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Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Emergency Demolition Orders Made to Suit?

Last week I noted the demolition of the three-story commercial building at Page and Kinsghighway in Fountain Park (see "Demolition Comes Twofold to Page Boulevard"). A driver struck the corner column on the first floor of the building, leaving the corner unsupported. Owner Roberts Brothers Properties did nothing to stabilize the corner, and eventually the building started collapsing at the corner. On March 21, the city's Building Division issued and emergency demolition permit for the building -- and two other freestanding buildings on the same parcel!

The emergency order includes two two-story commercial buildings that stand east of the condemned building. These buildings are vacant and also owned by Roberts Brothers Properties, but have no structural damage that would warrant emergency condemnation and demolition under the city's building code.

The inclusion of these buildings in the demolition order brings to mind last year's demolition of the entire Brecht Butcher Supply Company Buildings, owned by Paul J. McKee, Jr., despite the fact that only one of the three buildings suffered enough fire damage to warrant emergency condemnation. In that case, the three buildings shared party walls, so the Building Division's action made a little more sense even if it was premature.

This time, the three buildings share no walls. There is absolutely no connection between the collapsing corner of the large building and the condition of the two neighboring buildings. Should we assume that the Building Division is willing to twist public safety laws to allow owners to clear sites for development? Or perhaps the Building Division has such prejudice for historic buildings that it cannot restrain itself faced with an opportunity to take down three buildings instead of one?

No matter what the intention, the result is that one city agency assigned to uphold public safety is thwarting any attempt to implement real preservation planning. Really, all three of the buildings at Page and Kingshighway could have been preserved. Even after the corner collapsed, the corner building was stable enough to repair. The Building Division could have ordered emergency stabilization. Although the Division can only spend money on emergency demolition, and not stabilization, perhaps it's time we changed that, A temporary corner support -- which one can buy at Home Depot and many homeowners could have installed -- would have cost much, much less than demolition and given the neighborhood more time to explore the future of the building.

Our demolition process suffers from a lack of development vision. Without meaningful citywide preservation planning, each demolition decision is made without any legal guidance. The Building Division has discretionary power that prevents careful planning. Yet even if the Division wanted to step in and try to stabilize a building, it lacks enabling authority to do so. These issues need to be resolved. Currently, only an alderman can intervene in this process and force an outcome -- and not always. We need to reform our demolition process through enactment of real comprehensive preservation planning legislation.

25 comments:

Doug Duckworth said...

The minute I saw those building I knew they would come down.

They are in the way of a potential strip mall.

Even if they aren't, their existence negates the vision of a vacant lot.

tobyweiss.com said...

So, the Roberts Brothers will renovate existing buildings in downtown St. Louis, but not in North St. Louis. What does this imply and signify?

john w. said...

And what vision! More parking lots like the one planned for the corner of Taylor and Lindell is what we need. Screw all the architecture, let's just pave the whole city.

goat314 said...

These bastards are going to destroy the whole damn city of we let them. When I get back its going to be some serious community organizing going on. No other city in the country fucks up architecture like we do man. Screw those damn crooked alderman and the mayor for not having some kind of extreme preservation codes on the books. This is not going to revitalize the city, not this! There are some powers that be that seriously don't want to see this city comeback. Status Quo motherfuckers. Excuse me I'm pissed, but there really is no excuse for this shit.

Jeff V. said...

Amen, Goat. We should all be infuriated by this shit. How this is allowed is beyond me. This is the kind of bullshit that makes us live up to our backwater reputation. Just think what the great cities would be doing with these buildings... Who is in charge in this city?!

Anonymous said...

The part you newbies seem to forget is that whilst we demo some things, our remaining old stuff is still more than most places start with. Preserve the stuff that deserves preserving, and let go the stuff that beckons for something new. We can create a new vision.

goat314 said...

For Anonymous! Don't even post if you are going to be anonymous, but yeah Jeff V. I agree. I don't think people or politicians from this area really understand how valuable those historic buildings really are! I would willingly pay a city earnings tax that went straight to historical preservation, because St. Louis is hands down one the most historically rich cities in the country. Sadly we don't have a national reputation for this and I personally think that this is the leaders fault for not promoting are architectural diamonds. If people from the East Coast knew what kind of gems we had, we would probably see an abundance of out of town developers and buyers trying to gentrify the NorthSide (not saying I'm an advocate of gentrification), but many of these same style houses go for millions on the coasts (or even Charleston or New Orleans, which I personally think we gut in historical architecture, but they have managed to make a tourist industry out of it) and we let them rot away and take there value and cultural significance for granite. Sad Sad Story in St. Louis. When I get back I'm doing all I can to stop this or we will lose a great American City's Soul!

