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Gateway Cup Bicycle Races Continue Throughout the Holiday Weekend

September 2, 2007 Bicycling, Events/Meetings 2 Comments

Many have wondered what it takes to get me to stop bitching about the poor job our leaders are doing guiding the city and region. Well, hundreds of individuals from all over the country racing through the streets on bicycles pretty much does the trick.


Above, the final run to the finish line in the men’s pro race downtown on Saturday September 1st. The racing continues today on The Hill and Monday in the Delmar Loop. Click here for more information on times and exact routes. I’ll have a video compilation of all four races on Tuesday.


Alderwoman Argues Against Modern Zoning, Prefers Piecemeal Approach

Last night I attended the forum regarding the state-wide tax bill and the likely beneficiary, Paul McKee (see post about event). As at prior events, the Alderpersons continue to talk about plans — community driven plans and Paul McKee’s secret plan. Ald Davis indicated a million bucks was spent on a plan(s) in the 19th ward to which she was recently elected. Davis indicated they involved “stakeholders to make sure that we knew what everyone wanted, how that community was going to look, we paid for the best technical assistance, and that plan was approved and is a part of the development process with SLDC, but you know something, somebody made a decision that it didn’t matter.” So on one hand they are saying we’ve spent time and money listening to the community and determining what is desired yet at the same time bitching because we don’t know what McKee’s plan is about.

During the question and answer portion, following the grand standing, I had to bring up the issue of these plans. Basically a bunch of time and money is spent in meetings, a document is created, it is adopted by the Planning Commission and Board of Aldermen and sometimes it gets referenced during negotiations with developers. However, the existing zoning for an area prior to a plan remains the only legal requirement. Given how completely out of date our zoning code really is, nearly everything now requires a variance. This is how aldermen derive any sense of power!

Below is a short video clip with my question and a response by 5th Ward Alderwoman April Ford-Griffin. My apologies for the video quality — you get a nice view of my shorts pocket while I am asking the question. Below the video is the transcript of my question and her response.


My name is Steve Patterson and I am a former resident of the 5th Ward, actually in the early nineties. And my question to the two aldermen is…one I am glad that you’ve done plans in the neighborhoods but unfortunately neither one of those plans has any teeth to them, uh, the zoning has not been changed and the 5th ward plan was adopted in 2002 called for some zoning changes to give the plan some teeth of law — right now the Board of Adjustment and the Planning Commission actually, uh, ignore the plans when they are making decisions on variances and things. So my question is when do you plan to introduce legislation to change the zoning?


Actually, there have been lots of zoning changes. You don’t go in and change the zoning of the whole ward because my plan for the 5th ward that we have in place is not so specific. One thing about a plan you have to leave some flexibility. So there is flexibility where it is not so specific where you come in and say on this block right here in the 1500 block of Hebert its got to have homes that they’ve got to look like this. So you have to leave some flexibility and at the Board of Aldermen we always have the power to change zoning. So when this happens is…as you see the development boards and you see the different things that have happened, most of those had to have some type of zoning changes, street changes, name changes, just you go down the list of changes. Also, that is the only thing that makes most of the developers come and talk to us. If we did everything that it took for the development they wouldn’t have any reason to come and talk to us. Once we talk about a development, once they have shown us what they do, once they talk about minority participation, once they talk about inclusion, once they talk about jobs, and all the other things that I make sure I am committed to asking them. And it seems like something that would be good for us and falls within the realm of the plan. and then we talk about doing the things that they need. but you’d be shocked at how many people go out here and spend money on doing things then call us and say ‘oh I’m gunna put a such and such at this address.’ And they only call because they didn’t have the zoning and zoning says you need the support from the alderperson. So if we went out there and tried to guess what would go on every block and zoned it [???] they wouldn’t have to come to us. Therefore we would not be able to even know what they are doing before they’re doing, which not all of it has been good for us. So actually that is another way to get them to come and talk to us, come to the community meeting and present to us. so we don’t want to go and just do a flat blanket of zoning where people are [???] if they a number of other things that we could go out there and do tomorrow we wait until we see the project and make sure that it is what we want then we do the things that are specific that is required for that very project and for that property to happen.

I was completely dumbfounded as were others. I mean, I’ve known this is the twisted control view of zoning that they had — I just never thought I’d actually get one of them on video espousing as much. Ald. Marlene Davis was behind Ald Ford-Griffin nodding her head in agreement.

So here is their logic:

1) Spent time and money on a feel-good community plan.

2) Get said plan “adopted”. Place plan on shelf, dust off when necessary.

