University City’s Parkview Gardens Offers Optimistic Plan for Inner Ring Suburb, TOD Development

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parkview gardens aerial_moonrise

In a city that has witnessed an incredible decade of historic preservation and the continuing revitalization of many neighborhoods, it’s sometimes easy to pay attention to all the changes “east of Skinker” (the city limits). The City of St. Louis remains the urban core of the region and possesses a near embarrassment of potential, and yet when asking what’s next for the St. Louis region, the future of the inner ring suburbs may be equally important to the region.

If allowed to look ahead to St. Louis 2025 and visit just one neighborhood in an attempt to understand the region, Parkview Gardens would be high on the list. The area enjoys substantial assets not found elsewhere (Washington University, The Loop and the coming streetcar), but in many ways it’s also an edge community. Will the Delmar MetroLink station be the site of transit oriented development (TOD)? Will there be commercial development on vacant land to the east and north? Will infill housing create density and diverse options? Will retail evolve beyond largely restaurants and boutiques to support a full-service neighborhood?

The neighborhood spans the University City/City of St. Louis line and any changes to the street grid and development along Skinker will require coordination. The greatest infill potential, and thus additional tax revenue, exists within the City of St. Louis. To its credit, University City appears to recognize that a more vibrant commercial corridor, increased residential density and improved connections to MetroLink are key to a sustainable future for this corner of the city.

parkview gardens aerial_plan overview
{view of study area showing vision offered for future development}

Led by H3 Studio, University City is exploring the future of the Parkview Gardens neighborhood. Significant changes are envisioned for the street grid, parks and mid-rise mixed use infill. The community is engaged in an ongoing process and a final sustainability plan remains several months away. Planning documents, meeting notes and updates can be found at the Parkview Gardens Vision website.

Streets: A neighborhood with several odd streets, Parkview Gardens is not well connected to its surroundings. Developed before land to the east, west and north, connections were adlibbed over time and do not serve the area well. The most misplaced is likely Vernon Avenue. The only through-street from Skinker west, Vernon is an alleyway, with the backside of apartment buildings on both sides from Eastgate to Westgate. Another block west and Vernon is fronted by the Shur-Sav market, which turns its back to Olive, a major thoroughfare (a proposal would have the store reoriented toward Olive).

parkview gardens_park plan

Additionally, the north end of Eastgate is envisioned to connect to Olive. Cabanne would be extended east, replacing Vernon as a through-street. To the west, Cabanne would connect to North Drive and then Vernon. Enright would become the first and only street to cross Skinker north of Delmar and south of Hodiamont, a distance of more than 2,500 feet. On the east side of Skinker sits the 39-acre Washington University North Campus, and to the east of that property, the MetroLink Red Line. An extended Enright would provide Parkview Gardens with a better, more direct bicycle and pedestrian connection to MetroLink, as well as access via car and MetroBus that avoids Delmar. Currently, bus service follows a circuitous route to reach the Delmar Station.

parview gardens transit map
{existing bus routes shown in red, MetroLink at right, future streetcar at bottom}

Parks: The plan contains proposals to remake Metcalf and Ackert Parks, remove Eastgate Park to make way for Cabanne as a through-street, and create two new parks; Eastgate North and Eastgate South. Eastgate South, bounded by Eastgate, Clemens, Limit and Enright, would require the demolition of seven apartment buildings (see image above). An equal number has been demolished over the past several years. A dozen apartment buildings currently sit where Eastgate North is envisioned. The potential new park space is substantial, but would be needed if hoped for residential density gains are realized.

metcalf park now and future

parkview gardens_metcalf park plan

New construction: Reconfigured streets and parks set the stage for, and may entice new mixed-use infill. Residential is dominated by six-unit apartment buildings, with several larger and smaller buildings mixed in, some of which have been renovated. The only new construction residential infill has been the $6.2M, 30-unit Loop Living development at 849 Westgate. Completed in 2006, it may serve as a model for future development within the neighborhood. But it’s the potential for infill along Skinker that could most transform this area. The plan offers several alternatives to possible infill, from two to six stories. At the second public workshop, option 3, focused on significantly increasing residential and retail density, was selected by participants as the preferred option. This is reflected in the workshop #3 PDF below. Clearly much would depend on future market demand.

parkview gardens_infill_zoning_heights
{green=2-4 stories, red=3-5 stories, blue=3-8 stories, yellow=3-12 stories}

More important than hoped for height is the introduction of minimum heights. The most recent commercial infill on Delmar has been single-story (Google Streetview link). New building height regulation would disallow such development in the future. The image below is a bit misleading as it shows the theoretical minimum and maximum heights allowed. Clearly, maximum height would not be sought for each successive parcel as development progressed.

parkview gardens_infill_zoning_heights_min-max

While largely influenced by the nearby university, The Loop has always been more than just a college hangout. The addition of significant retail, (convenience store, pharmacy, grocery, etc.) would help create a sustainable, full service neighborhood. Despite the substantial development that has occurred over the past decade, there remains substantial potential. Beginning at the high-profile Delmar/Skinker corner, underutilized by a gas station, and extending north, mutli-story development is envisioned. The plan doesn’t address potential development on the southwest corner of Delmar/Skinker, currently a parking lot for the adjacent Southwestern Bell building, the southeast corner, a Church’s Chicken, or the extensive Washington University North Campus.

Further west, a vacant lot at Delmar and Eastgate could be the site of multi-story development. In 2010 Washington University sent a survey to students gauging interest in new student housing in The Loop area. The article was accompanied by a rendering for the site and suggested that other sites were being considering for expanded student housing options.

LoopHousing
{possible student housing on Delmar at Eastgate – image via studlife.com}

At the far west end of The Loop, development is envisioned on Enright, on the surface lot behind Cicero’s and other businesses. Each of these are less than a 15 minute walk to the university campus and MetroLink, as well as being on the coming streetcar line. Mutli-story development on Olive (lower left below), several blocks north, would seem more aspirational, but would do much to create a more dense neighborhood.

parkview gardens_infill_looking east

Parking: While ideas for streets, parks and infill could be transformative, the biggest challenge may be to transform parking codes to recognize and facilitate a dense, sustainable community. Currently residential parking code requires 1.5 spots for 1br apartment, 2 spots for a 2br+ and buildings of 6+ units require a visitor parking space. Assessing current code, the neighborhood has a deficit of 1,750 parking spaces. This shines an enormous, glaring spotlight on the absurdity of existing parking codes.

The development plan smartly offers alternatives to enforcing current code for future development, suggesting options of maintaining current neighborhood ratio of 0.5 spots per bedroom, setting a maximum number of parking spots based on TOD best practices, allow market-drive decision by developers and lastly, promoting or requiring alternative parking strategies. If current regulations are followed, it’s difficult to see the area adding sufficient density to become sustainable. Commercial parking is a challenge as well. Two new parking garages are proposed that would increase the total number of commercial parking spots by 470 to 1,900.

The plan is an exercise is raising expectations and expressing long-term desires. As such, it presents a very different future, an ambitious plan that would wholly change The Loop. The Loop commercial district has been named one of America’s Great Streets. If Parkview Gardens can move toward this evolving vision, it may become a great neighborhood, increasingly dense, connected to transit and served by more diverse retail. And its success will likely tell us a lot about the St. Louis region. There’s much more in the public workshop documents than can be considered in a few hundred words. Check out the public workshop document below and visit the project website to learn more.

A Sustainable Development Plan for Parkview Gardens Neighborhood – University City, MO by H3 Studio, #3 by nextSTL.com on Scribd

*all images are by H3 Studio unless otherwise noted

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