Maryland School Town Homes Set to Add Much Needed Density in Clayton

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Maryland School Town Homes - Clayton, MO

The plan to replace the long closed Maryland School in Clayton with 45 luxury town homes has a new look. Renderings by developer Higginbotham Custom Homes and Renovation reveal just how the site might be remade. The three acre site was declared surplus property by the school district in 2009 and was put on the market. After receiving multiple offers, the Clayton school district entered into a contract to sell the property to Love Investment Company, which is working with Higginbotham as the developer, at the end of January of this year.

Gyo Obata is serving as the project architect. The “O” in HOK, Gyo co-founded that firm in St. Louis in 1955 and designed countless notable buildings around the world. The developer expects the project to produce $450,000 in new annual tax revenue for Clayton. The project must still win approval from the city’s planning and architectural review commissions and the Board of Aldermen. The property is currently zoned for “Nursery, Primary, Secondary Education” and would require rezoning.

Maryland School Town Homes - Clayton, MO

Maryland School Town Homes - Clayton, MO

Despite objections from neighbors who have used the school’s greenspace as a park for years, the project appears ready to move forward and add much needed residential density to Clayton. A year ago, I wrote “What’s Wrong With Clayton? That’s Easy, but Does Clayton Care?” That article focused on the lack of retail and how downtown Clayton is dominated by four and five lane streets (they should be narrowed), built primarily to get commuters into and out of town quickly. The the other half of building a place for people is actually adding people.

Today, walking downtown Clayton is an amazing and dreadful experience in contrast. Here and there restaurants and bars are packed (check out the 2 1/2 hour wait at Pastaria every Friday), but in between are dark office windows set back on raised plazas, curb cuts for yet another parking garage, and virtually zero activity on the sidewalk. Everyone drives (hey, garage parking at Pastaria is free). Worse yet is the incredible number of vacant lots and empty storefronts on the east side of downtown.

Downtown Clayton was once a retail hub. Prior to Famous Barr moving to the newly built Galleria Mall in the 1990s, this was a shopping destination. With retail having moved west and along nearby Interstates, Clayton must change. Residents, visitors and elected officials see this and know that Clayton needs more residents. And yet what are the complaints heard about the proposed development?

Opponents say they are against “high density housing” and concerned about parking and traffic issues. The proposal is clearly higher-density than surrounding uses, but is far from introducing a new form that would disrupt the existing residential context. A traffic study was requested and will be conducted, but it’s inconceivable that 45 luxury town homes will overburden the overly wide Jackson Avenue, or other streets, or generate more traffic than did the building’s use as a school. Of course Clayton recently required a $13,000 traffic study for a proposed grocery store to occupy a former grocery store (that building’s been vacant for a decade).

Maryland School Town Homes - Clayton, MO

Maryland School Town Homes - Clayton, MO

Maryland School Town Homes - Clayton, MO

The 45 proposed town homes would average approximately 2,300 sf and carry a listing price of about $750K. Each unit would include two underground parking spaces. One curb cut serving nine units would be added to Westmoreland Avenue where there are now none on the south side (there are four across the street, one for each existing single family home). The current parking lot entrance on Jackson would be maintained, and serve 18 units. Three new curb cuts would be introduced on Maryland where there are currently no residences or businesses. That street would remain closed to westbound traffic.

Ultimately, Clayton must diversity its housing stock and increase density where it makes sense, to support retail and commercial development. Projects like Maryland Walk, The Crescent, The Plaza in Clayton Residences, and the proposed Montgomery Bank tower and The Crossing are positive steps forward. Higginbotham believes what Clayton’s missing is something between high-rise apartments and condos and single-family homes. The market is moving toward them, with retirees, empty nesters, and families increasingly passing on the one acre+ yard for lower maintenance options nearer restaurants, transit, and other activities.

