Aventura at Forest Park II: Revenge of the Parking Lot

Aventura phase I and II

202 units. 431 parking spaces.

The corner of Chouteau and Taylor Avenues is less than a half-mile from the busiest MetroLink station, and a major MetroBus transfer station. Developers of the Aventura are counting on a significant proportion of residents to be employed or studying at the medical campus less than one-third of a mile away. This is where transit-oriented development can happen. It's too early to know if residents of the development will request more parking, only the sewer pipes of phase I can be seen rising from the dirt, yet the developer is expecting more cars than residents.

As argued here on nextSTL, Aventura at Forest Park disappoints with its design, but remains an important development for the neighborhood. While the first phase is emerging from the ground, phase II of the Aventura has won support from the neighborhood development corporation. The first phase features 101 living units and 142 parking spaces. Like a bad sequel, phase II will add another 101 units and 229 parking spaces. Assume several two bedroom apartments will have a single occupant, and it's fair to estimate the development will have no more than 325 residents (and 431 parking spaces including 60 onstreet spaces). Even assuming every bedroom is full and not counting on-street parking, there will be 371 dedicated parking spaces for 358 beds.

So why so much parking?

Aventure aerial_site
{Aventura Phase I in yellow, Phase II in blue, MetroLink and Bus hub at red pin}

Having lived in the neighborhood from 2006-2011, I can tell you that the north side of FPSE effectively serves as a parking lot for medical center employees. To some extent, this isn't a bad thing. I'd rather see some foot traffic, people coming and going, instead of an empty street next to a vacant lot. But with the development of the Aventura, this should change. Residents succcessfully lobbied for parking permits for 4500 Chouteau several years ago, but resident requests for similar help on Gibson Avenue and elsewhere have not found support. The priority, they're told, is to play nice and provide free parking for medical center employees.

The issue isn't a trivial one. Given there's space for extensive parking, perhaps the developer should simply be able to choose how much to spend on asphalt? Not to mention that the lot is quite a maze, the curbcut on Taylor being exit only. The cost of a single surface parking space can exceed $5,000. Should that money go into a higher quality development? A little more design work? How about a contribution to the neighboring vacant park? How about more housing units?

Parking continues to dominate developments in St. Louis and elsewhere. In Cincinnati, the Business Courier is questioning if a $56M development that includes 154 residential units and 26,000 square feet of commercial space, is building wasteful parking with 359 spaces. And this is in a vibrant commercial corridor. The Aventura is a garden apartment development with no retail or office space. That city is also well on its way to eliminating parking minimums for developers in the urban environment. The minimum parking requirement in the City of St. Louis is one space per unit. For the Aventura this means 202 parking spaces. 

{Phase II will be the same design as Phase I, above}

The development is good for FPSE and St. Louis, but it's not very often that a massive, 200+ unit, whole block-spanning development comes along, and we're going to be stuck with a highway-side suburban garden apartment interior-facing superblock in a sea parking in a neighborhood that's being sold as one of the city's most dynamic. What FPSE is getting is the same development as Hanley Station, but in a dense, urban environment next to a major center of employment and education and a significant transit hub.

Why not try something different? The Bicycle Apartments in Bloomington, Indiana are self-described as "A new kind of apartment concept, The Bicycle Apartments are specially designed to accommodate people who do not own a motorized vehicle." That development was completed more than a decade ago and has a wait list. This would work in FPSE. Why not use a corner of the Aventura for this type of development? Build 100 car-free units nearest the Central West End transit hub and offer the 1.8 parking spots per unit for the rest. Doing so could save $1M in development costs.

Believe it or not, there are students at the medical school, college of nursuing, College of Pharmacy, etc. who do not own a car. There are 15,000 people (and growing) employed within the medical campus, not all own a car. And while the Aventura apartments are not cheap, living there could mean that one doesn't need a car, making them affordable to more people. Somehow this is lost on the developer, on the neighborhood development corporation and on the ward's elected representative.

A number of examples of more appropriate urban infill with better site plans and less parking were shared in the Phase I story. Many examples from St. Louis and elsewhere have been shared on the nextSTL Forum as well. And with three progessive and accomplished architecture firms within a mile of The Grove (H3 Studio, SPACE, and UIC+CDO), nextSTL is planning to co-sponsor an event discussing quality urban infill and opportunities for the neighborhood and city moving forward.

Plenty of people will continue to call this development a victory, but it's the type of victory where you win the game, but lose your ace pitcher, leading hitter and best fielder to season-ending injuries – effectively forclosing on future opportunities.

