Dear Opus, About Your Recent Rejection… An Open Letter to Opus Development

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Dear Opus Development,

I would like to offer my heartfelt sympathy for the unfortunate treatment you have received recently as you have attempted to invest 61 million of your hard-earned dollars building a 217-unit residential tower at the corner of Euclid and Lindell in the Central West End. We understand that certain of our quasi-public neighborhood volunteers have been asking you by telephone and in person to change your plans for the site. We also understand that they have convinced the Preservation Board to hold up approval of the project, at least for the moment.

This is disappointing.

Most of us who live nearby were quite excited to see your most recent proposal. I think you felt that excitement at the neighborhood meeting earlier this month. We also understand that the city staff in the Cultural Affairs Office also liked your proposal. They recommended the design receive preliminary approval from the Preservation Board. We were surprised when the Board refused the recommendation of its staff and denied that conditional approval.

Still, you are business people.  We are sure you understand that our neighbors are concerned only that you fulfill the requirements of the neighborhood’s Form Based Code and the standards of our Historic District. We are certain that no other concern would get in the way of those stated concerns. Indeed, we adopted Form Based Code precisely so that personal aesthetic preferences would not be used to impede development that meets the code’s criteria. We hope you can appreciate how these new standards have now made this a more objective process.

I hesitate to offer unsolicited advice. But just this once, I will suggest (against my better judgment) that there are three concerns you simply must address. Please understand that my only desire is to help you. We have reviewed the demands of our good friends in the neighborhood, and so please hear me out. This may be hard for you to read.

1.     You simply must increase your retail parking to Zero

Our dear, dear neighbors are flummoxed about the insufficient parking for the retail portion of your development. And because we believe in doing all things by the book, we have searched our Form Based Code to find a way forward in this weighty matter. We regret to inform you, Dearest Opus, that the code does mandate a certain minimum level of parking for the retail portion of your development. As we read the code, it does require you to have at least 0 (zero) parking spaces dedicated to that portion of your development. Should you—as feared—have fewer than zero parking spots, then we must conclude that our neighbors are in fact completely justified in their concerns… and that the Preservation Board is warranted in its withholding approval for your project. Consider our voices joined with theirs in demanding that you include at least zero parking spaces. We will not tolerate anything less than zero, Dear Opus. This is our last and final offer. Zero, and nothing less.

2.     Please respect the big “Yes” next to Balconies

Please also note the bewilderment our friends feel when they consider your plan to include balconies (…gasp…) on your building. Out of our endless concern that all things be done decently and in order, we have checked and re-checked the Form Based Code for this location. We regret to inform you of our discoveries, and we hope you will adjust your project to comply. Specifically, we found that the code lists the word “Yes” next to the word “Balconies” in its discussion of the building types for your specific site. We wonder how you can justify your intention to include balconies when the code is so clear in explicitly saying “Yes” when asked whether balconies are permitted. Indeed, the Code gives us a picture of 4545 Lindell as a model example for your location. I therefore hope you will look at 4545 Lindell and consider its design— and only then ask yourself the question, “Should I or should I not allow non-recessed balconies to project out from the building? (right: 4545 Lindell)

3.     And instead of concrete, please use the materials they used next door

Few things have my neighbors so discombobulated as your desire to include exterior concrete panels in your design. We have the greatest sympathy for our neighbors. With them, our only desire is that you follow the standards of our historic district. Our dear friends have reminded us that the materials you use in your building must be the same as those used in the adjacent buildings. Please respect that this is mandated by the standards of our Historic District.

Furthermore, after close inspection, we have discerned that there is precisely one adjacent building to your specific site. That would be the Bank of America tower on Lindell. Instead of using concrete, we urge you to use the same materials as that building. This is not an option, we remind you, but is a requirement of the standards. I believe you will find that that building is composed of a heavy, rough mixture of sand, cement and water that was poured into molds to harden. We encourage you to consider that material instead of using concrete. Or, if you prefer, you might want to use the same material as the other recent tower on Lindell—again, that model example of 4545 Lindell.

