Why the LRA Should Sell This Lot, But Won’t

There's a lot in Forest Park Southeast that the Land Reutilization Authority (LRA) of the St. Louis Development Corporation has owned since 1994, but won't sell. 4210 Chouteau measures 27'3" x 133'5.5". It's a standard home lot. The two-story, two-family brick building that once stood there was condemned to be demolished in May 1989 and was eventually taken down in November 1992. For the past 19 years the lot has sat vacant.

Today, there's a buyer, but the LRA won't sell. It's a rather simple call for the LRA; they won't sell lots for the purpose of creating a residential side yard. [EDIT: the stated policy of the LRA is to not sell lots of 25 front feet or larger as side yards, and to not sell to non-owner-occupants. Current rules do exclude the sale of 4210 Chouteau to the interested buyer. These rules, however, may be changing.] This is a policy that should be changed, allowing neighborhoods to be involved in the decision-making process. FPSE has changed remarkably since 1994, yet there remains no shortage of buildable lots. There is, however, a shortage of housing variety and a dearth of quality developers. Allowing a proven, quality developer to purchase the lot would enhance the neighborhood, increase variety in housing options, encourage further investment and remove a property from the LRA.

Restoration St. Louis, Inc. held an option on 4210 for three years and until recently. The possible purchaser today is Grove Properties, LLC. Grove Properties has been completing high-quality gut renovations in FPSE for several years. Some properties have sold pre-completion and sales have continued to raise the ceiling on home prices in the neighborhood. Grove Properties has stated they may pursue infill development for the lot in the future, but without a an approved plan and completion in 18 months, LRA will not sell. They will offer a 5-year "garden lease" that can expire with 30 days notice if another development plan is approved.

The company recently rescued, renovated and sold what may become a Landmarks Most Enhanced Award-winner. Vacant for nearly two decades and near collapse, 4440 Arco was destined for demolition. Its vacancy is a long story, but in short, the homeowner had left town abruptly and later passed away due to illness. A sister living elsewhere inherited the property through probate. In the meantime, thousands of dollars of liens by the city and a past contractor, piled up.

4440 Arco
{4440 Arco before and after – renovation by Grove Properties, LLC}

Despite holes in the roof, a collapsing rear addition and bamboo growing through the kitchen floor, the building had kept a dignified facade. It's one of the buildings I would admire on walks through the neighborhood. 4455 Arco was for sale and Matt Kastner of Threshold Properties showed me the property. That property was eventually purchased, renovated and sold by Grove Properties. Matt and I walked across the street to admire 4440 and became determined to not see it fall down. Matt did the work and finally reached the owner, eventually negotiating with the city, owner and lawyer for the construction lien and matching the property with Grove Properties. The result is not just a nice home and new residents, but a satisfied developer and the saving of a building that improves the quality of life for all residents.

That's a long story to illustrate a simple point: What more could the LRA be waiting for?

The 27ft. lot is challenging for infill. FPSE maintains a high-degree of historic integrity, that is, this lot not being built upon does not degrade the neighborhood. Dozens of buildable lots, in various states of ownership, can be found within two blocks of the lot. Is the neighborhood to wait until 4210 Chouteau becomes desirable for residential infill? We've waiting 19 years and will likely wait another 19 before buildable land becomes truly scarce.

{4210 Chouteau shown in blue, other buildable lots (various owners) shown in red}

While anecdotes shouldn't define a villain, the current LRA policy is clearly a detriment to FPSE, its residents, a quality developer working in the city, and to the city itself. As a panel participant at Open/Closed: Exploring Vacant Property in St. Louis, Otis Williams, Deputy Director of the St. Louis Development Corporation, the parent organization of the LRA, repeatedly stated that he and the LRA are open to hearing from city residents, to considering ideas for how to better accomplish the goal of returning vacant and abandoned city-owned property to productive use.

4210 Chouteau should be returned to private ownership, and the city tax roll today. I ask the LRA to reconsider its refusal to allow lots to be sold to create side yards, and ask that the LRA permit neighborhood development corporations to consider such purchases in the same manner in which they offer support for zoning and other variances.