Clayton, and its residents are far from economically distressed, but that doesn’t mean the city is immune to economic and demographic changes. Clearly retail development has lagged and stagnated, and therefor so has sales tax revenue. The city can boast one of the most expensive office rent streets in the country, but can’t find a way to build next to a transit station. These problems aren’t going away, and Clayton has a lot to lose, whether it’s aware of this, or not.

Maryland School Town Homes - Clayton, MO

Maryland School Town Homes - Clayton, MO

Maryland School Town Homes - Clayton, MO

Maryland School closed in 1980 and has been used by the Clayton school district for various purposes since, including as temporary classroom space while other schools underwent renovation. For those interested, there is a Facebook group for those who attended the elementary school. The private Clayton Academy occupied the school for many years after it closed as a public school. The private Wilson School in the nearby Demun neighborhood of Clayton used the school for several weeks after a fire damaged their building in March 2012. The school district sold a much smaller office building across Maryland Avenue to the private early childhood education Goodvibe School.

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  • rgbose

    One indicator of trouble is that Clayton has four tax increases on the ballot.

    • moe

      Clayton + Tax increases??? 4 of them???? Holy s……t maybe hell has frozen over.

  • Dick Skinner

    Hideous! Grotesque! Nasty! Those homes look like cat gonorrhea.

  • Thomas R Shrout Jr

    The development would be within walking distance of the Forsyth MetroLink stop. Whether the development would attract daily commuters is another question. Clayton couldn’t put together the political will in 2000 (?) to locate the Central MetroLink station in the heart of downtown Clayton, opting instead for the dreaded middle of Forest Park Parkway option instead. But the development is a sign of people wanting to live closer in. A retired teacher friend of mine wants to move from Chesterfield to Clayton after having experienced a more urban environment visiting her daughter in Madrid. Eat delicious Madrid food for days on end and lost weight because of the increased activity.

    • rgbose

      What was the idea then? Run Metrolink under Forsyth and Shaw Park?

      • Thomas R Shrout Jr

        The option was for MetroLink to be at grade on Forest Park Parkway, cross Forsyth at grade continue to Carondolet at grade to Central and south to FPP and then back to the CMT right of way. There were variations on this — Meramec. Tunnels were discussed, but thought to be too expensive. Then Clayton Mayor Uchitelle was supportive of stops in the heart of Clayton, but the citizens went crazy with the idea of MetroLink at grade in downtown. Missed opportunity in my opinion. The whole blue line is over engineered — too many tunnels and bridges — which ran up costs and now is costing us because Metro seems to think BRT is what the region needs rather than more MetroLink.

        • rgbose

          Metro is definitely afraid to be bold. Survey results panned BRT resoundingly.

          I would have done it at grade from Big Bend to Forsyth then gone underground for DT Clayton under Forsyth and then turn south under Shaw Park reemerging just south of FPP. Oh well

  • PRS1

    I don’t understand the knock on Clayton. I happen to think its one of the most walkable city’s in the metro area. Walk to Demun, Wydown and Downtown Clayton. I would live in DeMun in a heartbeat!

    • hk

      I completely agree. Whenever this blog mentions Clayton, it usually only deals with the 1/3 west of Hanley, the few blocks around the county courthouse. While this area is of course crucial to Clayton’s budget, as an actual neighborhood I think it pales in comparison to Demun or the Moorlands. Clayton might not be the CWE or Shaw, but it is far more urban and walkable than the vast majority of the county (and has several accessible metrolink stations). I think the commenter who offered a favorable comparison to downtown Kirkwood is right–we’re not talking about Town & Country, Wildwood, or Lake St. Louis here, either.

