Revised Maryland School Town Homes Development Seeks Approval in Clayton

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Maryland School Townhomes - Clayton, MO

This month, the developer behind the Maryland School Town Homes revealed a further refined site plan, designed to win approval for the now 36-unit project. The three acre site was declared surplus property by the school district in 2009, and put on the market.

The existing school building, which last served as a public elementary school in 1980 would be demolished. Unfortunately, conversion of the existing building to condos appears problematic. Neighbors would likely oppose dense residential conversion, and the school district has a fiduciary responsibility to sell the property at market rate.

Some immediate neighbors who have long used the adjacent greenspace are opposing the town home project. Developers Higginbotham Custom Homes and Renovation, and Love Investment Company have continued to make changes in an attempt to address resident concerns. The builder is also asking Clayton residents to register their support for new housing and has set up a support page.

Maryland School Townhomes - Clayton, MO{revised Maryland School Town Home site plan showing 36 units}

Maryland School Town Homes - Clayton, MO{earlier Maryland School Town Home site plan showing 45 units}

A previous design included 45 units in nine buildings, with access from Jackson, Maryland, and Westmoreland Avenues. The revised plan is a response to predictable concerns about increased traffic and density. Now seven buildings, access is limited, concentrating traffic at one entrance on each Jackson and Maryland.

It’s not clear that the new plan is an improvement, even as it appears to address concerns. Instead of front facades, and a single driveway that would mirror the residential nature of the street, Westmoreland now shows the rear of two buildings, with landscaping meant to disguise the project. Instead of new housing oriented toward the existing neighborhood, it is oriented to the rear of the old Famous Barr department store (now Washington University offices) parking garage.

The town home plan shows units of 2,200 or 2,600 sf, with preliminary pricing starting at $750K. According to the developer, the project would produce $400K in net new annual tax revenue. The project is not requesting incentives, and the property is currently under contract. The revised design must be approved by the city’s planning and architectural review commissions.

Maryland School Townhomes - Clayton, MO

Maryland School Town Homes - Clayton, MO

Maryland School Town Homes - Clayton, MO

While it may be tempting to dismiss three quarter of a million dollar town homes as a completely optional luxury, diversity in housing options for Clayton (and communities across St. Louis) is incredibly important. In recent years Clayton residential development has focused on $1M+ single family homes, and high-rise condos.

As we have stated before, 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 therefore 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 or not its residents and leaders are aware.

Elevations:

Maryland School Townhomes - Clayton, MO

Maryland School Townhomes - Clayton, MO

Maryland School Townhomes - Clayton, MO

Additional detail:

Maryland School Townhomes - Clayton, MO

Maryland School Townhomes - Clayton, MO

Site plan detail:

Maryland School Townhomes - Clayton, MO

Existing Maryland School site:

Maryland School Town Homes - Clayton, MO

Maryland School Town Homes - Clayton, MO

Maryland School Town Homes - Clayton, MO

Maryland School Town Homes - Clayton, MO

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  • Guest

    I almost have to laugh at some of the discussion going on here. There are many forums on line dealing with urban activity nation and world wide. Haven’t any of you people in Clayton read them? To make Clayton the center of prime office space also would bring with it some things that possibly many residents in Clayton wouldn’t want…and seemingly haven’t thought about.
    Some of those things are increased density. If you think that what downtown Clayton is today won’t require having to change nearby zoning if it increases you’re living in a dream world. When the value of those 750,000 dollar houses is blighted because of the need to expand downtown Clayton…guess who’s gonna win.
    With young professionals and upper income urban minded people having been on the rise for at least a couple decades now with no sign of slowing, somethings gotta give. If you’d read those urban forums you’d find single family homes handy to downtown are not exactly a priority. Density is the issue…and diversity, not only racial but also income.

    My thoughts are downtown Clayton should have stayed with what it was…THE upper middle class business district (and of course, county seat of St. Louis County)…lesser in size than downtown St. Louis…but obviously serving a more high income and wealthy clientele.
    But my thoughts don’t matter. It’s up to you folks in Clayton to educate yourselves and look at other successful CBDs. Do yourself a favor and find out how they work and who and how they serve those that work and live there. Do we all as a metro area not want to be competitive nationally and bring in corporate interest and residents? I don’t see how we can possibly do that without a realistic CBD in today’s terms regardless of whether it’s downtown or Clayton. And we have to be realistic and take whatever comes with it.

