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Land Trust Receives $15,000 to Clean-Up Former Gas Station Site, Plans Permanently Affordable Housing

Last week the Missouri Environmental Improvement and Energy Resources Authority (aka EIERA, yes we joked about E-I-E-I-O) presented a $15,000 check to the Red Brick Community Land Trust (RBCLT) for clean-up of the brownfield site where they plan to build some affordable housing. The St. Louis Business Journal announced the event last week.

First let’s figure out who is who and what is what.

The EIERA explains best who they are on their website:

“The Environmental Improvement and Energy Resources Authority (EIERA) is a quasi-governmental agency that serves as the financing arm for the Missouri Department of Natural Resources. Established by the Missouri General Assembly in 1972, the EIERA Board Members are appointed by the Governor.

The EIERA’s primary mandate is to provide financial assistance for energy and environmental projects and protect the environment. The agency also conducts research, supports energy efficiency and energy alternatives and promotes economic development. The Authority is not a regulatory agency.”

So what is a brownfield? In short, a brownfield is a previously developed site (with or without a building) that is contaminated (see wiki entry). Contamination can happen a number of ways; from the type of construction materials used to the former activities on the site, such as this former gas station site with two empty tanks remaining in the ground. These tanks will be removed before the RBCLT can construct the new affordable housing. RBCTLT’s press release covers more about how a land trust works:

RBCLT separates the cost of the land from the cost of what is built on it. This allows low-income residents to buy a quality home and at an affordable price. When homeowners choose to move and sell the home, they sell the home at a price that balances their interest to have a downpayment for their next home with the community’s interest in keeping the home affordable for another low-income family. In this way RBCLT homes remain permanently affordable from generation to generation. Community land trusts also help to preserve open green space for community gardens, parks and playgrounds.

“The land trust locks in resources like the state grant, permanently securing the benefits for the entire community. This allows the state agency to recycle the subsidy,” said Sarah Coffin, RBCLT board president and assistant professor in the Department of Public Policy Studies at Saint Louis University. “The benefits of the subsidy to the wider community include connecting previously fragmented segments of neighborhoods into cohesive units. One more brownfield will be removed from the urban landscape and the cleaned up site will be maintained as a public good in perpetuity. But more importantly, Red Brick CLT will be able to create homes that low-income people can afford from generation to generation, improving the quality of life for the children and the families who buy these homes, further increasing neighborhood stability and securing economic and cultural diversity in the community.”

So basically a home owner buys just the home, not the land. With the trust retaining ownership of the land the property can stay more affordable for the next buyer. This is a big contrast to how we’ve been doing affordable housing in St. Louis in the past where the original owner gets a grant or other incentives to help them get a home but once they sell the place basically becomes market rate.

The affordable housing “will be built through a partnership with Youth Education and Health in Soulard (YEHS) and YouthBuild St. Louis Americorps.” Here is more info on YouthBuild:

YouthBuild St. Louis AmeriCorps (Youthbuild St. Louis) is an alternative education, construction training, employment, and leadership development program serving low-income St. Louis youths, ages 18-24, who have not completed high school. Youthbuild St. Louis, which began in 1992, is sponsored by Youth Education and Health in Soulard (YEHS), a community-based organization founded in 1972.

What is uniquely exciting about YouthBuild is that it is combating the St. Louis public schools’ high school drop-out crisis, while helping to replenish St. Louis’s critical shortage of affordable housing.

Although a site plan was distributed the architecture for the new construction has not yet been finalized. Representatives indicated existing buildings adjacent to the site will also be renovated by YouthBuild. As you may recall, this area was threatened with complete demolition earlier this year (see post) but in May the city rescinded their offer of purchase (translation: we no longer seek to take your property away from you).


Above: members of YouthBuild join Mark Bohnert, executive director of Red Brick Community Land Trust; Sarah Coffin, president of RBCLT; and Robert Kramer, EIERA board member.


Above from left, Kristin Allen, development director with EIERA; Karen Massey, deputy director of EIERA, Bob Brandhorst, executive director of YEHS; Mark Bohnert, executive director of Red Brick Community Land Trust; Sarah Coffin, president of RBCLT; Solana Rice, vice president of RCBLT.


Above from left; Sarah Coffin, president of RBCLT; State Senator Maida Coleman (D-5th District); Robert Kramer, EIERA board member; Kristin Allen, development director with EIERA

Above, Sen. Coleman discusses project with RBCLT Board VP Solana Rice and ED Mark Bohnert.

I talked with Exec. Director Mark Bohnert after the presentation was over, here is a short clip:


Ald. Phyllis Young was invited to the event but she sent her regrets in advance.

I personally look forward to seeing the progress on the project.