{Aventura at Forest Park most closely resembles Hanley Station by the same developer}

{looking northwest from Chouteau Avenue illustrates proximity to medical campus}

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  • John R

    I go by this place frequently and am trying to determine if the parking was excessive or not…. I’m not sure if Phase II is move-in ready yet; if not it does look like the tenants do like their parking.

    • Alex Ihnen

      The tip of the iceberg regarding parking is whether or not existing spaces are used. A parking audit would go a long way to understand current conditions. Beyond that, more complicated questions arise – is area parking used most efficiently (is street parking used?), how long do cars occupy a given space (and does that make sense for the area?), is parking, whether or not occupied, the best economic use for that space…and so on. It’s not simply a question of whether or not people park some place – though again, we don’t even really know that, and so it would be a great place to start.

      • John R

        Very interesting that it was scaled back. Let’s chalk it up to not being able to compete with better projects.

  • Peter Monterubio

    So there are no retail or office space? Really!? Why not turn the old station building into a nice grocery store? Some restaurant/cafe spaces… ugh, I sometimes wonder why I care about development in St. Louis anymore. It seems hopeless to have any idea that any STL development will turn out to be progressive or livable. Well I guess it’s livable if you go from home to car to work to car to home. Pathetic.

  • Rachel

    Is it too early to tell if there will be bike parking/racks on-site, at the very least? I really wish they’d consider taking out a dozen parking spaces and include secured bicycle storage for residents, instead.

    • Alex Ihnen

      Yes, something like these bike lockers would be great (at Metro stops too):

      It seems that some continue to call this and “urban” development and TOD because of its location, while nothing in the design is either. Yes, it’s good that the buildings create a block face and the expansive parking is more hidden than not.

  • Doesn’t it hurt the profitability of the project to build and maintain parking spaces no one will ever use?

  • Steve Kluth

    I personally don’t have a problem with the number of parking spots and might actually call it a good thing. They are trying to attract a more upscale student to live in the buildings, especially for the area just north of the Grove. The initially availability of adequate parking may be the deciding factor in whether the development succeeds or fails.

    I do wish they would at least consider something other than an asphalt or concrete lot. There are now plenty of more environmentally friendly ways to create a parking lot. A parking lot made from materials that reduce runoff and could more easily be removed (e.g., porous pavers) would both be better environmentally and allow the owners to exchange parking for more apartment units. If it’s discovered the they need that much parking, the environmental impact is reduced. If they don’t need that much parking, the pavers can be removed to be reused elsewhere.

    • Steve Kluth

      I hate to reply to my own post, but I would like to add that the development should also be redesigned to allow removal of parking spots as needed. I can easily see the developer realizing they only need about 200 parking spots for about 350 apartments, and wanting to optimize the site to take advantage of that fact. Though for a more practical reason, they may want to have an equivalent number of spots and apartments to market the development. I agree a ratio greater than 2 units per apartment is not well thought out.

  • joe

    most of it fronts street at least, highway being the least concern, its a baby step, kinda

  • I find it disappointing that this development not only has a high parking ratio, but that it relies solely on surface parking. Both Station Plaza in Kirkwood (which I believe is the first photo above), and Hanley Station both also developed by MLP have ALL of their residential parking structured. 3949 Lindell, close to SLU also had almost all of its parking structured. All of these developments were by result more dense with more units on less land. I realize that structured parking is more costly and the fact that both Station Plaza and Hanley Station had some condo units, but if the developer of 3949 Lindell was able to make the numbers work with structured parking near SLU, why could the developer of Aventura not do the same with an equally prime location near BJC?

  • Kevin B

    What’s a good unit-to-space ratio for a City that recognizes the car culture but encourages walkability and alternative transportation? 0.65? 0.7?

    I think its about time the thinking of 800 sq. ft. and a guaranteed spot is retired.

    • Kevin B

      Parking space-to-unit ratio, I mean.

    • Alex Ihnen

      There’s no “right” answer, but again and again in planning studies, form-based codes, etc., “urban” parking-unit ratios are ~1. Most guidelines call for 0.75 up to 1.5 for non-urban core development. Anything approaching 2 or more is often labeled suburban. The ratio at the Aventura is 2.13.

  • JB

    Without city-wide form based code St. Louis will continue to get disappointing results. The biggest problem I see in St. Louis is that we dont plan for anything. So what we are a slow growth region, we can still make plans it will just take longer to realize the goal.

    • Guesty McGuesterson

      But that doesn’t allow the individual alderman to control whatever goes on in that ward.

      • Alex Ihnen

        It does dictate building heights, setback, parking, etc. Zoning codes, or more specifically, a developers need of a zoning exemption, is generally what gives an alderperson, or neighborhood, any say in what is built today.