      • Alex Ihnen

        There are great walkable neighborhoods around Clayton for sure. This post, and some other commentary address what political leaders have been studying and trying to address: why isn’t downtown a more vibrant community. It’s the same question I’ve been asked by several people who move to the area and were told that Clayton was THE walkable suburb. The other issue is that Clayton has incredible potential to be more walkable. Lastly, the term “walkable” is tricky. It’s too often understood as a place where it’s easy to walk, or where you can walk to some stores. There’s more than one definition, but a “walkable” community is often viewed as a place that prioritizesThere are great walkable neighborhoods around Clayton for sure. This post, and some other commentary address what political leaders have been studying and trying to address: why isn’t downtown a more vibrant community. It’s the same question I’ve been asked by several people who move to the area and were told that Clayton was THE walkable suburb. The other issue is that Clayton has incredible potential to be more walkable. Lastly, the term “walkable” is tricky. It’s too often understood as a place where it’s easy to walk, or where you can walk to some stores. There’s more than one definition, but a “walkable” community is often viewed as a place that prioritiz the pedestrian experience and encourages development that provides more tranportation options. Clayton doesn’t do this.

  • STLgasm

    NIMBYism at its finest! Will we see a renewed Trianon proposal in 2014? Talk about a great opportunity for TOD…

  • Presbyterian

    Love the density. But I’m curious to know what the developer means when he says they are “working with” famed architect Gyo Obata. These renderings don’t look like Obata.

  • Mike A

    This is an interesting proposal. However, I tend to let my cynicism show through a bit too often when hearing about developments like this. All the signs of success are there. Close to Metro, Wash U. Downtown Clayton, great school district, etc. The issue I see though is this development has come too late in the housing game, by at least 10 years now. They had their chance back when. There is a real need for housing in Clayton to build the base, but this isn’t it. Yes, national averages show the square footage is there for new housing but this is St. Louis we’re talking about. We already have a surplus of “luxury” housing in Clayton and the rest of the county. Just look at the high-density Carondelet Plaza. Many of those luxury condos have sat since they were finish with no buyers. Sure, Maryland Walk was a huge success but that was years ago, and by far a much better location in downtown Clayton.

    Another argument to make…look at where i live now. The Moorlands already has “luxury” housing stock, and not only condos but single family…very large single family that is not selling well enough. For the same going rates as this new development is showing, you could get a house in Moorlands with much more character, more square footage, (not to mention a nice plot of private land) for the same prices, if not less.

    Clayton doesn’t need more medium/high density “luxury” housing, they need more moderate scale housing at a more reasonable price. This part of town needs more economic diversity. The customer who will buy a townhouse like this is not going to walk; at least not the customer that can afford ¾ of $1M. And i’m sure the Dev will get all kinds of financing options from the city/county to help pay for this project. Mark my words, this will be like Carondelet Plaza if sold at these rates. I’m sure the Dev will make enough pre-sales to get their bank financing (back in the day it was around 20% sold at pre-sale, but who knows in this market).

    Personally, I just don’t think this Dev. is really thinking of what needs to be done here and looking more at their own bottom line. They need to offset the costs of Construction and acquisition to make a profit. And they might just do that if they make their marks, but that’s just a small percentage for the total area that will be built. I’m being really cynical but i just think they see this as a calculated risk with no consideration about how the rest of the unsold units may affect the greater whole. Look at Carondelet Plaza, look at Hanley Crossing, or even in Moorlands rehabs. That’s a fail in anyone’s book. Look at all the other projects around here at higher density that have not fared well. In the Moorlands and other older medium density neighborhoods where speculators thought they could turn a quick buck by renovating these tiny sub-1000 sq. ft. 2-bed, 1-bath apartment blocks into “luxury” condos at Clayton prices that are still for sale years after completion and are now trying to lease/rent them at Mortgage rates. That’s a fail because they basically are driving away the customers that used to live there and have forced them out due to speculation and inflated prices. That’s not a win for anyone.

    Clayton might be a great place to live for those who can afford it…i know i won’t be moving out of my Apartment anytime soon, but i certainly can’t afford anything like these town homes…which would be exactly what I desire and in the right place.

    Which would you prefer? Luxury housing with inflated prices at vacancies with no tax revenue going back to the city/schools, or a greater, modest level density with greater (albeit smaller) tax revenue coming in?

