In July, we reported on an unexpected and unique residential conversion in the Shaw neighborhood. A dilapidated auto repair property lacking any redeeming qualities at all will see a complete transformation into a single family residence. Unknown at the time was what would happen with a similarly forlorn adjacent building.
It now appears that the one story, cinder block building dating from 1965 will be transformed as well. The building is in private hands, but according to the city website, property taxes have not been paid since 2011. The proposed renovation is by the same couple purchasing the auto repair building from the city’s vacant land bank.
As with the residential conversion, the existing building is a non-contributing resource in the Shaw Historic District. The property has little in common with its more historic neighbors, and thus is granted significant leeway in the renovation. The aesthetic is modern, but utilizing some materials found on other structures in the neighborhood. The renovation would be very similar to that of the auto repair building.
Tenant space in the 1,400 sf building is marked for two. A cafe is shown in roughly the front two-thirds, while a smaller space occupies the rear of the building. A surrounding patio space would accommodate 20 outdoor tables.
In all, the proposal is an unlikely and welcome reuse of a building no one would have objected to being demolished. It’s smart reuse and will be a needed retail asset to the Shaw neighborhood. The only misstep is the proposal to add four parking spaces on a 96ft by 66ft (6,300 sf) corner lot. The city’s Cultural Resources Office should endorse, and the Preservation Board should not allow, the sacrifice of a city lot for such a use. Sadly, parking and poor land use doesn’t catch the eye of the city like a vinyl window, or an anachronistic street lamp.
To be more accurate, the codes by which the CRO must abide do not concern parking and land use in a smart manner. From the Preservation Board agenda: Off-street parking should be provided for new or renovated properties when feasible at an amount of one parking space per unit. Parking to be provided in rear of property when possible. If parking is visible from street, it must be screened with appropriate material as described in section 2G.
Using this framework, the CRO has determined that the proposal complies. “Parking for the commercial building will utilize the existing parking lot at 4066 Russell, which will be considerably smaller in size. Approximately one-quarter to one-third of the current paved area will be green space.” Off-street parking provided? Yep. One space or more? Yep. Parking screened from the street? Yep. We should employ a smarter, better process in determining parking, particularly in local historic districts. This project is undoubtedly a huge win, but it could be better.
*image added September 2015 – from St. Louis City Preservation Board agenda
*progress image added September 22, 2016