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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


    Proposed CWE Tower Dividing Area Residents

    A group from the Urban St. Louis discussion forums are gathering this weekend to counter the recent efforts of a group opposing a new high-rise residential tower. Here is the notice added in the comments to a prior post:

    NOTICE: A small but fierce coalition is holding pro-density, pro-city meeting in support of a controversial condo tower that is proposed for the corner of Lindell & Euclid in the CWE.

    WHEN: Sunday, Feb. 26, 1:00pm

    WHERE: The Grind Coffeehouse, 56 Maryland Plaza.

    WHO: Anyone who is sick of seeing underutilized land sit and wither in high-profile sections of our grand city. The West End Word will be there to cover the meeting, as well as Alderwoman Lyda Krewson. Be there!

    In November I did an article in the West End Word on this very proposed tower. At that time my basic argument was the height didn’t matter as much as the base:

    The first 30 feet of building height adjacent to sidewalks should be active. We’ll call this the pedestrian zone – the portion of the building perceived by a person walking by. This might take the form of multiple-level retail space such as often employed by the likes of Urban Outfitters. It might take the form of two-story residential units over one floor of retail. Second- and third-floor balconies with their associated plants and umbrellas do wonders for visually animating a streetscape.

    Opponents of the high-rise are objecting solely on its height. One wonders if it met the hight requirement of the local historic standards if they even care about other, more important, design issues. The pro-tower supports, in the same vein, seem to be supportive without any caveats for good street-level design.

    I’m planning to attend the meeting on Sunday, I think it promises to be interesting at the very least. I wonder if Mike Owens will be covering this on the news?

    – Steve


    Clang, clang, clang went the trolley


    Twenty years from now December 5th, 2005, will be regarded as a significant date in the history of the St. Louis region. Why you ask? Today the ribbon was cut to open two restored trolley cars to the public. We are still a long way from the ridding the trolley cars from the History Museum to the U-City City Hall but this was an important next step.

    Cutting the ribbon from left to right is Kim Tucci, Joe Edwards, Desmond Lee, St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay, St. Louis County Executive Charles Dooley, and University City Mayor Joseph Adams.

    Earlier today, generous St. Louisan Desmond Lee contributed $25,000 toward the $32 million dollar project.

    I’m not going to go into all the details of the project here. You can read more from Citizens for Modern Transit, Trolleys To Go, and Heritage Trolley.

    What I will say is this cannot come soon enough!

    … Continue Reading


    West End Word Column Available Online

    November 10, 2005 Books, Central West End Comments Off on West End Word Column Available Online

    If you missed my column in last week’s West End Word don’t worry, it is now available online. Here is a quote:

    The debate over the size of the new fountain for Maryland Plaza was heated, but it pales in comparison to the emotions raised by the proposition of more residential high-rise towers in the Central West End. At the heart of the controversy is the proposed Lindell Condominiums at 4643 Lindell Blvd. at Euclid.

    Check it out here and post your thoughts below and/or send your comments to the editor of the West End Word.

    – Steve