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Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Haven of Grace Applies for Demolition Permit for House It Promised to Save

Haven of Grace has again applied for a demolition permit for the house at 2619-21 Hadley Street in the Old North St. Louis neighborhood. On April 9, the non-profit provider of housing for pregnant homeless women took out a demolition permit application to machine or hand wreck the venerable house that it has sought to demolish before.

The rear wall of the 1880s-era Italianate house mysteriously collapsed in February, and Haven of Grace has neither stabilized the wall nor covered the opening created by the collapse. The collapsed wall is not load bearing, however, and the roof and other walls of the house are intact.

In February 2007, Haven of Grace proposed demolishing this house and another older house at 2605 Hadley Street. Haven of Grace wanted to build three new apartment buildings on the sites to expand their ability to offer intermediate-term housing. Since the houses were contributing resources to the Murphy-Blair National Historic District, the demolition permit applications went to the city's Cultural Resources Office, which denied the permits. The Preservation Board considered the matter on appeal. The Old North St. Louis neighborhood was forced to contemplate a difficult balance between its heritage and one of its best neighbors. At the meeting hearing the appeal, Haven of Grace Executive Director Diane Berry and her architect Tom Cohen announced a compromise plan in which Haven of Grace would agree to mothball the house at 2619-21 Hadley if the board would grant the demolition application for 2605 Hadley. The board unanimously voted for the compromise proposal, and construction proceeded.

Neighbors noticed something strange this fall. Instead of three new buildings, only two were built. The house at 2619-21 Hadley was not mothballed, but left to sit. The new buildings were as sensitive to the neighborhood's fabric as their renderings suggested, and neighbors were pleased both with the design and the density. Best of all, the buildings carried the street face on that side established by the vacant house at one corner and another occupied building at the other. With just one more new building and a rehabilitation of Haven of Grace's old house, the block would be complete.

Alas, that scenario did not come to pass. Haven of Grace claims that the house is beyond rehabilitation. The third building is not under construction because the old house is viewed as a risk that could collapse onto or against the new building.

Haven of Grace decided to back away from its compromise proposal. This is despite rancorous discussion that led to Berry leaving the board of directors of the Old North St. Louis Restoration Group. This is despite soul-searching among the neighborhood's committed preservationists, who had vowed never again on demolition only to be faced with a terrible choice. Most of these people went against their own principles out of respect for Haven of Grace, and either endorsed or condoned the demolition of the house at 2605 Hadley Street, which had not been as far gone as many buildings that have been saved in Old North.

Meanwhile, the house is in no immediate danger of collapse. Due to the Preservation Board denial of the permit last year, the matter will have to be appealed to the Circuit Court. If last year's contest was exhausting, this one could be worse.

Is there any room for compromise this time? The only compromise would seem to be some situation in which haven of Grace would not be responsible for rehabbing the house but could also be assured that the house would be rehabbed in a timely manner. Unless Haven of Grace would sell the house, though, the matter is up to that organization -- and its wishes are clear.


Anonymous said...

I hope you consider the program of the Haven of Grace when you discuss the demolition of 2619 Hadley. I understand the reason for this blog is preservation (which is a wonderful thing!), but the motivation of the Haven is 100% devotion to its community. The structural risk of this building is preventing 4 at-risk moms from furthering their development to stay off the streets (with their infants).

Anonymous said...

roof is rotted, floor structure is rotted away, bricks are falling, rear wall collapsed, front cornice work is a total loss, ...... not in danger of collapse??? why did the city condem it then?

Anonymous said...

The haven has agreed to rehabilitate this building and should be held to that agreement. NO EXCEPTION! We have already lost one Historic contributing structure because of said agreement. I support The Haven's mission of keeping homeless pregnant women off the streets but they should be held to the previous agreement. We have saved the "unsavable" before, The Haven of Grace can do it too.

Anonymous said...

The Haven of Grace financing model is probably much different, heavily donation dependent, and otherwise less leveraged than the other, well publicized, most astonishing, Old North rehabs of late.

The long time span between the original Haven blog post and the first harsh comment is perhaps a good indication of how sensitive criticizing Haven of Grace must be in the neighborhood?

Michael writes of compromise. Can anyone think of a possible compromise scenario?

Michael R. Allen said...

I definitely am mindful of the mission of Haven of Grace and fully support it. Even writing this blog entry was difficult due to my support for that mission and my sensitivity to the challenge of carrying it out.

