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Sunday Poll: Should the City of St. Louis use eminent domain powers to assemble a site if the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency selects the city option?

Please vote in the poll, located in the right sidebar
Please vote in the poll, located in the right sidebar

Today’s Sunday Poll is about a tough call between residents and jobs:

Last week, the Board of Alderman approved the use of eminent domain to move people out of a 100-acre site that the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency is considering for relocation. Now, officials are saying that property owners will have an option to stay in their homes and businesses if the NGA chooses another location.

The area, just north of the former Pruitt-Igoe site, is one of four under consideration in the region by the federal agency, which is now located south of downtown. The city is eager to keep the NGA, along with its 3,100 employees and $2.4 million in earnings taxes each year. (St. Louis Public Radio)

Glad it was clarified they could stay if the NGA selects another site, but check the fine print from St. Louis Development director Otis Williams:

Williams’ comments are merely a promise. The bill doesn’t have language mandating that homeowners can stay if the land isn’t used.

“We will not demo before we have a decision,” Williams said. 

Still, Williams said there “may be a few properties” that the city will exercise rights on anyway.  

The purchases will come at a hefty price. The city has allocated $8-10 million for residential property purchases, if the government chooses the city location. But several businesses, including Faultless Healthcare Linen, would cost an additional $10 to $15 million to move. 

Faultless reportedly spent $12 million in 2012 to expand at the location. The city provided real estate and property tax abatement for the property.  (Post-Dispatch)

So there you go, today’s question is Should the City of St. Louis use eminent domain powers to assemble a site if the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency selects the city option?

The poll is in the right sidebar, it closes in 12 hours (8pm)

— Steve Patterson


Poll: thoughts on Judge Dierker’s ruling on the NorthSide TIF

You’ve probably heard the news by now:

“A St. Louis judge threw out a city ordinance Friday that authorized $390 million in tax increment financing — the largest in the city’s history — for Paul McKee Jr.’s $8.1 billion NorthSide redevelopment.”

The poll this week is about the decision of Judge Dierker with respect to the TIF ordinance.  The provided answers give you two levels of positive and negative as well as a neutral — they are presented in a random order. You can also provide your own answer and add your comment below.
Happy 234th Birthday America!
– Steve Patterson

Controversial “Blairmont” Project to be Revealed Tonight

Tonight we expect politically connected developer Paul McKee, of McEagle Development, to publicly unveil the controversial development project nicknamed “Blairmont.”

The project got this name after one of the early holding companies used to acquire properties, Blairmont Associates LLC.

Here is a video that explains Blairmont:

Another source of info on Blairmont is a January 2007 RFT article.

Out of the controversy came an August 2007 bus tour of McKee’s properties.  Here is 5th Ward Alderman April Ford Griffin:

The next month the meetings continued.  Here is 19th Ward Alderman Marlene Davis:

I got involved by asking a question of Alderman April Ford Griffin.  Griffin is the chair of the Neighborhood Development committee at the Board of Aldermen.  She has a warped view of zoning.  Rather than have excellent zoning that codifies the community vision, she likes outdated zoning so developers must come to her.  The video starts out rough but gets better:

Congressman Clay talks about a hearing held at city hall with a reference to the 1970s Team Four plan that called for reducing services in parts of the city:


Here is a summary of the infamous Team Four plan:

This document contains the technical memorandum that was submitted to the Plan Commission by Team Four, Inc. in 1975. This memorandum proposed public policy guidelines and strategies for implementing the Draft Comprehensive Plan that was prepared by others. It offered a series of considerations concerning the process of adopting, staging, budgeting and ultimately implementing the Draft Comprehensive Plan. In addition, this document contains a preface dated 1976 that attempts to clean up any inconsistencies and or controversies surrounding the proposed implementation strategies and a bibliography or annotated listing of Technical Memoranda and Appendixes. Part I of this document focused on strategies for three generic area types: conservation, redevelopment, and depletion areas; and Part II of this document discussed major urban issues and their solutions.

Today “shrinking cities” are studied and various techniques are debated.  In the 70s in St. Louis the Team Four plan was seen as a racist plot to deny services to a minority population.  We know more today about how to adjust to shrinking populations.

Tonight we will see another, a huge heavily subsidized redevelopment plan.  Many are opposed simply based on the history of the project to date.  I for one plan to go with an open mind. I have reservations about both the developer and the political leadership.  Griffin’s view on the role of zoning doesn’t give me a lot of hope for what may be presented in pretty artist renderings actually being completed as promised.  A good framework of a zoning code can help ensure the promised vision develops into reality.

Tonight’s meeting starts at  7pm at Central Baptist Church Education Building 2843 Washington Ave (Google Map).  I’ll be there and will report on the presentation next week.


Downtown Bookended by Delayed (Dead?) Mega-projects

Acres and acres sit idle on the edges of downtown awaiting promised new development.  On the South edge we have Ballpark Village and just North of America’s Center and the Edward Jones Dome we have the Bottleworks District.  Both have made news over the past few
years, lately for not going anywhere.

Above:  blocks sit vacant awaiting the proposed Bottleworks District
The latter was in the news again this week for a settlement on one of the blocks the city took from its rightful owner:

A St. Louis jury awarded $2.8 million on Friday to the former owner of two acres just north of the Edwards Jones Dome downtown in a fight over eminent domain.

