Demolition Hyde Park North St. Louis Preservation Board St. Louis Board of Aldermen

Bosley Won’t Support Any More Demolition in Hyde Park

by Michael R. Allen

During testimony at Monday’s Preservation Board meeting, Alderman Freeman Bosley, Sr. (D-3rd) stated that he would no longer support demolition in the Hyde Park Historic District, a federally-certified local historic district located entirely within his ward.

According to Bosley, decades of demolition have taken their toll. After watching buildings fall during days when the Hyde Park neighborhood was more desperate for development, he sees mistakes in past practices. However, the alderman wants to see extensive new construction in the neighborhood because it makes the older buildings more attractive to rehabbers.

Bosley was testifying in favor of a plan to build two new houses on 25nd Street offered by Mark Zerillo in consultation with realtor, developer and Preservation Board Vice Chairperson Mary “One” Johnson. The houses would entail reuse of existing foundations poured in 1995 but never build upon that would support two-story brick-faced frame houses supposedly modeled on older flat-roofed flats on the neighborhood.

Cultural Resources Office Director Kate Shea opposed granting preliminary approval due to the project’s lack of compliance with the standards of the local district. (Read Shea’s report here.) The Preservation Board concurred; a motion to withhold preliminary approval made by John Burse passed by a vote of 5-1 with board member Ald. Terry Kennedy (D-18th) opposed.

The Preservation Board also granted preliminary approval to infill housing in Hyde Park proposed by a development group headed by Ken Nuernburger (more here). That plan called for demolition of a two-story commercial building at 2303 Salisbury and a two-story brick house at 3915 N. 25th Street, across the street from the foundations proposed for reuse by Zerillo and the Johnsons.

The Board approved demolition of the building on Salisbury by a vote of 8-1, with member Mike Killeen dissenting. The Board denied demolition of the building on 25th street by a vote of 5-3, with members David Richardson, Johnson and Kennedy dissenting. Chairman Richard Callow abstained from these votes.

Central West End St. Louis Board of Aldermen

After Reopening Olive, Kennedy Wants to Close Whittier

by Michael R. Allen

Alderman Terry Kennedy (D-18th) has introduced Board Bill 91, to close Whittier south of McPherson. The lack of north-south arteries across the central corridor reinforces the local divide between the north and south sides of the city. I probably don’t need to mention that the north side is the loser in this split.

On May 7, Urban Review reported that Kennedy had relented and reopened a closed section of Olive Street in the Central West End. Unfortunately, this good act is followed by another proposed street closure in Kennedy’s ward. The problems that street closures create are certainly not limited to one or two in particular; the same problems that the Olive closure caused will occur once Whittier is closed.

2007 St. Louis Election St. Louis Board of Aldermen

Candidates and the Built Environment

by Michael R. Allen

There will be many candidates for public office in St. Louis during the spring election cycle. The office of President of the Board of Alderman, aldermanic seats in even-numbered wards and two school board seats are on the ballot. The aldermanic candidates in particular are seeking or defending legislative power. They will make promises to voters about a number of issues.

Voters interested in urban issues need to make sure that candidates get their stances on the record. While a soft promise is better than none at all, the difference can be indiscernible. Aldermen introduce and vote on legislation impacting the built environment. Much of this legislation includes redevelopment ordinances — most often “blighting” ordinances — as well as tax abatement and tax increment financing. However, aldermen can do much more than dutifully respond to developers’ requests for support. They shape, create and interpret public policies. They are more than the functionaries that they often claim to be.

We should ask candidates for specific promises. If a candidate wants to “preserve old buildings,” we need to ask if that means that he would introduce a much-needed ordinance to reinstate city-wide preservation review. If a candidate thinks tax abatement is out of control, she needs to specify what legislative route she will pursue to address that. Talk is cheap, and either the elected candidates will do something to make policy changes their rhetoric endorses or they won’t.

Our support for aldermanic candidates in the city should be contingent on receiving specific legislative actions he or she will take. Aldermen act through legislation, and candidates for aldermanic office won’t talk in terms of specific bills we should be careful. Our support should hinge on firm promises based on the power that they seek. Even though many incumbents avoid advancing public policy change, aldermen have more power than other elected officials to determine what our built environment policies will be. No changes in LRA practices, preservation review, nuisance property enforcement or the zoning code can come about without an act of the board of aldermen. That’s where a lot of power lies under the city charter. We should be wary of candidates for the board who won’t tell us how they will use that power — and those incumbents who claim that they don’t have it.

