Changes Present Better Urban Design for Lafayette Square Praxair Site

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When the Pulte Homes and Killeen Studio Architects plan for infill at the long-vacant Praxair site in Lafayette Square hit a road bump a couple weeks ago, we were surprised. Reaction to the very conventional proposal on this site and various social media was almost entirely positive. If you can please this crowd…well, we just thought it would likely sail through.

It turns out that we had switched off our NIMBY radar for maintenance and missed the looming opposition. Residents of Lafayette Square turned out to the city’s Preservation Board meeting, where the Cultural Resources Office was to recommend initial approval, and suddenly the project was stalled. Seems that being against something is still a greater motivator than being for something.

Anyway, Pulte and Killeen apparently listened and returned to the drawing board. The project is scheduled to go back before the Preservation Board later this month. Both the site plan and building design have seen changes.

The new site plan shows Lasalle Street no longer connecting through the development to MacKay Place. A new north-south street enters the development from Chouteau. This allows for an incredibly important change in the orientation of the rowhouses.

In the first site plan iteration, the interior streets were really 26-foot wide alleys, fronting large garage doors and the rear of many townhomes. The front of those residences faced one-another across grass courtyards. The revised plan smartly shows all east-west facing garages fronting 15-foot alleys, with the new 26-foot wide street allowing for every unit to face a street. This arrangement results in the loss of two units, but conforms to neighborhood code, and presents a much more urban form.

There are still shortcomings with the plan, but residents opposed to the development surely see these as features and not bugs. Lasalle should connect through to MacKay. And the alley behind the homes fronting Chouteau should connect to both Missouri and MacKay.

Still, it’s an improvement, and the revised site plan means that this will not be the dominant view within the development:

The second significant improvement is the introduction of several new Historic Model Examples (HMEs). With 62 units, presenting some variation in facades and materials is important in creating an interesting and attractive streetscape.

Revised site plan (April 2017):

March 2017 site plan:

praxair_6

Historic Model Examples (HMEs):

________________________________________

From our previous report: Design and Site Plan for 64 Townhomes at Lafayette Square Praxair Site Presented

Lafayette Square appears close to finally developing the long-vacant Praxair site. Pulte Homes plans to build 64 Killeen Studio Architects-designed townhomes on the Praxair site bounded by Chouteau, Missouri Avenue, MacKay Place and a separate parcel fronting Hickory Street to the south.

The site is within the Lafayette Square local historic district, which stipulates requirements for a new construction project such as is being proposed. The city’s Cultural Resources Office is recommending the Preservation Board grant preliminary approval to the project with several provisions: that rear elevations of buildings within two parcels of public streets be brick; sidewalks be placed on both the north and south sides of the re-opened LaSalle Street; and of course that final plans and materials be reviewed by CRO.

On June 25, 2005 the Praxair site along Chouteau Avenue in the city’s Lafayette Square neighborhood caught fire. The site served as storage for gas tanks, which began to explode, sending debris onto the rooftops of surrounding homes and businesses. In all, as many as 8,000 gas cylinders exploded, and the fire took a full five hours to get under control. Interstate 64, just more than 1/3mi to the north, was closed. The Cardinals game was delayed.

The 4-acre site has sat vacant since. The adjacent Lafayette Walk townhome development stalled after 31 of 37 planned units were completed in 2008. That project was announced in 2004 and suffered from bad timing as units began to sell in late 2007. In recent years, development has picked up in the neighborhood with Mississippi Place on the east side of the park, infill along Park Avenue, and new single-family homes centered on Dolman Street.

Lafayette Walk townhomes adjacent to Praxair site.

lafayette-walk_1 lafayette-walk_2

Existing Praxair site:

praxair_7

Continue reading: Design and Site Plan for 64 Townhomes at Lafayette Square Praxair Site Presented

 

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  • Adam

    Why did they bother with the redesign and getting approval if they were just going to abandon the project and peace out a couple weeks later? Makes no sense.

  • Sean

    So…. what happened here? Market is strong, location is strong, neighborhood is strong, not much new product in the area, preliminary approval granted, what am I missing?

    Sean

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  • Imran

    Preliminary approval granted.

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  • Chris

    Pulte is a housing developer not a commercial developer. Plus this site is not conducive or cost effective for retail. You cant force retail store fronts everywhere in a city that lacks sufficient density to support it.

  • Will M

    whats the deal with the lack of retail and office space in this development? wouldn’t it bode well to have a few corner buildings including that?

    • Will M

      and what is the deal with single family homes facing Chouteau? I feel like we are setting ourselves up for a future housing problem by not investing in more apartment complexes and greater investment in street facing retail/commercial space. Of course we have a long way to go before we face the problems of denser cities, but everyone wants their neighborhood to be the same and that doesnt set us up for sustainable growth in our future.

      • brickhugger

        See my comment below.