    • CardsFan00

      Interesting. I don’t know if Clayton city leaders have thought through the implications of wanting their CBD to continue growing. They are putting emphasis on high-rise residential in downtown Clayton, including diversity in pricing which I think is an argument for the tax abatement on The Crossing project and its smaller rental units. Single-family neighbors could hope the hi-rise housing would ease pressure to push hi-density residential into existing single-family neighborhoods. But if the latter is necessary, fine, the community should talk about it as an issue. I’m still left with the feeling that a spot rezoning to favor one developer and his project is unfair, unwise and undesirable – and am left feeling that way about the Maryland School project.

      • Alex Ihnen

        There’s a comprehensive master plan that calls for a lot of CBD infill. The plan shows most of this on vacant lots or surface parking. Of course property owners, developers, and investors sometimes have other ideas – and there are other reasons why one piece of land may simply be developed first. I understand what you’re saying about the zoning. In St. Louis City, the zoning seems to often be arbitrary, so old as to be meaningless, and in any case, generally altered or ignored (if you can win aldermanic approval).

  • If residents on that block would actually oppose converting the school building to residential because of increased density, then they are the worst kind of NIMBYs. How ridiculous. They’ve lived with a vacant building in their back yard for 35 years, yet they’d cause a stink if it was actually put back into use? Obviously, rehabbing the existing building would be my preference, but the townhomes, although pretty boring in design, beats empty land. And I’d like to think at least a few of the new residents would use the Metro on a regular basis.

  • CardsFan00

    I don’t have your training, Alex, but I’m hesitant to accept rezoning, particularly rezoning that strikes me as a serious change to the nature of a neighborhood and an unnecessary alteration to the city’s master plan. (BTW, I think your site also had wrong in a previous post the underlying zoning for this property – it is for single-family homes.) A rezoning enables the developer to get the land more cheaply than if they had to pay the going rate for property zoned for this kind of development. There is plenty of such land available including some quite near this site. Even The Crossing project downtown, despite the controversy surrounding its tax abatement, is not seeking a rezoning for those parcels. It’s also unfair to surrounding landowners to change the nature of the neighborhood that they bought into. With all the housing activity downtown, this project seems hardly necessary to the city, a bad precedent, and damaging to the future of a stable Clayton neighborhood. On a side issue, it’s disappointing the city has shown little interest in working with the neighbors to preserve at least a portion of the site as as park. Clayton as a city has a notable lack of neighborhood parks and is more dependent than many on the playgrounds at its schools. Hanley Park is hardly a neighborhood park but an historic site.

    Thanks, by the way, for a great and informative website!

    • Alex Ihnen

      Thanks for reading. I don’t have the numbers in front of me, but if the value of the land is greater as single family home development, then I’m sure the school district would be happy to sell the site for a higher price.

      I’ve heard opposition to this project based on it violating the City of Clayton’s Master Plan, but have not seen anything that shows this. Also, I don’t believe that cities are legally beholden to a master plan. These are aspirational documents. If they were legally binding no city would ever do it. Zoning and other regulations are political instruments and so are purposely organized to be altered.

      It’s also amazing for me think about how $750K town homes could be “damaging to the future of a stable Clayton neighborhood”. Do you believe that the town homes will decrease adjacent property values? Perhaps bring an unwanted element to the community?

      I completey agree about park space. I’m the father of three – the oldest two have both learned how to ride bikes in the Maryland School parking lot. It would be great if the school district would gift the land to the city, or sell 3/4 of it at a reduced price, leaving space for a new park. Ultimately, that’s a political question for Clayton. It’s my opinion that adding more dense development at this location is good for Clayton.

      • CardsFan00

        That’s a fair point about master and even zoning plans. They are a community’s effort to look ahead which is difficult. But I would hope city leaders have a compelling reason to change their minds for one developer. I think some states forbid such spot zoning but I’m sure a city can skirt any such law. The city’s master plan does speak to the property as “public & quasi public.” But does anything written in 1975 still count? (Hey, it was revised in 1989!)