Anonymous said...

I think the only likely solution to the building--outside of the miracle donor who can spare the cash to mothball it--is for the ONSLRG/RHCDA partnership to take the building over as a part of the next expansion of their rental efforts. I could imagine a partnership between the two entities where graduates of Haven of Grace's services could live semi-independently in apartments near to Haven. Having said that, there seems to be fairly low chance of this sort of partnership emerging, given past history.

Anonymous said...

Don't worry, the Haven is well financed through it's many connections "outside the neighborhood".

Bottom line is that they never intended to rehab the building. In the time that's passed since the preservation board's decision, nothing has been done to further stabilize and care for the structure. Many buildings in Old North are much more structurally compromised, yet they are being renovated. This is more a question of will.

They agreed to rehab the building as part of a compromise that allowed them to demolish another historic structure. Why should that agreement now not apply? I'd like to see them pull that kind of stunt in a neighborhood in Ladue.

Anonymous said...

Or Lafayette Square, for that matter.

I hate it when people treat north city neighborhoods as second class.

Anonymous said...

I would like to see the Haven publicize the budget they have put together to rehab the building and the comparison budget for building new. Or, if they have not developed a rehab budget, open it for RFPs. Several great rehab contractors are looking for work right now and could offer a good value.

The historic status of the neighborhood is a community asset, which can be lost if too many buildings are demolished. I agree with the comment that the Haven is 100% devoted to their community, but their community also consists of people who need access to the historic tax credit programs to keep the positive revitalizing momentum going which drew the Haven to ONSL in the first place. If the Haven could transparently show the community exactly what the financial hardship is in rehabbing the building, there might be more sympathy to their point of view.

However, many, many people in the community have rehabbed buildings with exactly these problems on very modest budgets. The new buildings are NOT being built with modest budgets. So it seems the money is there, just not the will.

I've just come in this evening from helping out another single woman neighbor who is completing such a rehab on two buildings with a budget of $56/sqft. And yes, this includes relaying an entire brick wall, lead abatement and high efficiency furnaces, serious insulation, complete builder's risk insurance, a licensed general contractor, full gut rehab with all required permits.

It can be done if you want to do it.

Anonymous said...

God bless the $56/sqft project; however, the other rehab projects being done in the neighborhood by both the boutique rehab developers and the ONSL/RHCDA partnership are coming in at much more than this price. The other reality is that there are multiple buildings in ONSL--less every year--where the collapsed roofs, walls and serious wear and tear makes it extremely unlikely that your odd-ball rehabber would be willing to pick them up. Haven has always had the "my way or the highway mentality" and I doubt that Haven has ever been committed to preservation. However, that doesn't take away from the fact that there are a group of buildings in ONSL for which the building condition makes them a hard case for rehab and over which preservationists will have to make hard choices in the coming years.

Anonymous said...

Hard choices are made every day.

Historic preservation in this kind of playing field is an absolute race against time and a diversity of viewpoints.

The race is not made any easier by the economic conditions we are now in. This recent malaise has the banking community in fear of financing miracles like the 14th Mall, which suggest a repeat performance by the ONSLRG/RHCDA partnership may not be happening until this mess is cleared up. The significant drop in real estate values is also a significant setback.

So in the race, you're going to save some and lose some. The only thing that really counts is having a vision and the will to make it happen. There's no shortage of that on the Haven's part - it's simply the vision doesn't include historic preservation. They've elected to lawyer up and take the fight to the next level, a move probably influenced by their stakeholders and demonstrated by their actions over the last several months. It sucks that they didn't live up to the commitment made to the Preservation Board, but that's the way it is.

If they want to play it out in Circuit Court, good for them. Both city and neighborhood group have committed to doing everything possible to save buildings in the district - and have certainly taken efforts to assist the Haven on this one. Having ONSLRG, the city, or anyone else releive them of their responsibility to take care of a protected resource is not the answer and sets an unwise precedent.

Any guesses on what the judge will decide??

Michael R. Allen said...

To the comment about hard choices -- I agree, there are numerous buildings on the brink of being lost with rehab costs out of reach of do-it-yourselfers.

Looking at comparable buildings, though, the building owned by Haven of Grace is in pretty fair condition. The house hasn't reached a point where it needs major structural work. (Rebuilding a rear wall is a pretty easy project -- I have done it.)