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Crappy Little Commercial Boxes Rarely Go Away

Buildings are largely permanent structures, although a demolition crew can change that quickly. Much of what we build stays with us for decades. Lowest common denominator auto centric structures, such as gas stations, seem to live on forever.

Early gas stations of the 1920s were small, much closer to the sidewalk and had details similar to housing of the day. Today these are often viewed as charming.

ABOVE: The former QT on Gravois in the Bevo area is something new, not sure what though.

Get off the bus or just walk down the sidewalk this spot is an urban void. What are the hours of this business? A menu? Heck, how do I even get to the front door?

ABOVE: The former convenience store structure built in 1991 is set far back from the sidewalk unlike adjacent properties.

Check out the aerial on Google Maps here to see how this is a radical departure from the long-established commercial district. This never should’ve been built 21 years ago. Too late for Bevo but we must prevent further such atrocities to happen to our urban commercial districts.

Hopefully I’ll see the day a new 2-3 story commercial building is built, up to the sidewalk, on this site.

— Steve Patterson


Conditional Use Hearing Today For Blast Fitness In Jefferson Commons

October 18, 2012 Featured, South City, Zoning 11 Comments

In addition to a new Save-a-Lot the former Foodland site, now known as Jefferson Commons, will have a Blast Fitness. Well, assuming it receives conditional use approval from the Board of Public Service today.

ABOVE: Work has started on Jefferson Commons, a public notice of a zoning hearing is posted
ABOVE: Hearing is this morning regarding zoning.

A hearing is required? To understand why we have to look at the absurdity known as use-based zoning,  in this case our G (Local Commercial and Office) zone in Title 26 of our city ordinances:

Chapter 26.44 – G Local Commercial and Office District


  • 26.44.010 District regulations.
  • 26.44.015 Purposes.
  • 26.44.020 Use regulations.
  • 26.44.025 Conditional uses.
  • 26.44.030 Parking and loading regulations.
  • 26.44.040 Specific parking and loading regulations.
  • 26.44.050 Height regulations.
  • 26.44.060 Area dwellings.
  • 26.44.070 Front yard–Nondwellings.
  • 26.44.080 Side yard–Nondwellings.

26.44.010 District regulations.

The regulations set forth in this chapter or set forth elsewhere in the zoning code and referred to in this chapter are the district regulations in the G local commercial and office district.

(Ord. 59979 § 12 (part), 1986.)

26.44.015 Purposes. 

The purpose of the G local commercial and office district is to establish and preserve areas that accommodate a wide range of businesses catering to the personal and home needs of the general public and to provide for employment activity and service to the public which does not detract from nearby residential uses.

(Ord. 59979 § 12 (part), 1986.)

26.44.020 Use regulations.

A building or premises shall be used only for the following purposes:

  • A. Any use permitted in the F neighborhood commercial district;
  • B. Bars and taverns;
  • C. Dyeing and cleaning works;
  • D. Laundries;
  • E. Livery stables and riding academies;
  • F. Milk distributing and bottling plants;
  • G. Package liquor stores;
  • H. Printing shops;
  • I. Restaurants other than carry-out restaurants that operate as described in Section 26.40.026B provided that carry-out restaurants that meet the site requirements specified in Section 20.40.026B2 shall be permitted;
  • J. Telephone, outdoor pay, if the proposed telephone is not located on a lot that is located contiguous with or directly across a street, alley, public or private easement from a dwelling district;
  • K. Tinsmith or sheet metal shops;
  • L. Wholesale business;
  • M. Accessory structures and uses customarily incidental to any of the above uses;
  • N. Temporary buildings for use incident to construction work, which buildings shall be removed upon the completion or abandonment of the construction;
  • O. Any permitted use exceeding seven thousand (7,000) square feet provided it is not within a commercial structure to be erected, enlarged, structurally altered or moved.

(Ord. 64167 § 4, 1997: Ord. 59979 § 12 (part), 1986.) 

