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Poll: Thoughts on Solar Panels In Historic Neighborhoods?

ABOVE: Bastille on Russel in Soulard

An interesting debate about solar panels in historic neighborhoods was in the news lately:

Bob Hiscox wants solar panels on his roof.

Energy costs are rising. Hiscox is increasingly concerned about the environment. And government rebates could help him fund the $45,000 cost.

But his building, the Soulard Bastille Bar on Russell Boulevard south of downtown, has a roof that faces the street. And that means his solar array would break neighborhood rules. Soulard, a national historic district, does not allow visible panels. (St. Louis battle over solar panels pits preservation against environmentalism)

Michael Allen has a thoughtful post on the subject, here is part:

The Soulard local historic district standards are not explicit about solar panels, which means that their installation requires a variance. The standards mandate that the character of sloped roofs be maintained through adherence to one of several times (sic) of approved roofing (most of which were not in use before 1900, I might point out). In a few instances, the Cultural Resources Office (CRO) has recommended that the Preservation Board grant a variance, and the Board has done just that. This time, however, CRO recommended denial of a variance based on the public visibility of the Bastille’s street-facing rear roof. (recommended –  Soulard Solar Collectors)

If you want to learn more here are some helpful resources:

I thought this would be a good topic for this week’s poll (see right sidebar). Poll results and my thoughts on Wednesday June 27th.

– Steve Patterson


Save A Lot To Anchor Jefferson Commons

Last week details become public for the development to be known as Jefferson Commons. You may know it by the last grocery occupant, Foodland. The development is located at Jefferson & Lafayette (Google Maps). From the developer:

Green Street and partners purchased the vacant 1601 S. Jefferson property in late 2011. Since closing on the property we have been diligently working on redevelopment plans to create a sustainable multi-tenant retail property that will provide goods and services to the community. Our anchor tenant will be Save A Lot who will occupy the 17,600 SF Suite A. In addition to Save A Lot we are in final negotiations with a nationally recognized fitness center and a nationally recognized sandwich shop. We do have additional space available at the site and we are currently talking to other prospective retailers who will be a good fit for the neighborhood. (Jefferson Commons page)

The grocery store was built originally as a Kroeger.

ABOVE: The grocery building was last a Foodland, its been closed for nearly ten years

I did a 3-part series last year on this site: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3. The owner of the main site, Green Street Properties, presented their redevelopment to the community a week ago.

ABOVE: The meeting at a church gym in The Gate District neighborhood was well attended

The following drawings are preliminary concepts:

ABOVE: The former Foodland building would be divided into four tenant spaces

Save-A-Lot grocery would occupy “Suite A” at the south end of the building.  At the meeting residents expressed both support and disappointment in Save-A-Lot.  Those supporting the grocery chain said they were tired of this being vacant and they wanted a market within walking distance. Those disappointed mentioned a preference for a store with better food, such as organic, as would be the case with a Whole Foods or a Trader Joe’s. The site is in the 6th ward (Triplett) but 19th ward Ald Marlene Davis correctly pointed out that Dierberg’s, Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s aren’t coming to the city.  However, I was told that Whole Foods “had an LOI in place on a urban style store in the CWE. They backed out when their pedestrian traffic counts didn’t hold up.”  Pedestrian traffic  counts, not vehicular traffic counts!

Other tenants in the building would include a fitness center and possibly a hardware store. Green Street doesn’t own the small strip center to the north but they are trying to acquire it. A new building would be added within the main parking lot, it includes a drive-thru.

ABOVE: Preliminary site plan shows new outlet building and multiple pedestrian access routes, click image to view a larger version

I’m happy to see pedestrian access being added but I suggested a few points via email to the architect as they finalize the site plan:

  1. Provide an access route to the park to the left of the upper left corner, residents currently use an opening in the fence to have direct access
  2. Provide an access route to the neighboring property along Hennrieta Pl so residents of that street have direct access to the site.
  3. Make the access route from Lafayette  Ave to the main building a straight shot rather than attempting to divert pedestrians to the east.
  4. Provide an access route to the hotel at the south edge of the site so hotel guests can easily walk over to buy snacks or have dinner at a new restaurant.
  5. Distribute bike parking rather than cluster all in front of Suite B.

At the meeting two individuals said they wished the building had red brick to fit in. Both times I cringed, why must we wrap everything  in the same red brick? A century ago the materials used and colors were vast.

ABOVE: Proposed exterior view of the south corner

I like the modern exterior that’s proposed, a good reuse of the existing structure.  Now’s your chance, share your thoughts in the comments below.