Ald Young Missed a Billboard in Her Ward

This post is a continuation of a post from yesterday, regarding signs. Seventh ward Alderman Phyllis Young had written the following regarding a painted anti-eminent domain sign/mural on the side of a building:

I have worked diligently throughout my career as an alderman to reduce the number of billboards cluttering our neighborhoods and our city. As you drive I-44 you’ll see no billboards in my ward from Compton east to the intersection with I-55 other than the one in the commercial area at Jefferson. The wall sign is an affront to the neighborhoods, drivers, and the city. It should be denied and removed.

In yesterday’s post I included countless signs mostly from her ward, few if any had permits. I’m pretty certain, for example, that Dodge does not have a car dealership located within the stadium east parking garage despite large signs for the car company. But among my many pictures I did not have the one shot I should have had and as a result someone had the following comment:

In the alderwoman’s defense, the pictures you show do nothing to refute that paragraph, as none of them are visible from I-44.

To clarify here, Ald Young indicates reducing “the number of billboards cluttering our neighborhoods and our city” but I was able to illustrate many signs cluttering the city, and the 7th ward. But wait, what it that I see at I-44 & I-55, viewed from the Mississippi St bridge over I-44?


Oh yes, that would be a billboard located in the 7th Ward and seen from east bound I-44. This is in addition to the one seen at Jefferson & I-44 that is in the 7th Ward and a couple at Jefferson located in the 6th Ward.


Above: From the McKinley-Heights neighborhood you can see the highway and the forgotten billboard in full glory.


Here is the same billboard as seen from Gravos near Tucker. Gee, I’m not sure how Ald Young could have forgotten about this billboard. I’m guessing she’s been too busy figuring out how to raze Bohemian Hill to notice? If you look closely under the highway you can see the eminent domain sign that is such an “affront.” Take a look at the above picture again. Someone please tell me how that painted political slogan on the side of a relatively small alley building is the affront and not everything else I am looking at?


From the Tucker bridge over the highway(s) the sign is visible but in the big scheme of things is not the most offensive sight.


Directly in front of the sign suggesting we end eminent domain abuse is this area inside the cloverleaf where storage trailers are covered in graffiti. I’m sure Ald Young and all the neighborhood groups have been working hard to clean this up too…

Here are some additional thoughts:

  • All the other signs I showed, I did not say I objected to those.  I was simply showing the proliferation of signs and the city’s inability to recognize the fact that vinyl banners are put up ‘temporarily’ for years as a means of skirting their antiquated sign ordinance.  I actually like a good many signs although I prefer higher quality signs over the long-term use of vinyl banners.
  • Painted signs have a long history in cities — a good ‘model example’ to use our local historic preservation preference for citing other examples in the city.  Several buildings adjacent to this one but closer to Tucker have evidence of much larger painted signs as one time.
  • The city’s sign ordinance is long overdue for a major overhaul/replacement.  In the late 60s and early 70s it was thought that clutter contributed to the loss of population and general decline of the city.  However, many cities that are thriving and full of life and people exhibit what St. Louis officials consider to be clutter to be removed.  They’ve managed to remove the clutter and the people that go with it.
  • Roos’ sign is downright ugly, but that doesn’t mean he should not have the legal right to paint the side of his building.  In other words, do we all not have the right to place some art or message on the sides of our own buildings facing an adjacent property rather than a public street?
  • As everyone has noticed, the message is wrong — you shouldn’t say ‘end eminent domain abuse’ and have the red circle with cross through it  — that looks like you support eminent domain abuse.
  • Words do not make a sign per the ordinance just as images only without words automatically makes something an artistic mural.  I bet someone could paint a wonderful mural without a single word to communicate the same message.  Sounds like a fun contest to me…
  • Two web addresses are shown on the mural but are more a ‘signature’ if you will and are not readable by anyone passing by on the highway or other roads like Gravois — you must seek out the sign to notice the web addresses, which are, mo-cpr.org and medac.info.
  • The St. Louis political establishment has no problem with signs throughout our city as long as they are for beer, smokes, or cars and those companies donate to campaigns or throw big parties with lots of free booze and food.  Policical positions against the wishes of the establishment are simply not tolerated.


St. Louis’ Board of Adjustment Votes to Restrict Free Speech on Eminent Domain

You’ve likely seen Jim Roos’ anti-eminent domain statement on the side of a building he owns in an area known as Bohemian Hill. Yesterday attorney John Randall argued before the Board of Adjustment the U.S. Constitution protects the rights of citizens to voice free speech. The Board of Adjustment hears appeals from those who’ve been denied permits by the building department. The member’s names, date appointed, term length, term expiration are not posted online on the city’s website, nor is their agenda published online.