26.44.025 Conditional uses.

The following conditional uses may be allowed in the G local commercial and office district, subject to the provisions of Section 26.80.010:

  • A. Any use eligible to be a conditional use in the F neighborhood commercial district;
  • B. Commercial use similar to those permitted in Section 26.44.020;
  • C. Any permitted use which exceeds seven thousand (7,000) square feet within a commercial structure to be erected, enlarged, structurally altered or moved;
  • D. Any permitted or conditional use which utilizes a sales or service window or facility for customers who are in cars except those carry-out restaurants permitted in Section 26.44.020;
  • E. Carry-out restaurants other than those carry-out restaurants permitted in Section 26.44.020 and that meet the applicable site requirements specified in Section 26.40.026B1;
  • F. Telephone, outdoor pay, if the proposed telephone is located on a lot that is located contiguous with or directly across a street, alley, public or private easement from a dwelling district.

(Ord. 64167 § 5, 1997: prior: Ord. 59979 § 12 (part), 1986.)

26.44.030 Parking and loading regulations.

The parking regulations for uses enumerated in Chapter 26.20 through 26.40 inclusive, except as modified by Section 26.44.040, shall apply.

(Ord. 59979 § 12 (part), 1986.)

26.44.040 Specific parking and loading regulations.

In addition, parking space shall also be provided for the following uses: 

  • A. Wholesale, manufacturing and industrial buildings shall provide parking space within one thousand (1,000) feet of the main building sufficient to accommodate one (1) motor car for each ten (10) employees regularly employed at the site, based on the greatest number employed at any one period of the day or night.
  • B. All hereinafter erected or enlarged buildings having or to have more than five thousand (5,000) square feet of gross floor area and used for manufacturing, storage, warehouse, goods display, department store, wholesale store, and other uses involving the receipt or distribution by vehicles of materials or merchandise shall provide one (1) loading space, at least ten (10) feet by twenty-five (25) feet and having a fourteen (14) foot clearance, for each twenty-five thousand (25,000) square feet of gross floor area or fraction thereof in excess of five thousand (5,000) square feet.

(Ord. 59979 § 12 (part), 1986.)

26.44.050 Height regulations.

The height regulations are the same as those in the F neighborhood commercial district.

(Ord. 59979 § 12 (part), 1986.)

26.44.060 Area dwellings.

For dwellings the area regulations are the same as those in the D multiple-family dwelling district. For other buildings the following area regulations only shall be required.

(Ord. 59979 § 12 (part), 1986.)

26.44.070 Front yard–Nondwellings.

The front yard regulations are the same as those in the F neighborhood commercial district.

(Ord. 59979 § 12 (part), 1986.)

26.44.080 Side yard–Nondwellings.

  • A. There shall be a side yard having a width of not less than five (5) feet on that side of a lot which adjoins any dwelling district.
  • B. Where dwelling accommodations are hereafter created above any nondwelling use there shall be two (2) side yards each of eight (8) feet in width unless every room within that portion of the structure used for dwelling purposes shall open directly upon a front yard or a rear yard of dimensions as required in the D multiple-family dwelling district.

(Ord. 59979 § 12 (part), 1986.)

Well it is clear the type of feel desired for G zones. You don’t find it clear? Use-based zoning (Euclidean) is a maddening collection of regulations cobbled together over decades that do nothing to create desirable communities. In the early 20th century it was a way to bring some order to land development but as a tool it has outlived its usefulness.

Form-based zoning, on the other hand, is all about creating what the community determines is the appropriate feel for each part of a city. Thankfully we are seeing this new way of viewing land-use regulation in parts of St. Louis City and St. Louis County. It can’t happen fast enough.

Earlier this year Blast Fitness bought 39 clubs from Bally’s, including two in our region. (source)

— Steve Patterson


Continued Suburbanization of Delmar Blvd Won’t Revitalize Delmar Blvd

Delmar Blvd., like most St. Louis streets, was once very urban in form. Buildings all were built up to the sidewalk, defining the public vs. private space. This also gave pedestrians a sense of enclosure, they weren’t exposed on all sides.

For decades now we’ve chipped away at the urban form then wondered why we also had population loss, increased pollution and disinvestment. We still would have experienced population loss based on the trend to the suburbs but trying to remake the city to be like th, e suburbs didn’t work to stop the loss and now it’s preventing the rejuvenation of many areas, such as along Delmar Blvd.

Also for decades St. Louis’ “leadership” has thought that anything new — any investment — was better than no investment at all. What they continue to fail to understand is disconnected buildings set back behind parking doesn’t create anyplace special. Furthermore with old storefronts up to the sidewalk and new buildings set back the look and feel isn’t pleasant. It’s not a contiguous wall of buildings or or consistent setback common in suburbia.

