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Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Preview of Monday's Preservation Board Agenda

The St. Louis Preservation Board meets Monday at 4:00 p.m. at the offices of the Planning and Urban Design Agency on the twelfth floor of 1015 Locust Street. Meetings typically last three hours.

Here are some highlights from the agenda:

Preliminary Reviews

5594 Bartmer Avenue: The proposed demolition of a beautiful and rare Shingle Style house appeared on the Preservation Board agenda two months ago and was deferred pending study of the reuse potential by the staff of the Cultural Resources Office. Staff has written an excellent report on the building condition and reuse feasibility based on a thorough site visit; read that here. Staff recommends denial of the permit and exploration of a National Historic District for Bartmer Avenue. This house and its neighbors fall outside of any historic districts that would enable the use of historic rehabilitation tax credits.

2300 Newhouse Avenue: The proposed new construction of six frame homes with attached garages in the western edge of Hyde Park manages to add yet another absurd faux historic design to the architecturally mongrelized neighborhood. Here we have brick fronts with shaped parapets imitating 20th century buildings that can be found in Hyde Park, but there is a twist: the parapets are actually gable ends on a front-gabled building! The sides and rear show the pitched roof and reveal the illusion the front barely conceals. Furthermore, the developer includes attached garages and has not submitted a site plan showing setbacks. Staff recommends denial as proposed.

Appeals of Staff Denials

5286 Page Avenue: The appeal of staff denial of a demolition permit for the two-story commercial building at the southeast corner of Page and Union has been on the agenda for months, always being continued at the request of the owners. Another continuance is possible. The building is a contributing resource to the Mount Cabanne/Raymond Place National Historic District and the last remaining commercial building at a prominent intersection degraded by a Walgreens across the street. Staff urges upholding their denial.

4218 Maryland: The unlawful alterations made to this house transformed it in disturbing ways: rebuilt bizarre porch, new cheap door and sidelights that don't even fit the opening, alteration of brick pattern and color on front elevation and removal of two front bay windows and replacement with flat openings. Yikes! Staff recommends upholding their denial.

Appeal of Preservation Board Denial

2013-15 Park Avenue: The builder of infill housing in Lafayette Square wants to amend earlier plans to face the side elevations with brick and instead face them with vinyl siding. Staff recommends upholding their denial of this request, and wisely so. Here we have strong neighborhood support for a strict local historic district ordinance that expressly prohibits sided primary and secondary elevations. One expects Lafayette Square to be the last local district where vinyl siding should be approved; the neighborhood is both bellwether and inspiration for the power of local district ordinances to shape attractive neighborhoods. (The Lafayette Square standards can also be an example of the the blind spots of such ordinances, but not regarding the use of vinyl siding.)


Chris said...

Even more compelling for a denial of the Park Ave request is that it's right across from Lafayette Square, and not on some quiet backstreet.

Doug Duckworth said...

Progress in the West End Neighborhood begins with demolition of Victorian homes and construction of McMansions. At least the LRA land will be used.

Anonymous said...

Wow, there sure are a lot of property owners with bad taste, or no taste at all. The most appalling, in my opinion, is the propsal to replace the commercial building at Union & Page with a parking lot.

Anonymous said...

Duck Dougworth, you really should try to know something before throwing off your little witticisms. In actuality, new construction in the West End started in 1999-2000 with the construction of new single family housing on the site of a scattered site public housing complex demolished in the mid-1980s. This project started earlier in 95-96 at a time when most of the experts public or otherwise were advocating against any type of homeownership in the area. Since that point, new construction has continued in admittedly a range of urban and suburban forms in both new subdivisions in the southern portion of the neighborhood as well as a pattern of infill elsewhere.

That being said, Bartmer is a beautiful street, home to great, elegant mansions and would be well suited to a historic preservation district.

Anonymous said...

DD is typical of many young critics of St. Louis. Everything that happened before their arrival was done out of ignorance of good urbanity. Downtown revitalization, the loft district, adaptive reuse, and historic rehab are their ideas. Some among the new breed of city enthusiasts think only they have the answers. Theirs is an insufferable blend of ignorance and arrogance.

Anonymous said...

I’d say that the ratio of young city enthusiasts displaying an “insufferable blend of ignorance and arrogance” to older city enthusiasts displaying the same blend is roughly 1:1. Fortunately, they are both distinct minorities.

