.

St. Louis City and County are dotted with other locally owned retail garden centers such as Bayer’s on Hampton. I’ve also bought plants at the place on the NE corner of Watson & Fyler (I always forget the name). I think the South Side Garden Center is still open on Cherokee at Compton. Even if you are not in the city you most likely have a locally owned nursery near you home. Some are small but others can be quite big and offer a larger selection than the big box places.

So back to Bowood.

Ghetto barriers in CWEThe building is located on Olive just East of Euclid. But, if you are going there by car don’t take Euclid because you can’t get through. The streets in this area have been blockaded for years.

At one time these concrete barriers may have made sense but today they stand in the way of investment marching through areas where it is needed. A few places, like Bowood, have leapt over the barriers but the area still has the ‘wrong side of the tracks’ feel. Take them away, or at least move them a block or two every few years.

– Steve


Latest Design on Lindell Tower A Major Imporvement

Opus Northwest presented a revised Lindell Tower to a packed room at the Schlafly Library. The public forum was orchestrated by 28th Ward Alderwoman Lyda Krewson. After making a few brief remarks Lyda did a very smart thing, she handed the meeting over to a moderator, long-time West End fixture Rudy Nickens (owner of the former Sunshine Inn).

Opus took the first half hour for presentation and then questions and comments were solicited from the audience. It should be noted that nobody was made to feel unwelcome if they were not a resident of the 28th Ward or this neighborhood.

Revised proposal in April 2006

The best argument against this project is it violates the height requirements of the historic district and therefore requires a variance. The question becomes is this project worthy of a variance on its merits or is this well-funded developer getting special treatment? I happen to think, with the revised design, this project most definitely deserves a variance.

As for the special treatment, perhaps so. I think a better statement would be this developer is wiling to bring in consultants to refine the project as needed and has shown a willingness to respond to prior criticisms. This is much different than recent cases before the Preservation Board where I’ve seen home owners (the small guy) install windows that violate the ordinances without any building permit. If we are going to give out variances I’d much rather them go to a developer that is willing to take the time to work through a designs of a project than to someone that willfully violates the ordinance and then asks for forgiveness afterwards. Sometimes the big guy gets “special treatment” simply because he did things through the right way.
When so many of our local historic district standards were written the idea of lots of new construction just wasn’t considered. At best the standards were trying to prevent the type of new construction that was conceived, fast-food restaurants with drive-thrus, short little ranch houses and strip malls with parking in front. The standards were not written to prevent highly urban forms. As one resident said, we should not keep granting variances. We should have a discussion about what we want and change the codes. Agreed! This really should apply to both historic districts and the overall zoning code.

Opus literally went back to the drawing board with this project. While at first glance it might look similar to the previous version it is a radical departure in my view. First, they’ve done the right thing by place two levels of parking underground. Their architect indicated this reduced the height of the base from roughly 60ft to 42ft. Along Euclid the facade drops again to about 32ft. This relates in scale quite well to the adjacent buildings along Euclid.

They still have about 1.5 garage spaces per unit. I’d like to see this drop to 1.2 or 1.4. One resident suggested to me they sell spaces separately so buyers will feel the true cost of the parking. I like that idea but it might screw up some people’s financing if they chose not to buy a space. Damn conservative bankers…

One of the opponents of the project’s height suggested it be built across Lindell so that it is not in the historic district. So across one street it is OK? Lindell is a diverse corridor.

I do have a few minor issues. I’m not thrilled about having a circle drive for dropping off people as that will require a second curb-cut on Lindell close to Euclid. I also don’t like losing 4-6 on-street parking spaces along Lindell. I mentioned bike racks to Lyda Krewson and Opus’s John Picher. Lighting and paving still need to be worked out as well.

They’ve done an outstanding job with the revisions. If only their Park East Tower had as nice of a base. In a joint report with PubDef click here for more information and photos from the meeting.


Roddy Ready to Hand Over 12 Acres to St. Louis’ Largest Employer

As most everyone knows, BJC Hospital is seeking control of 12 acres of Forest Park located East of Kingshway. Many are content letting BJC lease this land through 2096 in exchange for roughly $2 million a year to help offset maintenance costs in Forest Park. Currently maintenance costs are in the $4 million per year range.

I attended the meeting last night conducted by Alderman Joe Roddy and, as you might expect, have some opinions.

Current Lease

BJC has had a lease on 9 of the 12 acres since 1973 when they constructed an underground parking garage. The current lease payments are only $150,000/year according to the St. Louis Business Journal. Under the 1973 lease, which expires in 2050, BJC is responsible for maintaining the 9 acres of parkland and does not allow them to construct any buildings on the site.

While much of the park looks great the Hudlin Tennis Courts are in poor repair with the exception of two courts that were resurfaced last year. See park photos on Flickr.

Park Usage

At 7pm last night I saw about 25 people in the park. Some were playing racquetball & tennis, one woman was just sitting along on a bench reading a book while several families were at the playground. I asked Ald. Roddy if a usage study had been conducted on the park and he said he was not aware of any. When I parked on Clayton Road last night to visit the park the first I thing I realized is that due to the terrain I couldn’t really tell if anyone was in the park or not. It was not until I was walking through the area that I could see people in all parts of the park.