St. Louis’ first planner, Harland Bartholomew, wanted to basically raze the city and rebuild in the suburban model — see his 1947 Comprehensive Plan.

So when I saw this building being built in 2006 I was appalled that it was set back from Delmar. This is the offices of 100 Black Men of Metropolitan St. Louis located at 4631 Delmar.

ABOVE: Under construction in May 2006
ABOVE: 100 Black Men of Metropolitan St. Louis on Delmar, April 2012
ABOVE: On the Delmar sidewalk facing the entrance after exiting the bus pedestrians are less important than the cars.
ABOVE: The required ADA access route does exist but you have to go to the side street to reach it
ABOVE: The building to the east is having it's front removed to make it less urban than it's been for decades.

None of this will encourage investment and improvement of the area, it’ll likely accelerate disinvestment and abandonment. I hope to live long enough to see the 100 Black Men of Metropolitan St. Louis building razed and replaced with 2-3 urban buildings.

– Steve Patterson


Urbanizing A 1980s Suburban Municipality Is A Lengthy Process

In April 2007 the St. Charles County municipality of Dardenne Prairie held a design charrette led by new urbanist firm DPZ, the goal was to plan a walkable town center.  Dardenne Prairie was incorporated in 1983 and they wanted a town center? Were they crazy? I attended several of the charrette events to observe the process.

ABOVE: Residents at the opening of the charrette in April 2007

Many of the residents attended came ready to oppose anything different than the standard suburbia typical of St. Charles County.

ABOVE: DPZ staff & consultants talking with residents
ABOVE: Sketch for a new city hall to replace the trailer they used

Over the few days I witnessed the local residents buy into the urban/walkable vision. Not urban as in high rise buildings but buildings defining the streets and connected via sidewalks. Urban as in not suburban. In 2009 the city hall was finished but I didn’t get out there until earlier this month.

ABOVE: Dardenne Prairie's city hall, click image for aerial in Google Maps
ABOVE: Hanley Rd will soon have on-street parking

When I arrived I briefly chatted with Mayor Pam Fogarty, but I’d arranged to meet my friend Alderman Scott Kolbe for a tour.  Dardenne Prairie has three wards with two aldermen per ward for a total of six. These municipal offices are non-partisan. Buildings near the road and on-street parking are all part of Dardenne Prairie’s new urbanist City Plan.

ABOVE: Ald Scott Kolbe talks about the park behind city hall from the mayor's balcony

While city hall opened in 2009 the park opened in September 2011.

ABOVE: View of park from the mayor's balcony
ABOVE: On the weekday afternoon I visited the playground area was filled with kids and their parents

Kolbe tells me residents of the subdivision directly behind the park welcome the activity and encourage people to trespass through their yards to reach the park. I can imagine a paved path in the future. As I left city hall people were walking to city hall. If you connect the dots people will, at least on nice days, walk rather than drive.The sidewalk has to replace the roadside drainage ditch for that to happen. Down the street a senior housing development conforms to the new city plan, built up to the sidewalk with a pedestrian entrance facing the street.


It will be years before Dardenne Prairie has a complete walkable downtown but they are putting the right pieces in place to make sure each new private development contributes toward the long-term vision. – Steve Patterson


Walkability Impacts Number of Pedestrians Using Sidewalks & Transit

The form our buildings take has a direct connection to the number of pedestrians on the sidewalk: streats lined with urban buildings will see more pedestrians than those with anti-urban buildings (read: suburban). Transit riders are pedestrians on part of their journey, but many of us have no choice but to be pedestrians in unfriendly places where few pedestrians are spotted. On a recent ride on a packed #95 (Kingshighway) MetroBus this became clear.

ABOVE: Car storage separates pedestrians at the bus stop from numerous businesses.
ABOVE: The able-bodied can get inside but not everyone can
ABOVE: Eventually this building will get reused or replaced, but will pedestrians have access?

We don’t design buildings to be used by pedestrians. Sure, some will say there are no pedestrians so why should we? I say there are few pedestrians in many places because that is the result of decades of anti-urban policy.

 – Steve Patterson