The vast majority of city enthusiasts, young and old, usually realize that we have more interests in common, than we have differences – and we try to focus on the progress that can be made by working together.

(It’s healthy when the people with the energy to live in a house with three walls can talk with the people who had the same experience in a different century.)


Doug Duckworth said...

I know a little about the history of the area in regards to Alpha Cabanne Courts and Community Garden apartments which were a product of the urban renewal effort in the neighborhood. Prior to 99-00, there was basically no construction of any kind. Obviously everyone should be happy to see reinvestment, I am personally, but that should not come at the expense of our historic housing. There is no reason to demolish historic housing especially when our City has a surplus of vacant lots. We have plenty of land. Moreover, if people are upset with derelict properties then the LRA should be held accountable for the negligence not the building itself. But it is easier to simply demolish a building rather than build a consensus and reform the rouge agency. After all we can't even agree that local control of the police is important.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps tying Bartmer to local control of police is a bit of a stretch...

Anonymous said...


LRA does not have the funds to maintain LRA property.

My real estate taxes have nearly doubled in less than five years.

Meanwhile, the property value has remained constant.

How do you propose increasing LRA's budget to afford the cost to "maintain" LRA properties?

And what kind of maintenance are you talking about, and on whichh buildings?

What if the alderman and local neighbors don't agree with your ideas?

Would you try to force your will upon local residents?

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

As suggested by Michael, others, and myself, the LRA needs to market their holdings which they do not do. The net total number of properties they transition to private use is extremely low and a partial explanation is that they don't do marketing.

They are funded through block grants and only have about $750,000 for building maintenance, while the City has a special use tax which amounts to about $1,500,000 for demolitions through the building division. Obviously this is not enough money, yet that shouldn't be an excuse. Not having the necessary flow of resources to accomplish goals means that there is an inherent need for reform. Either more funds should be raised or the organization should be dissolved. I would argue that decades of failure within the organization instills a culture of failure. Either a new organization under the control of the city, or a private organization, should take on the responsibility.

The solution to the problem is obviously not rampant demolition. St. Louis has a history of demolition and it has not worked.

Aldermen should not always follow the ideas of their constituency. They should also lead. When the status quo is an obvious failure then some other path should be taken. A leader is bold and takes that entrepreneurial step forward.

Anonymous said...

Part of the problem is that the buildings are worth more in their disassembled parts than they are as a vacant shell.

The salvaged lumber and brick bring more than the cost of the LRA purchase price.

So there's an economic reuse of the property for you.

However, to rehab, then you need to fill a substantial gap.

The gap is more than can be filled by historic tax credits alone, which are only available on a fraction of LRA's inventory anyway.

LRA does market property.

Your idea of hiring a private company to operate the LRA is an interesting one though.

How do you propose it be funded?

Doug Duckworth said...

LRA's website lists parcels that are smaller than my car. They also do not have photos for all of their properties, and what photos they have are not adequate. They should have a sign on every property, as a real estate firm does, and some of the more impressive LRA rehabs should be on billboards. Whenever someone visits St. Louis they should see the potential of our even distressed housing stock. Exurban developers peddle their frame moneypits. The City should partner with developers and do the same. We have some however existing marketing isn't adequate compared to our competition.

But with the signs that means their holdings would be more visible thus attract scrutiny. Moreover, if they actually did start unloading large amounts of housing to the private sector then they would be out of the job. What motivation is there for bureaucrats to effectively run themselves out of the job? Will they receive a bonus if they meet a given quota? No, thus why be successful?

There have been suggestions of how to privatize the role of the LRA by people with more experience than me, thus I would defer to them. I am generally against privatization, but if the outcome is positive then perhaps the means are not of consequence. As with Wollman Rink in NYC, if buildings are saved at a higher rate than the LRA who cares? The LRA isn't exactly public anyway.

Anonymous said...


What part of "owner of last resort" do you not understand? Do you know how LRA acquires property in the first place?

Better to apply your efforts at reducing the number of bank foreclosures, increasing code enforcement, and volunteering for the neighborhood organization of your choice.

Anonymous said...

Thought you might like to know that your post solved a long-standing mystery for me of a photo I took 4 years ago. It was of 5594 Bartmer. Just wanted to say thanks, even though it was just a happy accident.

Also, I think that demolishing the Union-Page building is a terrible idea. What on earth does that area need a parking lot or "landscaped" land (landscaped with weeds, most likely) for? Furthermore, I love this building.

Thanks for the post and links.