During the meeting a total of three appeals were heard relating to signs — all did not meet the strict letter of the city’s antiquated zoning code regulations (see the “Comprehensive” Sign Control Regulations). All three were larger than allowed by the code, two were approved but one was not. Laclede Gas got approval for a large sign on top of their building in downtown St. Louis so they could hopefully get spotted by TV cameras during Cardinals games. Laclede Gas argued their sign on the top of their building would be a positive “contribution to the St. Louis skyline.” I saw the mock-ups of the sign, it wasn’t something to hail as great nor was anything bad. They indicated that the city’s maximum allowable size for a sign on their building would look like a “postage stamp.” If the city really wants to be business friendly they will take a fresh look at the sign regulations and I don’t know, maybe publish something on the building division site about signs rather than make the public wade through the technicalities of the ordinance.


Roos and his attorney argued this is not a sign, per the city’s regulations. I’m not going to take you through all the various points of the ordinance but in large part, per the code, a sign faces a public street. The building above was originally a rear building — the public street is to the left out of view. The side of the building, clearly visible from the interchange of highways I-44 & I-55, does not face a public street — it faces an adjacent parcel of land owned by someone else. The poorly constructed zoning code relating to signs also addresses the question of what is a sign vs what is not:

If for any reason it cannot be readily determined whether or not an object is a sign, the Community Development Commission shall make such determination.

Again, it was argued this was not a sign but Bob Lordi from the city’s building division determined it is a sign. The ordinance language is unclear as to how this debate of sign or not gets resolved. Some of the best humor was provided by a June 28, 2007 letter from alderwoman Phyllis Young (D-7th Ward):

“If this sign is allowed to remain then anyone with property along any thoroughfare can paint signs indicating the opinion or current matter relevant to the owner to influence passersby with no control by any City agency.”

When this was read during the proceedings I actually laughed out loud. The irony, of course, is that earlier this year Young advocated razing the entire area where the “sign” is located for a new development. She passed legislation blighting the entire area and now wants to protect it from a sign put up in response to the very real threat faced by these home owners. I will have more on the status of this project separately.  Click here to view the entire letter in PDF format.
Another part of the letter gave me reason to chuckle as well:

I have worked diligently throughout my career as an alderman to reduce the number of billboards cluttering our neighborhoods and our city. As you drive I-44 you’ll see no billboards in my ward from Compton east to the intersection with I-55 other than the one in the commercial area at Jefferson. The wall sign is an affront to the neighborhoods, drivers, and the city. It should be denied and removed.

One of the most telling comments is that being an alderman is a “career” rather than simply a public service. But I think Phyllis needs to get in her Prius, or better yet a good pair of sneakers, and just check out more of her ward, including downtown.


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Missouri Supreme Court Rules Against Developer & Municipality in Takings Case

My friend Antonio French at PubDef has the scoop on the court’s ruling on the Centene Corporation in Clayton Missouri.  At issue was Missouri’s definition of “blighted;”

“that portion of the city within which the legislative authority of such city determines that by reason of age, obsolescence, inadequate or outmoded design or physical deterioration have become economic and social liabilities, and that such conditions are conducive to ill health, transmission of disease, crime or inability to pay reasonable taxes.” 

While the crux of the Kelo decision related to economic development to justify the taking of property the “and social liabilities” phrasing in Missouri law seems to have created a road block to those justifying taking functioning property in the high-value City of Clayton, the county seat of St. Louis County.

One judge, concurring with the decision but disagreeing with some points of the main decision had this to say about blight:

The difficulty is that, although the PGAV report quotes the language from section 353.020(2) defining “blight” and, thus, its authors seem to have been aware that social liability is part of the analysis, the entirety of the conclusion, as well as the relevant discussion relating to the specific factors analyzed, focuses on economic liability. While Centene suggests that the absence of the term “social liability” may just have been an oversight, the level of detail and attention given to every other aspect of the statutory definition of “blight” makes the suggestion that a finding of social liability was accidentally omitted and should be “read into” the report rather implausible.

I intend to take a detailed look at this case in the near future.  In the meantime, here is the court’s summary ruling.


Open House for St. Louis’ Latest Gateway Mall Plan; Implimentation Underway Before Public Viewing (Updated)

In a classic St. Louis move, the city’s “leadership” is already moving forward with a plan the public has yet to see. Mayor Slay, Aldermanic President, Alderman Phyllis Young, and Downtown Parnership’s Jim Cloar last week talked of the newest concept as a done deal even though we the public have not seen anything yet. Typical.

The public open house is scheduled for this evening, Monday June 11, 2007 at 6:30pm in the rotunda at City Hall. This is one of those meetings designed to give the appearance of public participation without any actual participation. The usual round of types — officials, business executives, etc… — have already approved of the plan on our behalf. How big of them to do so. I assume tonight will also be a chance for all these folks to congratulate each other on a job well done. I’ll be there simply because I need to see what sort of disasterous plan the city has drafted this time. Any comment forms will likely be a waste of paper.

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