Clearance Forest Park Southeast Preservation Board South St. Louis St. Louis Board of Aldermen

Aldermen and the Preservation Board

by Michael R. Allen

Anyone who attended Monday’s Preservation Board meeting may wonder if members of the Board of Aldermen have special legal powers to defy existing laws. Actions on two items from the agenda stand out:

3524 Victor: David Guller, owner of this magnificent home in the Compton Hill local historic district, replaced windows, cornice and soffit without a permit. He was caught by a neighbor and had to apply for a permit. Unfortunately, his vinyl replacements don’t meet the local district code and when Guller made an application for a permit on the already-done remuddling the city’s Cultural Resources Office (CRO) denied his application. He appealed to the Preservation Board, which denied the appeal. Guller agreed to rework his soffit and cornice to the liking of the CRO. But he didn’t want to replace the six windows on his front elevation, and somehow appealed the denial of his appeal.

How was this even possible? Legally, it’s not. The city’s Preservation Review Ordinance holds the Preservation Board’s denial of appeal as the final deliberation, after which a matter would go to court through lawsuit. Apparently there is an unwritten exception that Alderman Stephen Conway, Guller’s representative, used to secure a second hearing at last month’s meeting. Guller did not appear, and the Board voted again to uphold the CRO denial. The item re-appeared this month, and Guller as well as Alderman Conway testified in support of his supposedly appropriate vinyl windows. The windows have embedded muntins and a terrible flat appearance; at the least, he could have sought simulated exterior muntins. best of all, Guller could re-install the wooden windows that he removed on the front elevation and keep his vinyl windows on the side and rear elevations (private elevations under city law). But he has thrown them out.

The Preservation Board smartly voted again to uphold CRO denial. If the matter comes up again, perhaps someone who supports CRO should file suit against Guller and Conway for abusing the process!

Forest Park Southeast Demolitions: The tides turned against 32 houses owned by Forest West Properties, a real estate corporation created by the Washington University Medical Center Redevelopment Corporation. Forest West sought demolition permits for all 32 and ended up receiving 22 permits, the staff recommendation of CRO. While last month’s consideration by the Board of the same matter met with widespread resentment of Forest West’s lack of a plan for and lack of communication with CRO.

This month, things had changed. Namely, Alderman Joseph Roddy’s name, absent from earlier deliberations, surfaced. CRO Director Kate Shea told the Preservation Board that Roddy had asked Forest West to buy the homes and tear them down for new construction. This fact is irrelevant to any discussion of the consequences of the demolition permit, the adequacy of their excuses for seeking one and approaches to preservation planning for these properties — but it seemed to carry weight. Never mind that only Forest West’s Brian Phillips testified in favor of demolition and that four people — Claire Nowak-Boyd, Anthony Coffin, Steve Patterson and myself — testified at length on the problems with the application.

The Preservation Board itself was diminished by the absence of members John Burse and Alderman Terry Kennedy (continuing his string of absences and becoming the third alderman in this story) and the departure of Melanie Fathman in the middle of testimony on this matter. Richard Callow recused himself after asking to split the vote on permits so that he would not vote on permits for buildings that a client was seeking to buy. For some reason, his suggestion did not go anywhere. So members Mary “One” Johnson, Luis Porello, Anthony Robinson and Chairman Tim Mulligan were left to vote. Johnson is the most uncritical cheerleader of demolition requests on the Board, with Porello often siding with her. On this matter, they were true to form with Johnson “complimenting” Phillips from the start. Robinson was oddly quiet; he would have been a voice of reason. Mulligan opposed the permits strongly last month but endorsed the staff recommendation this time.

In the end, the vote was 3-1 in favor of the staff recommendation to approve demolition of 22 buildings, with Robinson dissenting. Testimony from opponents was mostly ignored, unlike last month when it was led to enthusiastic discussion with Shea and board members.

What a difference an alderman can make!

LRA Public Policy St. Louis Board of Aldermen

LRA Reform?

by Michael R. Allen

Pub Def reports that Alderman Troupe is talking about reforming the Land Reutilization Authority (LRA), the city’s largest real estate arm. LRA mainly owns vacant properties whose owners have failed to pay taxes or otherwise abandoned the properties. Some say that the LRA hoards vacant buildings and makes it difficult for individual rehabbers to buy their properties, which are ostensibly for sale to the public. Others talk about the LRA’s giving low-income people the chance to buy a building for $1 (plus the cost of rehabbing one of their derelict buildings); those days seem to have passed.