It seems highly negligent to take away park space without first determining who uses the park, how often and at what times at the day. At the very least you want to know where the users come from so that as alternatives sites for the facilities are considered these could hopefully continue to serve the existing user base.

Clayton Road

While I have zero proof it is my suspicion that BJC’s ultimate goal is to close Clayton Road West of Euclid Ave. If done, this would create a very large parcel for them to build on. Ald. Roddy said closing Clayton Road was not part of the plan and that doing so would require amending the Forest Park Master Plan again. Pressing the issue he conceded that, in the future, that was entirely possible.

Closing Clayton Road would give BJC about 13 acres (assuming 1 acre for the current road right-of-way) in this area. I can just hear it now, “In looking at our logistical needs to serve our patients we’ve determined we need to close Clayton Road.” Then I can hear Ald. Roddy like he did last night, “BJC is the area’s largest employer.” Translation: what BJC wants, BJC gets.

If this goes forward I’d like to see language that prevents the closing of Clayton Road during the duration of the lease. Ironclad off the table language that a lawyer can’t get around in the future.

The Money

Wow, BJC to cover nearly half of the maintenance of Forest Park. Sounds like a good deal. But what will the maintenance costs be in 20 years? Or fifty years? Ninety years is a very long commitment. Citizens of St. Louis that are not even born yet will have to deal with the end of this lease. Does it renew automatically? I say the lease payments need to keep pace with inflation or the cost of park maintenance. In 2096 $2 million will probably just buy you a starter home.

The Money Part II

Through a 1/10th cent sales tax in St. Louis City, St. Louis County and St. Charles County we’ve funded the Great Rivers Greenway District to the tune of about $10 million annually:

Great Rivers Greenway work for a clean, green, connected St. Louis region. To achieve its mission, the district is developing The River Ring, an interconnected system of greenways, parks and trails. Through the creation of The River Ring, Great Rivers Greenway will provide economic, environmental and social benefits across St. Louis City, St. Louis County and St. Charles County.

Big plans are underway to create the Chouteau Greenway project that will connect Forest Park to the riverfront. With $10 million annually you’ve got to get it spent right? So, the City of St. Louis is struggling to maintain its existing park lands and we are looking to create more green space we can’t afford to maintain? Someone please tell me the fiscal logic in all this.

The Process

Ald. Roddy said that BJC’s lawyers have been working on this for about a year. We get weeks to react. You may have read that the Forest Park Southeast Development Corporation, partially funded by BJC, had a letter of support for BJC taking this land for development. Well, it turns out that isn’t exactly true. Forest Park Forever and BJC asked FPSEDC Executive Director Irving Blue penned the letter of support without the consent of the organization’s board of directors. Neighborhood residents at the meeting were visibly and vocally upset.

Blue’s answer was that he had to respond quickly and did not have a board meeting scheduled until next month. How very convenient. Also convenient was the fact Ald. Roddy didn’t bring any of the drawings or maps of the area due to the short notice. I’ve been to enough of these meetings now that I think the Board of Aldermen have a secret manual on manipulating citizens on done deals. It might go something like this:

Step 1 – Never bring any documentation to a meeting since you don’t want them to actually know anything concrete about the project.

Step 2 – Apologize at length about not having materials. Good reasons for not having them are coming from another meeting, they are still being finished for a future meeting, or it was just short notice you didn’t get them together.

Step 3 – Let them have their say. Be sure to listen and nod. Go along with what they say but offer a counterpoint that supports the deal. Never, under any circumstances, let them know the deal is done and their input doesn’t really matter to the final outcome. See Step 4 for more help in this direction.

Step 4 – Since the basic deal is already done your job at this point is to act important and go to bat for your constituents by “leveraging” the deal. Get them to make a list of trivial concessions that won’t blow the done deal. Don’t promise anything but that you’ll do your best for the ward. Make it sound difficult even though you know this is easy since this low-hanging fruit stuff has already been assumed as part of the PR strategy.

Step 5 – If anyone brings up valid reasons why the deal can’t or shouldn’t be done go back to things like it is hard to tell the Mayor and others no at this point in the process or mention how important they are to the city. Make sure the individual citizen feels small relative to the project.

Next Steps

The Forest Park Advisory Board is meeting next Thursday afternoon at the History Museum at 4:30pm to consider amending the Forest Park Master Plan. I’m not certain if public input will be taken. The Planning Commission will hold a public hearing on amendments to the Forest Park Master Plan as well as the City’s Strategic Land Use Plan. The hearing, where the public may offer input, will be May 3, 2006 at 5:30pm in room 208 of City Hall (see public notice).

What I’d Like To See Happen

The lawyers have had a year to get everything in place and now it is rush, rush rush. While I’d prefer the city to tell BJC a big firm “NO” I’m willing to give this some serious thought. Say about a year? I want BJC to fund an independent usage study of the park space so that we all know how and when his park area is being used. The Forest Park Advisory Board and the Planning Commission need to tell BJC, “we’ll let you know.”

– Steve