{the standards of the Historic District stipulate that the project should use the same exterior materials as this adjacent building… not concrete}

Or, if you truly want to fulfill the spirit as well as the letter of the historic district, then you might resurrect the materials that were used in dear departed San Luis Apartments, formerly the Hotel de Ville. I believe that building used an aqueous material of gravel and crushed rock which was poured on site and solidified. That option would be far more contextual than using concrete. We hope you will consider our appeals. If our Form Based Code and Historic District are worth the keyboards they were written on, then we simply must let them guide our decision, and not the subjective preferences of mere mortals.

{alternately, opus could go ultra-historic and use the materials from the demolished San Luis Apartments – image via VanishingSTL}

It is our belief, Dear Opus, that should you work with us on these three demands, then the remainder of our neighbors’ demands will be easy to address. Pick a different brick. Let them see the window finishes. Send each of them a years’ worth of Teleflora so they can imagine a big, grassy yard in front. But as for the three core demands listed above, we simply must insist that you comply with the objective design standards and give us at least zero parking spaces, respect the “Yes” next to balconies, and use the same material they used on the Bank of America building. Should you comply with these demands, we simply cannot see any legal or moral basis for the Preservation Board holding up your approval too much longer.

Again, please receive our deepest condolences and understand that our desire is only to help. If there is anything I can do, please do not hesitate to call.

Thank you.

For more on this project visit Nicki’s Central West End Guide and read this past nextSTL story.

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  • matthb

    I love in the latest wave of NIMBYism the concern for parking ratios. “There is not enough parking!” But, on the other side they don’t want the development to “create more traffic”.

  • Marshall Howell

    San Luis Apartments = Ugly

    • lukka

      true. they were very ugly. i’m happy they tore it down.

      • STLgasm

        You guys are nuts. Now we have a giant surface parking lot where a high-rise building once stood. Yay for parking lots. I urge you to use a little imagination– new windows, a paint job, funky lighting and landscaping would’ve surely made the San Luis one of the sexiest buildings in the city. Remember, people thought the saucer was ugly too. It’s amazing what a little investment and vision can do.

        • Alex Ihnen

          An eyesore! :)

    • imran

      (sigh) I am saddened that you guys cannot see the potential of unique mid century architecture and are happy it torn down for a parking lot.

      • Alex Ihnen

        Just sad that the focus isn’t on the apartments (people) living there, adding to density and vibrancy of the area, paying taxes, buying things in the city… Instead, we have a parking lot. Ugly or not, it’s a loss.

        • Dogtown Dude

          Maybe I missed it but where is the original article that states just facts about what’s going on with the development or NOW not going on. These type of article is great if there was a previous write up explain what exactly happened and what didn’t happen. Without that, it’s just confusing and hard to understand.

          • Presbyterian

            The story was largely missed by the media. The short version: Cultural Affairs Office recommended preliminary approval for the project, with further review down the road as details develop. Central West End Association’s development committee wanted nine or ten changes, however, and has been putting pressure on the developer and city … under the guise that their concern is to fulfill the form based code and historic district standards.

            Only opponents of the project showed up at the Preservation Board, and the board denied preliminary approval. So Opus is back to work trying to find a way forward. Three of the opponents’ core demands are (1) more parking, (2) no exterior concrete panels and (3) no balconies projecting out from the building.

          • Presbyterian

            Opponents’ other demands: Use less metal, show us examples of window and door finishes, put a grassy terrace out front instead of a concrete sidewalk / plaza, don’t vary the brick color, and don’t use a metal cornice on top.

          • dempster holland

            If the CWE members had been around in the 1920s
            (as my family was) there would not have been the
            highrise buildings on Lindell; They would have been
            banned because they were not culturally or
            historicly compatible with the single familly
            houses they replaced. Nor would the new cathedral
            have been built in 1914. Nor would St Louis U
            been allowed to move to Grand in 1890. The goal
            would have been to never allow change.