Two things are clear:

1. The LRA does not do much to stabilize and maintain the buildings it owns, and frequently ends up demolishing them. LRA has often torn down buildings that are contributing resources to local and national historic districts — often against the recommendation of the city’s Cultural Resources Office.

2. Despite the LRA being a citywide agency under the auspices of the St. Louis Development Corporation, LRA properties in each of the city’s wards are virtually controlled by the aldermen. In fact, as part of the official process for purchasing an LRA building, the LRA asks the alderman for the ward for approval of the sale. If the local leader says “no,” the sale is almost always dead, and the property could sit vacant for another decade before a better-connected buyer comes along.

These are two things that could stand to be changed.

Preservation Board South St. Louis St. Aloysius Gonzaga St. Louis Board of Aldermen The Hill

St. Aloysius Gonzaga Church Loses Two Votes

by Michael R. Allen

Yesterday, the Land Clearance for Redevelopment authority approved the project known as “Magnolia Square,” that would demolish venerable St. Aloysius Gonzaga Church to build 36 new houses.

Today, the aldermanic Housing, Urban Design and Zoning (HUDZ) Committee unanimously voted — without roll call — to send Board Bill #361 (sponsored by Alderman Joe Vollmer, An ordinance establishing a Planned Unit for City Block 4054.11 to be known as “Magnolia Square Subdivision”), to the full Board of Aldermen. Alderman Vollmer and developer James Wohlert presented their plans briefly. Wohlert told the committee that DiMartino Homes primarily buys vacant lots for new construction or old houses for demolition and new construction; he did not mention any experience in historic rehabilitation. The presenters barely acknowledged that the project failed to receive preliminary approval from the city’s Preservation Board.

Infrastructure South St. Louis St. Louis Board of Aldermen Streets

Blocking Streets in Gravois Park?

Alderman Craig Schmid of the 20th Ward sent the following e-mail to the Gravois Park listserv outlining proposed changes to the street grid in that area of the city. These changes are the tired and ineffective methods of blocking streets and turning others one-way. In Forest Park Southeast, barriers and one-way streets have created fertile pockets for criminal activity and abandonment — check out the 4400 blocks of Swan, Norfolk and Vista to see what effect barriers have on a neighborhood. We’re fighting to get ours removed!

Feel free to give Alderman Schmid your two cents. He’s the only south side alderperson who seems to have genuine progressive inclinations, and usually is reasonable. He may be persuaded.

From: “craig schmid”
Subject: [gravoispark] Proposed barricades and one-way streets to keep non-resident criminals out of area.
Date: Tue, 10 May 2005 23:13:28 -0500

> Greetings:
> The police major for the South Patrol Division has compiled
> statistics to show that 2/3 of the folks arrested in our area come
> from outside of the neighborhoods. Therefore, he is committed to
> working with the City and neighborhoods to install barricades and
> one-way streets to deal with the easy accessibility of our
> neighborhoods to criminals. These are just proposals (which are in a
> number of wards), but the intent would be to try to put them in place
> by June. Let me know what you think.
> Texas south of Arsenal; Juniata east of Minnesota; Nebraska
> north of Juniata; Ohio south of Arsenal; Pennsylvania south of
> Wyoming; Winnebago west of Jefferson; California north of alley to the
> north of Chippewa; Osage west of Broadway; Ohio south of Gasconade;
> Compton between Osage and Gasconade [Marquette Park].
> Change 36xx Iowa to one-way north (was south); Meramec from
> Broadway to California one-way west; Osage from Virginia to Louisiana
> one-way west; Osage from Virginia to Compton one-way east; Miami from
> Arkansas to Grand one-way west; Osage from Tennessee to Louisiana
> one-way east (neighbor suggests one way west); Osage from Virginia to
> Louisiana one-way west (neighbor suggests one way east from Louisiana
> to Compton); Louisiana 34xx block one-way north (neighbor sugggests
> leaving two-way); 35xx Pennsylvania one-way north (was south); 36xx
> Iowa one-way north (was south); Jefferson one way east from Texas to
> Jefferson.
> Thanks.
> Craig