Anonymous said...

Be sure to click on Goat314's icon. His bio is interesting to say the least...

Goat, do you really "tag under the bridge"? And what's that part about somebody being "in charge"?

Clearly, I'm not as enlightened as I need to be.

john w. said...

Maybe I'll just start leaving comments in my favorite blogs as "Anonymous". Wouldn't that be fancy?

Anonymous said...

I'm not gonna lie, I actually forgot that was there....I was quite the little thug in high school (one of the man reasons my mom made me leave St. Louis as a teenager), but now I'm headed to the Masters Program for Urban Planning at Florida State University so I feel like my past is a none issue (I'm progressing). I actually wrote that when I first got AOL at the tender age of 16, but looking at it now I realize how much I've grown. At least I can show face, more than I can say for you. Your probably one of those crooked alderman (or just an idiot) and I must of gotten under your skin, so your trying to repay the favor. lol good try your a natural private investigator! I wonder who posted this one!

goat314 said...

^ Its so much easier to play your game inst it? No Face, No Name, No Responsibility....just a coward. (By the last post was me), just trying to see how easy it is to talk shit when you don't have to show face.

john w. said...

Posting comments as 'anonymous' is certainly the prerogative of the individual who cares enough to add to the dialog on urban issues in St. Louis, but when this option is used as a screen to challenge opinions, and worse, to condescend to others who care enough to be apart of that dialog then it gets tiresome quickly. If the aim is to expose suspected weaknesses in the arguments of urbanists then simply challenge with a recognizable screen name. If the aim is to test the convictions of those who have strong opinions about the city and what happens to it, then use a screen name that can be traced to arguments made in the past. I find commenting in blogs under the secretive cloak of 'anonymous' to be annoying, frankly, and that if you have something of value to add then add it proudly with your recognizable name attached.

Anonymous said...

Spoke to someone in Building Division and they said the Preservation Board approved the demos and there's nothing that they can do, since this is a private demo.

Anyone care to explain?

Doug Duckworth said...
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Doug Duckworth said...
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Doug Duckworth said...

It's not in Preservation Review or an Historic District. Assuming they said that, the Building Division would be lying.

Look at this intersection on Geo St. Louis!

With the demolition of these buildings we will have a huge section of vacant land. Why the hell is that a good idea for North St. Louis? Do the vacant lots generate income for the owner, tax revenue for the City, or do vacant lots only accumulate trash?

Terry Kennedy is a leader on a great many things like control of the Police, but when it comes to economic development, he's going in the wrong direction. We've got demolitions on Washington Boulevard and Saaman has not built any of their condos. What will replace these buildings? Nothing! The money market is very tight and the Roberts Brothers won't deliver. Why not delay the demolition and wait. To hedonistically squander what could be an excellent project shows deficiency of leadership and vision. I have a lot of respect for Kennedy for what he's done, but I can't deny that he could do a lot more when it comes to this waste of opportunity.

As a legislator Terry heavily influences the Building Division as they are the bureaucracy. He passes their budget. He could order them to stabilize the building. There is no reason he shouldn't do this. Due to the recession the Roberts Brothers have no plan for this site. Why rush for demolition?

This building could have African American owned business on the top floors and retail on the bottom. Rehabbed buildings actually have lower rent than new, as the cost of construction is passed onto tenants. Moreover, I'm sure he could secure some incentives to make this even more attractive.

It's pedestrian friendly, thus would serve the neighborhood. It's on the Bus Line and people wouldn't need a car. Terry could have all of this done and take credit for it. There is absolutely no reason for demolition. The building isn't some bombed out shell, frequented by drug dealers or vagrants. It could be easily be stabilized today and rehabbed next year.

Michael R. Allen said...

The Preservation Board would only consider a demolition permit on appeal or if the Cultural resources Office wanted to throw the decision to the board.

The CRO and the Preservation Board never reviewed this application, because the building is not in any preservation review district and the demolition permit comes from an emergency order.

