by Michael R. Allen
Yesterday was the occasion of the latest City Affair, a monthly discussion forum on urban design issues. The discussion topic was the McEagle NorthSide project and how to build a consensus agenda for meaningful public involvement. The 42 people who attended included a cadre of Washington University students, residents of the project area, preservationists, architects and an editorial writer for the daily newspaper. Discussion was lively and thorough, focused largely on the problematic process through which the project’s ordinances are being proposed. People wished that the open discussion format would have been great for the May 21 meeting at Central Baptist, and many expressed concern that there will be no more chances to ask questions of McEagle team members or the aldermen in a public setting before there is a redevelopment ordinance drafted.
Most in attendance agreed that while the NorthSide project was not ideal as proposed, it’s not too late to create a role for public input that will make changes. Some expressed the sentiment that the scale of the project will doom it, or that the plans as presented by Mark Johnson of Civitas was a smokescreen for a larger north side project or commercial development. People talked about the benefits of form based zoning, preservation review, incremental sale of city-owned property to guarantee development occurs in each zone, and the need to create mechanisms for removing existing residents and businesses from the authority granted to the developer. The ideas of private transit and power districts as well as property assessments worried many people who attended, who thought that those are already functions of government. There was discussion of development inequity between north St. Louis and the rest of the city, and how much north St. Louis needs the amount of investment that McEagle proposes.
The meeting concluded with discussion of the merits of crafting a form-based zoning code and a community benefits agreement (CBA) to ensure high-quality development and a contract between all stakeholders in the project. The idea of a CBA, which could be inclusive of the goals of diverse stakeholders (including McEagle), gained a lot of positive feedback.
A CBA an expansion of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch‘s idea of an advisory council for the project. It would also place all of the promises made by Paul J. McKee, Jr. and his team at the May 21 meeting into a real agreement between the developer and the project’s many stakeholders. On May 21, McKee listed promises that included saving buildings that can be saved, keeping existing residents in their homes, not moving a single job out of the area, including minority-owned businesses in the project and building urban and respecting the street grid. While the audience at City Affair was critical of some aspects of the project, by and large people expressed support for these promises — a critical starting point for consensus.