3) Use zoning power to be included in development process.
4) Ignore that someone could buy property and build new construction based on existing and outdated zoning — thus bypassing plan.

I don’t want to get into a Zoning 101 lecture but what was described is exactly the opposite of what we should be doing. Zoning is a very powerful too — a police power — that cities have to set forth what the community wants. Zoning controls many aspects of development on private land such as the building’s relationship with the street and adjacent properties, heights, parking, and so on. Use zoning, which we still have, refers to the zoning focusing on the specific uses to be contained within a structure (residential, retail, industrial, etc…) whereas form-based zoning has a primary focus of looking at the building form while accepting the internal use might vary. For example, I don’t really care if a car dealership exists in a commercial zone if the form based code calls for 3-story buildings with street-level storefront windows and all surface/garage parking hidden in back. Thus, the form of the building is more critical than the use in this case. Hybrid variants exist.
Creating a community plan without going forward with zoning changes to uniformly enforce the desired affect is a useless exercise. So when these alderwoman get up and complain about not knowing McKee’s plan for their area I have no sympathy in that regard. They have the ability to create a solid uniform guide via zoning for these huge swaths of land. They could actually provide some real leadership on envisioning what is to happen in their wards. But instead they are doing development St. Louis style — sitting back and waiting for the developer to knock on their door and ask for a letter to grant a variance. Or maybe they are not sitting back, they are going out and finding developers but the visioning for the area is still done on a project by project basis.

Zoning is the most powerful tool cities have to determine the outcome of development within their jurisdiction. Throughout the city this power has been parceled out to 28 fiefdoms. As long as our old zoning code remains in place our elected representatives will continue to advocate a piecemeal approach based on the desires of developers.


McKee Land Banking Controversy Continues with Forum Tonight at Vashon HS

The hot topic of developer Paul McKee and his large land holdings, many occupied by crumbling buildings, continues tonight:

The neighborhood impact of vacant properties and rebuilding our community

A public forum will be held in the auditorium of Vashon High School at 3035 Cass Avenue on Thursday, August 30th at 6 p.m.. The forum is co-sponsored by Alderwoman April Ford-Griffin (Ward 5), Alderwoman Marlene Davis (Ward 19), Rep. Jamilah Nasheed (District 60) and Rep. Jeanette Mott Oxford (District 59).

This forum will be an opportunity for residents, business owners, developers, neighborhood stabilization officers and other city services workers, and state and local elected officials to come together to discuss development in the community. Topics will include:
• concerns over large numbers of vacant buildings and parcels being held by developers, including the reported 40 acres owned by Paul McKee
• ways area residents can influence state and local laws and policies, including the “distressed areas land assemblage tax credit” being considered in Special Session by the General Assembly
• and ways to make each block a safer and more pleasant place to live

The goals of the evening are:

1) To give area residents an opportunity to voice their concerns
2) To make progress toward a consensus on how to improve neighborhood safety, stimulate the local economy, and rebuild the community

It will be interesting to hear the perspectives of a broad range of those in the area, although I doubt those that have sold out to McKee will be there to speak in favor. Doubtful to is someone from the Mayor’s office speaking on behalf of their support of McKee’s secret plan. I hope that copies of the 5th Ward plan are available to the public at this meeting. If not, you can read it online.

Meanwhile, from an article in the Riverfront Times this week:

McKee’s purchases don’t make up a single, contiguous tract, but most are adjacent to lots owned by the city’s Land Reutilization Authority (LRA), an agency that owns thousands of vacant buildings and lots. In one instance, McKee’s VHS Partners owns the northeast and southeast corners of Cass and Grand avenues, a busy intersection with a bus stop. The LRA owns the northwest corner. Farther north, different McKee-backed entities and the LRA own all but one sliver of a lot in the vacant northeast block of Jefferson and St. Louis avenues.

Given the vast quantities of land the city owns via the LRA, I’d say it would be rather hard for anyone to buy property in this area not adjacent to LRA property.


Collinsville Planning Commission Rules Against Commercial Zoning on Disputed Property

Last April I brought I did a post on an interesting dispute in Collinsville IL. In short, a developer bough a corner parcel that was a house at the entrance to a subdivision with one side of the land on an increasingly commercial street. At the time a city zoning map had apparently incorrectly noted the parcel as zoned commercial when it in fact remained residentially zoned. The developer wanted the zoning changed to commercial so they could build their planned retail store while the residents argued they did not want the edge & entrance of their residential area invaded in such a manner.


The house purchased by the developer actually occupies two original residential building lots. The developer wanted to raze the existing structure. As you can see from the image above, the area is quite commercial but not in the immediate vicinity of that parcel. The Planning Commission ruled in favor of the residents at their long meeting last night. I was unable to attend but Diane Meyer has the low down at Respublica.   The next step is the City Council.