Neither the Preservation Board nor the Cultural Resources Office would have any review of an _emergency_ demolition order.


has no authority

Anonymous said...

As the original whistle blower on Mckee I find it very strange that Antonio French names you as one who gets what he's doing to the north side. So Since you get can you tell us because some of us on the north side don't. We appreciate your work and if it wasn't for you we still would not know about him. If that is the reason Old North is getting so much money lately? Paul Mckee stuffs money in the pockets of those who are willing to meet with him on a small scale instead of a full neighborhood meeting. When he was first uncloaked you were generating information left and right. Now not so much. What happened? Is Antonio French right do you "GET IT" now?

barbara_on_19th said...

To respond to the last post by anon@9:17 (and Michael, can't you ban anonymous comments?) ...

ONSLRG "Old North" is spending a lot of money right now on the 14th St Mall / Crown Square project. This money was carefully sourced with YEARS of effort from multiple reputable sources with help from RHCDA. The major source of funding was a bond passed by the city. Both organizations have transparent accounting practices. You can walk into the public board meeting of ONSLRG once a month at 14th & St Louis Ave and see a copy of the treasurer's report.

I live in Old North and am surrounded by Paul McKee's visible, visceral contempt for the human dignity and civil rights of his neighbors, so I feel your pain. But, ONSLRG is not the problem. The ONSLRG president & director met with McKee and he told them that he did not feel a need to work with them. ONSLRG made the information from that meeting public by telling the members, and the media, about it. Sure, ONSLRG is not perfect, but doing very good work that the community wants done, in the community, on behalf of the community and with transparently sourced, reputable funding. Also, if you have any neighborhood problem, you can call Jane at the office and she will help you! Who else has an open line & open heart these days?

If you have issues with ONSLRG, call and ask for Sean Thomas at 241-5031 and work it out.

Want to go after McKee? Just tell me how I can help.

Barbara Manzara
manzarbe@hotmail.com

goat314 said...

^ People like him will never try to get with you on any positive matter. The good people who actually want to make a difference should stick together, because it is obvious that people like him will use race, income, and politics to rip apart any "true" attempts for progression. For all we know this anonymous guy is on the McKee payroll and just trying to make up bullshit to discredit a difference maker and social educator like Doug. If he actually had something real to say he wouldn't write under anonymous. People trying to make a change don't hide like cowards.

Doug Duckworth said...

I'm not a social educator. I don't know that much. I simply observe and say how I feel.

The political machine is trying to co-opt critics of McKee. That's a way the machine preserves it's monopoly of political power. Critics are a threat to their hegemony, thus attempts are made to include them.

If the most critical and objective sign on then that's good for electoral purposes. It's a way to appear against McKee, while the money still slides under the table. It's a front, a distraction from McKee's record of violating civil rights and destroying our built environment.

john w. said...

I attended the Cameron Sinclair (founder of Architecture for Humanity) lecture at Wash U. on Tuesday, and was reminded that if there is work to be done we should not wait for others to begin.

Michael R. Allen said...

Regarding Paul McKee, I don't "get it." I didn't include myself with ONSLRG and Hubbard, Antonio French did. That reflects Antonio's view of the actors involved, not mine.

The reason that I haven't generated information left and right is because there isn't much to report, and others are already doing things like documenting all of the buildings McKee owns (see Built St. Louis). I did post last month about McKee's buildings on Wright Street, and have a forthcoming article in the Vital Voice predicting the steps Mckee might take this year.


I don't want to post frequently when I have nothing new to say, because inflammatory rhetoric is useless. What is most needed now is not massive blogging, but collective community action. When I started publishing, I wanted to build up a stock of information that would spur citizen action. I didn't want to be the guy with a McKee canard that won't quit.

Right now, there are few new developments in the story that I know beyond demolitions and brick rustling. This is a great chance for citizens to develop a vision for the 5th and 19th wards before McKee goes public with his plans.

john w. said...

Thank goodness someone else has worded it the way it needs to be worded (your last paragraph). I find the momentum built from civic actions such as the San Luis Apartments controversy being directed to the areas targeted by McKee. We will need the war room for sure.

Doug Duckworth said...

Developing a vision sounds great, however how will the machines and institutions respond? This isn't the first time people spoke of preservation as a vision. What makes us different?