    I’m not saying these have to be the dreaded A-word (affordable) because we all know how the NiMBY’s in this area hate that concept, but modest, yet elegantly styled housing that people like me can afford. I’m no food-stamps recipient either. I make a decent living as and Architectural Designer and my better half has a great modestly paid job downtown. We are stable, want to plant roots in the Clayton district but simply can’t afford these inflated prices. We’ve lived in one of the few remaining apartment blocks for nearly 10 years now and don’t plan on moving out anytime soon. The current housing stock in neighboring cities are just not viable options. Sure they are more affordable but the stock is shockingly bad.

    It’s been my issue with the Housing Market since i can remember. The modestly priced housing is either way too small, too ill-managed or updated in such a way to make it almost unlivable. it’s a mess. And I don’t think developments like this new one are going to change the game at all. we need better options for the middle…not these fixer-uppers at prices that doesn’t allow for any fixing. It’s just such a huge missed opportunity. But, that seems to be the case for the rest of the region as well. With talks of Metrolink and trolley expansion as has been discussed here. What a waste.

    • STLEnginerd

      I agree to some degree. On the one side I wonder at the prices they are planning to charge. Who can afford a 750K home. Even if you could afford it, you have to question the logic since at 750K you could almost buy a mansion on Lindell or any number of historic renovated properties. You could buy ANYWHERE in the St. Louis area.

      School district you say? If you are buying a house for 750K are you really constrained to sending your kid to public school. You could buy a house for half the price in the city and send your kids to private school and probably still come out even, or ahead.

      Also for the same money you could probably buy 3 houses in Wentzville of the same size and quality. Not that I’d suggest that but the point is the price is not in ANYWAY reflective of the cost to build.

      At the same time the price is in line with new construction in the area. New houses in Olivette tend to ask over 500k. They include 3/4 viynl with brick front facades and generally boring designs overall. And they seem to sell. I’d expect a Clayton home footsteps from downtown has to be in that same range or more.

      So yeah if a Architect can’t afford to buy a home in your city you are probably absurdly over priced, but then again if you can’t afford to buy in an area, find a different area and help make those places as good a Clayton. A person has to make the best decision they can for their family and sinking yourself eyeball deep in debt to get a home in an “elite” area of the metro probably isn’t the best for them.

    • Eric3497

      More housing supply=lower prices. Any new development that increases density is good for housing affordability. You may not be able to afford to buy in that particular development, but you will be more able to buy somewhere else.

  • Kelly Annis

    Another interesting point that has not been made above is that the density contemplated in this development is actually a very nice – and appropriate – transition from the commercial uses to the south and the single family uses to the north. While we’ll miss walking to this ‘park’ to essentially trespass to play on the monkey bars and play fetch with the family dog, this is a reasonable use for the site and should be welcomed for the reasons noted in the article. Good stuff.

  • Eric3497

    The Maryland School building is nice looking, in my opinion, and quite dense. Is there no way of preserving it as part of a future development?

    But maybe I’m just biased because I went to preschool in it :)

  • guest

    everyone on this blog seems to hate clayton, but clayton is really one of the few examples of a successful community in the area that has everything you guys claim to love…historic neighborhoods within walking distance of shops and restaurants (and downtown clayton is not anything close to unwalkable…gasp! you have to wait for a light to cross the road! welcome to an actual urban environment).

    im not sure why youre ready to sacrifice the character of a neighborhood to your Great God Development. The renderings are, frankly, ugly, even if Gyo Obata is somehow involved (and believe me, a recent grad designed these, not Obata). These buildings will make a charming neighborhood far less desirable. its ridiculous that you see fit to to condescend to residents of an independent municipality.

    oh, and to the commentor who thinks that clayton is somehow anti-tax: clayton is fairly notorious for passing tax increases, especially for schools—but you and others wouldnt know that, never having lived there. instread, you rely on wild fantasies of country club republicans (clayton is pretty damn liberal). by the way, two of the four tax increases passed, and the two that failed were 12.5 million for an ice rink (a waste of money, since the current one is perfectly fine), and a too-vague economic development proposal.