The city’s Land Clearance for Redevelopment Agency condemned the two-acre tract after the owner refused sell it in 2005 for $523,000.

The property, a city block bordered by Sixth, Seventh, Carr and Biddle Streets, was included in the “Bottle District” redevelopment plan for a $226 million entertainment destination including a restaurant, concert venue and bowling alley. It has not yet come through.

Today the entire site remains covered in gravel with much of the intact street grid blocked by Jersey barriers.

The surrounding blocks could have been developed without taking this one block from the owner.  But assembling larger and larger tracts for larger and larger projects is what proponents say must be done to get development.  Judging from the broken sidewalks and vacant blocks of land  think perhaps it is high time we questioned this practice.

Granted creating the ideal urban building on a single narrow parcel surrounded by vacant blocks is going to be an island for a long time.  Development does have to be large enough to build both excitement and a sustainable level of visitors.

An alternative to the single developer mega-project is to create a zoning overlay district that outlines the urban design qualities that future buildings must have.  This allows different property owners to participate in the redevelopment.  It also allows the business owner to build their own structure without being tied up in an increasingly complicated and difficult process of financing the mega-project.

This city was built one building at a time — each fitting into the grid.  I think we need to return to such a scale to finish filling in the gaps in our urban fabric.


A ‘Rural Renewal’ Program Would Provide Habitat for Deer and other Wildlife

The tony collection of McMansion subdivisions known as Town & Country, MO is back on the issue of Deer overpopulation. It seems their 1-3 acre lots amongst the natural woods are overrun with deer. The reality is that our natural environment is overrun with low-density and often tacky housing that requires an SUV to go anywhere. From a KSDK report:

“Deer like the suburbs that we build,” said Erin Shank, a Missouri Department of Conservation urban wildlife biologist. “They like that broken forest interspersed with meadow-like lawns. That’s really ideal for them, so their populations have really grown over the last several decades.”

Wow, it seems they have managed to design an environment ideally suited to the main deer population but only a small segment of the human population. A number of years ago Town & Country engaged in a horrible plan to relocate the deer but many perished due to shock (see Grim Harvest). Some municipalities allow hunting using bows to avoid shooting some VP from shooting a lawyer friend in the face. Town & Country, however, does not yet permit hunting. Some are advocating traps where they are instantly killed via a bolt to the brain. Ick. Others say the deer are fine and simply plant other vegetation that deer don’t like, a logical solution in my view.

But I have some other ideas as well. We could start by banning vegetation all together. These people with their 4-bedroom/4-car garage houses on an acre of land like the illusion of country living but we know they really are not. So I say we prohibit them from growing any sort of plants outdoors — at least the ones known to attract deer. Hey, if they don’t like it they can always move much easier than the deer. I don’t think this is going far enough though. Those brick front houses look bad enough as it is but without vegetation it would be a horrible sight. The kids there already suffer from not being able to walk or bike anywhere so they really shouldn’t have to live without hostas and ferns.

I say we hire PGAV or Development Strategies to do a blighting study on the area. We argue that all of Town & Country and everything else in St. Louis County outside of the I-270 highway loop is Ecologically Obsolete. With places like Creve Coeur, Chesterfield and Dardenne Prairie all working on town centers to create walkable destinations we can justify that others are old fashioned and obsolete forms of development. New Urbanism represented by New Town at Charles or even old urbanism represented by original city development as well as the older ring of suburban development such as downtown Ferguson, Maplewood, Webster Groves and such is more ecologically sustainable.

So much like the maps of the 40s & 50s that justified razing entire sections of the city because a percentage of the structures lacked indoor plumbing, we can create maps of the region where the obsolete development pattern is too low to sustain a walk-to town center & transit. Everything below a certain threshold would be targeted. I call it Rural Renewal. St. Louis County would identify areas for land clearance, returning the land to nature with wildlife and vegetation taking over former manicured lawns. The deer population would once again be controlled with bobcats and other natural predators. Of course we’d need to use eminent domain to take all the homes, strip shopping centers and fast food joints. We’d need to clear thousands of acres at a time.

This could all be justified, of course, based economic development for the region. By returning an area to nature we’d force residents into existing areas, assuming we also limited fringe development. People living in an $800K house in Town and Country could do wonders with a $500 house owned by the LRA! Think of the economic benefits of such a renewal plan — one that could easily past muster after the Kelo decision on eminent domain. We’d see a surge in new construction within the I-270 highway loop giving new vitality to both the city and older areas of St. Louis County. Low density areas in the county, but within the I-270 loop, would be targeted for redevelopment to accommodate those displaced for the new rural areas. Rail transit (commuter, light rail) and quality localized service via bus and/or streetcar would be far more feasible than currently. We’d naturally eliminate some of the 91 municipalities in St. Louis County as well as excessive school districts, fire districts and so on. These new large ‘rural renewal’ areas would become wonderful natural areas again — attracting tourists to our area. This could become a model program for other regions to follow.

It would, of course, be difficult on those being displaced but they really shouldn’t stand in the way of progress and that which is beneficial to the larger region. The environment and the economy both outweigh their private land interests. We’ve been through large scale land clearance projects before and the suburbanites always seemed supportive of such efforts.