        What strikes me as damaging to the fabric of the neighborhood is a sense of bait and switch. I’m not a neighbor but they seem pretty united and concerned. Yes, some is surely simple fear of change. Still, though I don’t know what their houses are worth, I’d guess most are $750K and above. I know readers elsewhere would scoff at rich folk worrying about being dragged down by $750K townhomes, but it’s unclear to me how the development will boost existing values. It seems to some degree a question of fairness – the current residents invested with an understanding about that property.

        I’d guess the developer overpaid based on hopes to rezone. But still underpaid compared to the cost of property already zoned for this kind of housing. If the city does not rezone, it seems future bids might be considerably less to enable the numbers to work for single-family. Just a guess.

        The desire for density is legitimate. And maybe the city should look again at plans for the areas around the Forsyth Metro stop. They did reconsider plans for downtown after metro came through. But I would hope that rezoning effort would be broader, thoughtful and include ample opportunity for neighbor views.

        • moorlander

          The green spaces “public or quais pulic” are all either park, church, common ground, or school/university. The property in question is included here because the School was still operational in when the plan was set forth. I assume in 1989 they left it as it was on the plan because there was no plan for the property.

          • Alex Ihnen

            The building operated as a private school for some years after it was a public school. I’m not sure when it ceased being used as a school altogether. I believe that last year it was used for a couple months by the Wilson School (?) after a fire there.

    • moorlander

      Town homes would not be out of place here. There are plenty of town homes in the immediate vicinity with some as close as the other side of Hanley in Old Town Clayton. I’m shocked to hear that Clayton has a lack of neighborhood parks. Our tiny city boasts 11 parks and several schools with playgrounds and fields. Streets such as Hillvale Drive and Wydown Terrace also offer large expanses of common ground that pretty much serve as unofficial parks. We also have Forest Park and Flynn Park at our doorstep.

      I think my fellow residents are really grasping for straws here.

    • Mike A

      I think you agreement is baseless. Look at the preliminary sales price. For one, if you can afford a ¾ of a million dollar home, you are hardly a blight to any Clayton neighborhood. Secondly, if you can afford a $750,000 home, you are NOT taking Metrolink out of necessity. Would you accept the project if there were 36 single family homes at the same price per unit? Your argument suggests you are a NIMBY, and that’s sad.

      I really don’t think the Neighbors have any right to claim it’s *their* park. it was vacant land owned by the School District. In all actuality, that land (park as they call it), the neighborhood was actually trespassing.

      Now, let me say I completely oppose this project too, but for very different reasons. There is already good housing stock like this in Clayton and they don’t go for $750 each. Even newer construction, with more character and most likely more design. If your’e going to do townhomes, that’s not a price point that’s going to get people in the door. It’s very clear they want to price these homes for a very particular client, one that eliminates at least 90% of potential buyers. And that’s sad. But I get it. The neighbor are already complaining about the city allowing their beloved blighted vacant lot being turned into tax revenue generating housing stock, so they need to price these “dense” townhouses to sell to “respectable” clientele.

  • Jeff Leonard

    This doesn’t “feel” right to me, but I don’t have context for the economics behind this proposal. It’s seems like Clayton is agreeing to jam 36 units onto a footprint that would otherwise hold 15 single family homes but better integrate into the existing neighborhood. Is this just a pure play for extra tax dollars? When the city is adding hundreds of new residents through towers in the CBD, why go into pitched battle with this neighborhood just to add 15 extra units? I don’t get this one, but if someone has insights, please share.

    • Alex Ihnen

      I think there are two reasons the city may support rezoning and not block this development: 1) town homes diversity residential options and add what many predict/understand will be attractive housing in the future, 2) the school district is motivated to sell the property to the highest bidder and the highest economic use of the land is likely town homes. I think it would cool to see the school building converted to condos, or even the area becoming a park…either would require the school district accepting significantly less for the property, or for the city (taxpayers) to purchase and fund a new park.

  • Hannah

    It’s telling that this could just as easily read “Town homes in Ballwin” or “Town homes in Creve Couer” or any other indistinct US suburb. This beside the fact that the school should be left as apartments or condos with the other 2/3rds of the space becoming town homes.

    • moe

      There are many such wonderful conversions in the City. But does Clayton even have renters??? (joke)

  • Nathan Bookhout

    Such a beautiful building but I don’t hate the elevations. So win for dense residential, lose for my love of brick….