Halliday St. Illegal Parking Pad Fiasco Continues

IMG_4740.JPG Third time is a charm, so goes the old saying. Well, for the third time now the unapproved parking 4-car parking lot at a condo project in Tower Grove East is back on the agenda for the Board of Adjustment. Eventually the neighbors will capitulate on the issue and the developer and alderman will have their way. But as I’ve said before, this really is a bigger issue than simply this single block of Halliday.

Ald. Conway, the son of a former one-term Mayor (wiki), is trying to convince the public this is a rare situation and should be allowed to remain. After all, he had to help shut down the drugs and prostitution that once existed in the building. Yes folks, whatever you do, make sure that drugs and prostitution do not come into your neighborhood for the obvious reasons but also because they will forever be used to justify bad design decisions in the future. The choices otherwise, so I am told, are either a big ass parking pad for condo dwellers’ cars or section 8 housing. In St. Louis politics, a middle ground does not seem to exist.

But could this situation occur again? Well yes, and very nearby also in the 8th ward.


This wonderful 1925 apartment building located at Magnolia & Thurman contains, per city records, 38 apartments. To the back is the Bi-State bus loop property. This building has only the land it sits on.


The front interior court is a wonderful space.


Above: Stepping back a bit we see the interior court and the small front lawn between the building and sidewalk.


Looking west we see how the line of buildings is maintained down the Magnolia with Tower Grove Park on the left.

All I know about this project is that it is to be condos. I don’t have a clue who the developer is, how many units they plan or how parking will be accommodated. I do know it is also in the 8th ward where Ald. Conway might rationalize that paving this front yard might be a good solution. Again, I don’t know the specific plans for this project — I am simply using it to illustrate that we have numerous buildings that do not have extra land for off-street car storage.

We must decide, as a city and not block by block, if we are going to renovate dense urban buildings such as these despite lack of parking. To me this location is an ideal place to live — the park is stunning, bus routes are convenient, Shaw is a great neighborhood, the Botanical Gardens are close, shopping on Grand and Morganford is an easy bike ride away. On-street parking is adequate.

Getting back to Halliday. The immediate neighbors have made it clear — the front yard parking lot needs to go. The Tower Grove East neighborhood has made it clear — the front yard parking lot needs to go. Other city residents, such as myself and many of you have made it clear — the front yard parking lot needs to go. The solution, worked out over a month ago, would provide angled on-street parking — a good solution for a quiet tree-lined residential street.

Of course, the Alderman is trying to make that complicated. Rather than set up a permit-only parking area for the new condo residents he has actually proposed deeding a portion of the public street to the condo owners for their parking! Uh, hello, the public street is just that — public! I don’t give a sh*t if the condo owners will sue the developer for promising parking — he should not have made promises he could not keep. We simply can’t have developers running around promising parking they don’t have or tax abatement that was never approved and then change the rules after the fact to keep them from having made false statements (the tax abatement is just an example from other projects, that is not an issue in this case).

While I feel for the owners of the newly developed condos, I hope you have good documentation on the parking promise as well as a good lawyer. To potential buyers out there — this is a good example of why you need a REALTOR® when purchasing property — we help look out for issues such as this and ask for proof of future promises (such as evidence that tax abatement has been applied for and is in process). OK, the real estate sales pitch is over.

One of the big obstacles in development projects is getting financing without dedicated off-street parking. I’ve had numerous developers tell me it is an absolute must. The developers often are open to having less than one space per unit, knowing they’ll have sales/leases to people that take transit, walk, bike or simply don’t mind leaving their car on the street but it is the banking industry in St. Louis that requires a high level of parking. And here we enter the vicious circle: we are not going to have a public that uses the car less and other modes more until we live in more dense areas where it is forced by circumstances (lack of parking) or cost. On the other hand, we are not going to get this more dense development until we have a public that increasingly uses other modes besides the car. Bankers need to see more people with fewer cars to give them the confidence to lend on a project with few to zero parking spaces and people need to have good housing choices near convenient and frequent transit to comfortably live without a car. The solution is we’ve got to meet in the middle — people need to accept they may have to park their car on the street and bankers will need to be open to looking at walk-ability and access to transit when evaluating proposed projects. We simply cannot let a lack of off-street parking halt all the good renovation work happening throughout the city.

The Halliday St. parking lot is back on the Board of Adjustment agenda for Wednesday August 29, 2007 at 1pm. Room 208 of City Hall. For those keeping count at home, this is the third time on their agenda.

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