LRA Set to Ease Restrictions on Sale of Vacant Land

In this article: Why the LRA Should Sell This Lot, But Won't, posted just two days ago, I advocated for a change in the Land Reutilization Authority's policy regarding the sale of vacant lots as side yards. It now appears that policy is changing.

I previously stated that it was LRA policy to not "sell lots for the purpose of creating a residential side yard." This was not entirely correct. The LRA will consider the sale of a vacant lot for a side yard if the lot is less than 25 front feet and then only to adjacent residential owner-occupants. This means that the current LRA policy does exclude the sale of 4210 Chouteau to Grove Properties, LLC, or anyone else as a side lot. This appears to be changing.

Otis Williams, Deputy Director of the St. Louis Development Corporation, parent organization of the LRA, confirmed to me yesterday that the "25 front feet" limit will be changed to 30 front feet, allowing slightly larger vacant lots to be acquired. 4210 Chouteau measures 27 front feet. The change was to be made today on the LRA website. As of the publication of this article, the change had not yet been made.

The bigger change that the LRA appears ready to make is to allow non-owner-occupants to purchase a such lot for a side yard. This means that a property owner could now purchase a lot as a side yard for a rental property, or a developer could purchase a home and lot to develop in tandem. The change would require approval by the LRA Commissioners.

As a guest on a recent St. Louis on the Air program, along with myself and others, discussing vacant land, Mr. Williams stated that the LRA welcomes suggestions and hoped to hear from individuals and organizations regarding how they may best serve the city. He reiterated that sentiment as a participant on a panel at the Open/Closed: Exploring Vacant Property in St. Louis conference. It's very encouraging to see that pledge now being acted upon.

The premise of my previous article was two-fold: that exceptions to the 25 front feet and adjacent owner-occupant requirements be considered and that, in general, the process isn't transparent enough to welcome potential interested parties. Confusion results in inefficiencies and keeps city-owned and maintained land out of private hands and off the tax rolls.

In this case, the potential buyer became interested in the property after attending Open/Closed, a two-day conference co-created by nextSTL. He called the LRA and inquired about the lot. He was told that he would be able to purchase the lot. Whether due to incomplete information provided, a misunderstanding or simply a wrong answer, this response was counter to information available on the LRA website. It's likely that the respondent assumed that the buyer would purchase the lot with a development plan in place. He was told that he would not receive the adjacent owner-occupant price of $1,687.50 (standardized price of $62.50/front foot), but would pay $3,637.88 (standardized price of $1/square foot for this part of FPSE). The price was not a factor in buyer interest.

A second call to the LRA, this time from the neighborhood development corporation resulted in a different answer. The respondent informed the caller that, in fact, the lot could not be sold to the interested party per the stated guidelines on the LRA website. As of March 7, 2011, those guidelines read, in part, "The definition of a Side Lot is vacant land up to 25 front feet… Vacant land considered to be a Side Lot will be sold at side lot pricing only to residential owner-occupants adjacent to the side lot."

With this answer in hand, the buyer's interest was discussed at the neighborhood development corporation development committee meeting where the following information was provided:

4210 Chouteau

  • 27’ lot (possible to redevelop in our eyes, not necessarily in LRA’s)
  • In LRA inventory since 1994
  • Grove Properties proposes to purchase LRA lot to create a larger side yard for 4206-4208 (plans for future redevelopment)
  • Without redevelopment plan, LRA will only grant 5 year garden lease ($1/yr)
  • Lessee notified with 30 day notice if another development proposed

This was correct, and the best information that could be provided. Obviously the focus was on the lack of a development plan (to build infill) given the understanding that the lot could not be sold as a side yard. Today, the 25 front foot requirement has changed to 30 feet and the adjacent owner-occupant requirement appears to be changing as well.

So what happens now? The potential buyer's interest will likely be discussed again at a future development committee meeting. The committee (on which I serve) will discuss the plan and consider producing a letter of support for the purchase. It's possible that the committee will not support the sale, instead deciding that the neighborhood is best served by waiting until a buyer with a development plan for residential infill comes along. Either way, at least the conversation will take place.

This process; the Open/Closed conference, buyer interest, multiple inquiries, a public call for change, change itself and hopefully the sale of vacant property is exactly the process sought by nextSTL. I've stated many times that far too few people are engaged and asking questions. Change, or simply increased knowledge or clarity, requires the involvement of many. I hope this works. The 3,638 square foot lot is rather small, but the issue big. At stake is how open a bureaucracy can be to those working hard to improve the city, and how welcome, and a part of the process, a developer and resident can be.

4210 Chouteau Avenue
{4210 Chouteau Avenue}