          • imran

            I don’t remember the details but there was a piece about the original
            opposition to the highrises on Lindell Blvd . The zoning change was fought by people living around Lindell.

          • Alex Ihnen

            You’re right. The article should have given the context needed to better understand it. Here’s some background on the process and where we stand via Nicki’s Central West End Guide: http://nickidwyer.typepad.com/nicki/2013/12/opus-project-before-preservation-board-tomorrow.html

    • billikenguy

      I lived behind those apartments for several years. They were one of the most awful-looking residential buildings in the history of the area. I only wish they were torn down before I moved.

  • Daniel

    Excellent letter!

  • STLgasm

    I am really pissed that I missed this meeting. As a CWE homeowner, I want to speak up to cancel out these stodgy obstructionist BANANAs.

  • Ann Wimsatt

    Internationally, many municipalities have specific design requirements for balcony design–not just a laughable ‘Yes!’ box.

    The Opus balcony design for this building is a ‘developer’s special’; ie as inexpensive as balconies get. It appears to be a conc slab projecting straight out of the (faux) brick facade.

    The rendering is deceptive. In built form, the cheap balconies will dominate the image of the building. Cheap, projecting balconies are not a good look for the CWE–or Saint Louis. The developers should be pushed to add more design substance to their balconies. On that point, the CWE neighbors are to be commended for insisting on higher urban design standards.

    • CWEnder was taken

      I agree with the latter part of your comment. It is NOT to much to ask for the developer to show a more detailed design of the balconies, but that still wont make everyone happy, There are too many critics making allegations without correct or complete facts. i.e., the developer clearly stated they will lay real brick, not a faux brick facade…

      • Ann Wimsatt

        Materials lesson: The historic brick buildings you see in St Louis are true brick facades. The brick is often three or four layers thick and it helps support the weight of the building.

        The new brick facades, including the one on this tower, are in fact, ‘faux’ brick facades. The brick is merely a thin veneer which is strapped to a steel or concrete support system.

        In my opinion, and to many trained eyes, brick ‘towers’ look ridiculous and provincial. The exterior walls are paper thin compared to a real brick facade. The whole material sense and weightiness of brick is lost. and the resulting architecture often looks pedestrian as a result.

        This is why the mantra ‘brick at all costs!’ is usually counterproductive for a modern city,

        • stlhistory

          Quite a few early 20th century houses and buildings in south St. Louis don’t have brick structure, but they do have brick facades. About a third of the gingerbread-style houses in Southampton are brick facade with fireproof block walls. Don’t be so quick to say that the historic brick buildings are what they appear to be.

        • craig

          As a fairly recent architecture school grad, I too was under the impression that brick facades could not be done well anymore. However, there are places where this is far from the case. These are examples of the “fake” brick veneers you rail against that I think are quite beautiful. Now, if we could only achieve these here in the U.S. let alone STL.

          Maccreanor Lavington in London
          Kenk Architects in Amsterdam
          Wigender Hovenier in Amsterdam
          Hans Kollhoff in Berlin and the Hague

    • samizdat

      Yep, the balconies almost have an “oops, we forgot the friggin’ balconies” look about them, tacked on late in the design schedule with a click of the mouse in a rendering program.

      This is one of the reasons I loathe automated design: it seems to make architects and designers l-a-z-y.

      While I’m at it, the fenestration is just a wee bit bland, too: glass rectangles inserted a bit too symmetrically into the face of the structure. Though I must say that the U-shape has always been one of my favorites.

      • Ann Wimsatt

        Opus is a sophisticated player. There are no oops involved. They saved some cash with that design. Those are ‘value-engineered’ balconies that look innocuous in a rendering.

        The new Crossing building in Clayton apparently had to meet higher balcony design standards.

        Architecture tip: projecting balconies are rarely used by the residents because, guess what, it’s darn windy at those heights.