– Steve Patterson


Inviting Storefront Design Critical to Revitalizing Old Commercial Districts

Storefront design has a big impact on how we perceive an area. So often formerly inviting storefronts became closed over time as commercial districts went downhill. Lately, in many of these commercial districts, we’ve seen a welcomed return to inviting glass storefronts as the areas become filled with new establishments.

ABOVE: 3108 Morgan Ford Rd in Oct 2010

For many years the space behind my favorite bike shop, A&M Bicycles, was used for storage. Down the street Local Harvest Grocery needed to expand beyond their original space, a perfect match. Except for that awful storefront! No business was going to use the space with that front.

ABOVE: Work underway in January 2011
ABOVE: New storefront is inviting, improves district, April 2011

All up and down Morgan Ford Rd old closed storefronts like this one have been replaced by mostly glass storefronts. The visual impact on the commercial district is amazing, no longer does the street feel rundown.

  – Steve Patterson

Charless Home To Close, Future Uncertain

A longtime St. Louis institution won’t reach its 160th anniversary:

The Charless Home, which opened in 1853 as the “Home of the Friendless,” will soon be the home of no one.

Bethesda Health Group, which bought the facility in 2006, said Monday [3/19/2012] it will close the home by June 30. Low occupancy and financial losses are the culprits, said Ken Bass, Bethesda’s senior vice president of senior living. (STLtoday.com)

If you’ve been a longtime reader here you might recall my post from June 6, 2006:

Despite the spin in the Post-Dispatch back in April the Charless Home, founded in 1853, is not “merging” with or being “acquired” by Bethesda Health Group. The folks I talked to tell me Charless’ Board is essentially paying Bethesda to take the south side landmark. The Charless Home has prime real estate at I-55 and South Broadway (map) yet the board has voted to give the real estate and millions of dollars to Bethesda in exchange for… well, nothing.

The board, comprised mainly of Clayton & Ladue socialites, is making a huge mistake. I’m told the Charless Home has nearly $17 million in the bank, hardly a distressed non-profit. A few board members voted against giving Charless to Bethesda and instead suggested they take on medicaid patients and consider constructing independent living housing on their grounds. (Full post)

Monday’s article says “ownership will revert to the non-profit Charless Foundation.” The Foundation does have active registration with the Secretary of State (view) but it’s unclear what will become of the property. The property, located in the 9th ward, is in a “preservation review” area so any proposed demolition would be reviewed by the Cultural Resources Office.

ABOVE: Entrance to the Charless Home at 4431 S. Broadway, click image to view aerial in Google Maps

I sent an inquiry to the official board contact and received a reply indicating committees have been set up to gather information to help them asses their options.

– Steve Patterson


One Less Urban Building on South Jefferson (Updated)

Driving home recently I spotted the demolition of the storefront building on the NW corner of Jefferson & Ann (map), I stopped to snap a picture and went on. ?

ABOVE: Feb 2012

It’s just another old vacant building, what’s the problem?

ABOVE: Former storefront at Jefferson & Ann. Source: City of St. Louis

The problem I have is we have absolutely nothing in place to require any new construction to continue to be urban in form — built up to the sidewalk and at least two stories in height with windows and doors. The only other building on this block of south Jefferson Ave is a former Taco Bell, built in 1994.

ABOVE: Former Taco Bell built in 1994 was out of place on Jefferson

The Taco Bell was an affront to good urbanity and it didn’t stay open long. The last use of the building was a credit union but it closed in 2010.

ABOVE: The intersection of Russel & Jefferson is becomes less and less urban with each demolition, reducing the number of pedestrians

One by one urban buildings are razed and replaced with non-urban buildings, creating a place not worth caring about much less walking through.

ABOVE: Like so many suburban fast food places, this former Taco Bell didn't include an ADA access route.

Non-urban buildings are designed to be approached only by car, even making access by pedestrians difficult.

ABOVE: The NE corner of Jefferson & Russel is still very urban in form

We must change our zoning to require new construction to have an urban form so we don’t erode our commercial streets with non-urban structures that end up vacant and useless.

– Steve Patterson

Update 3/6/2012 @ 9:20am:

Thanks to @icsesq for a link to a story on what’s planned for the site — a new facility for the Southside Early Childhood Center:

To get a conditional use permit, the new building had to meet Fox Park’s historical building standards, which require a brick facade and alignment similar to buildings along the block. Demolition is expected to start fairly soon, after a plan for asbestos abatement is approved. (full story)

The drawings in the article illustrate how inadequate Fox Park’s standards are. An entire block of a one-story building? Sure, it will be up to the sidewalk and wrapped in red brick.