        • samizdat

          Oh, I agree, they definitely look cheap, which was partially my point. I think that’s one of the reasons I pop a gasket with a lot of the designs presented to the City recently: it seems as if the developers know that they can skate by with cheap materials and poor design choices simply because the City presents itself as a cheap date, desperate for a night out.

          “Value-engineered”. I like that. Or, rather, hate what it represents, at least.

        • CWEnder

          Balcony user tip: I live at 4545 Lindell, the newest residential building in the block. Our building is made of concrete. We have projecting balconies. I use my balcony all the time, as do many of my neighbors. And even if some residents don’t lounge outside daily, a balcony does allow for outdoor cooking, container gardening, and guess what, a psychological expansion of interior space, improving the desirability and therefore the market rate of the building.

          • samizdat

            To be fair, the 4545 balconies are much larger than the Opus balconies. They are in fact clearly the result of a more thoughtful and holistic design, as they do not give one the impression that cheap materials and lower cost points were the primary reason for their appearance.

          • CWEnder

            You’re right…4545′s balconies are well integrated into the overall design. But I was responding to Ms. Wimsatt’s generalization that “balconies are rarely used by the residents”, which seemed to imply “why provide them at all”.

    • Guest

      Put me firmly in the “I’m fine with this” camp. I appreciate the courtyard aesthetic of the rendering, rather than a standard cube.

      And really, the balconies are fine. Sure it’ll probably be an extended concrete slab with iron railings, but so what. It’s a simple a simple balcony that will increase the unit’s rentability without reducing its interior footprint, as recessed balconies would.

      If anything, the CWE neighbors should require OPUS to build into their lease agreements language stating what is and isn’t allowed out there (i.e. no bikes, grills, lawn furniture, signage, etc.).

      And I agree with others about the facing — it’s “okay.” Sure, push for “traditional building materials” like terra cotta or limestone on the first twenty feet and brick above. I’m sure that’s a concession Opus will gladly consider.

      • dempster holland

        call the police. There’s a lawn chair on that balcony!

        • http://yastlblog.blogspot.com/ Kevin Barbeau

          Heh. It’s funny, but true. If the neighbors are worried about how this face of protruding balconies will look, it will be moreso for what’s on them than how they’re built.

  • matimal

    parking!? if the central west end doesn’t get density, who does?

  • murraysm

    First Opus proposal was much better. The latest has been enlarged & cheapened. Not good for such a prominent site. All IMHO of course!

  • Ann Wimsatt

    Lou and Bob Saur designed fantastic balconies for 4545 Lindell. They are large and would easily hold a dining group of eight–or a couple of lounge chairs. The Saurs spent a lot of money adding well-designed, well propotioned balconies. No wonder the residents enjoy them.

    The Opus balconies, on the other hand, look like the absolute minimum size. They are approximately 4′ x4′ and will hold a bicycle and one chair–or two chairs. They are built to save costs and they don’t fit the aesthetic of the new, solid brick design.

    Fair point on the brick construction of the South side and stunning new brick construction–in other cities. St Louis would get better brick design if it was able to distinguish the differences in the design renderings. The latest Opus proposal rendering is not as interesting as the first, Chicago-Style design. If they added more faux brick facade to appease the NIMBY’s, it’s not been an enhancement. In my opinion.

    • John

      On the old website, you said something about a “really, really tall” building you heard about for the intersection of Kingshighway and Lindell. What more can you say about that? I think a lot of people would be interested in hearing what could be going up there. That intersection could be the greatest address in the whole state!

      • Presbyterian

        Alderman Roddy tried to get the property owners together about a decade ago with a vision of seeing the site developed. At that time, he floated the possibility of a 40-story tower. It was just an idea, though. I believe the last serious proposal was in the 1980s, but it didn’t happen.

        The site has been vacant for fifty years now. I believe the Koplar family is still the largest land owner. Joe Roddy might be the person most likely to know whether anyone serious is expressing interest in the site.