      • jhoff1257

        I don’t disagree, but I also don’t see a huge problem having some single families along Chouteau. This site is only a bit wider then a downtown block so it’s not like they’re a huge component of the development. Plus there is a TON of empty space along large stretches of Chouteau from basically Manchester to Purina. I do think we should focus on denser uses along Chouteau (especially if N/S MetroLink becomes a reality) in the future though, but for the time being I don’t see this as a problem. I will say that this is a huge improvement over the way the development at Mississippi and Chouteau interacts with the street.

  • David W. Kilper

    Pulte is building a similar development in Richmond Heights called Central Park Townes. It matches the original proposal, where the streets are essentially alleyways. This revision for the Praxair site represents what I wish they would have done out there. Either way, I think these homes will be extremely popular. The first floor is one half garage, one half foyer and “flex” room that can be an office, a bedroom, or a playroom (bathroom optional). When you walk in from the rear entry garage, you’re basically standing in your foyer. The entire second floor is what most people would consider the main floor, with a wide open living, dining and kitchen space (all one room). It comes in two main options: a kitchen between the two with a giant island, or a kitchen in the back of the house (which also includes a small office / desk area). The biggest adjustment for St. Louisans will probably be the lack of a basement; they’re built on a slab foundation, so anyone with significant storage needs will have some difficulty making them work.

  • Colocon

    Puke to both! Too much of this faux historic architecture around as it is. Build something new and modern, with respect to the historic fabric ito scale, that will also add some vitality to the area. This sort of replication is tacky and disrespects the authentic historic properties, imo.

  • rbischoff

    Not apparent from the renderings (you have to dig into the floor plans) is that these units are essentially expensive garages. While they look similar to historic LS homes on the outside, the “first floor” is a garage, and the primary living space is only on the second and third floors.

    • Ashley

      for some people attached garages are a very important piece to their living space puzzle. the layout won’t be for everyone, but at least they look similar to the other historic homes in the area

      • STL

        The attached garages are an attractive feature to many for safety and convenience. Having an attached garage in the city is a luxury that most properties are unable to offer. It’s nice to have this option. Additionally, if you look at the floor plans you can also have a bedroom/office/den, full bath on the first floor. So it’s far from just an attached garage on the first floor.

  • Nick

    This is pretty awesome if you ask me

  • brickhugger

    I didn’t think the previous design was bad, but this is definitely better. One thought (and I’m not wedded to this by any stretch): given that they are proposing angle parking on Chouteau in front of the project, would it not make sense to have mixed-use building(s?) on Chouteau, with retail/office on the ground floor, and residential above? It’s not quite the same feel as Park Ave certainly, and there’s still the matter of the lot and gas station immediately to the east, but it does help make the corridor from Missouri to 18th street just a little more pedestrian friendly ( a planted median would help). A little bit like Jefferson south of Russell.
    What do you all think?

  • kjohnson04

    I’m usually in favor of through streets, but here…it seems forced.

  • Linda pallmann

    Before you write Your column Alex, it would be very more informative to to ask the lafayette square development committee for their opinion to the project. Lafayette Square is the jewel of STL neighborhoods and one of the largest collections of Victorian homes in the country. Not even Chicago, when these developers come from, has preserved such a collection. Why should we settle for hardyboard for the back of the buildings when every other house in lafayette square has brick, per our historic code? These developers swoop in for quick sales and tax abatement and leave with a fist full of dollars. The neighborhood is left with 62 architecturally uninteresting buildings. Also, There has never been a through street platted for LaSalle on any city map.

    • Alex Ihnen

      The developers are from CHICAGO?! (Grabs torch and pitchfork). LET’S GO!

      But fair enough. I know and love Lafayette Square well. I also understand that residents have a much more vested interest than me. That’s why residents get meetings and opportunities for feedback. I do wish you luck.

      I do like the plan, and feel it’s a great repurposing of an extremely challenging site. Development is difficult and almost never satisfies everyone. Lafayette Square does have some diverse housing stock, especially is this corner of the neighborhood. I hope there can be an agreement on how to develop this area.

    • STLEnginerd

      Id say no one is obligated to seek out an opinion. From a journalistic standpoint it good practice to get as much information as possible but that is weighed against the goal for publishing date. As long as none of the information here is blatantly false or misleading the article is as valid as any other. The plans are sufficient to develop an opinion on alone from a person interested in development, but the article also offered significant context as to the evolution of the site as well as similar nearby architectural examples. At some point their is enough information and there will never be complete information.

      Lafayette Square is in a enviable position in that they can press developers to adhere to certain guidelines. Sounds like Lafayette Square stood up to a developer and the developer
      blinked. That is admirable as long as they are willing to deal with the
      alternative that the developer walks away and the site remains undeveloped for the foreseeable
      future. I am surprised the developer didn’t push back but hopefully Lafayette Square has a good idea of how far they can push. I want the best possible project for the neighborhood but i want something to be built as well.

      Lastly just because LaSalle isn’t through to MacKay on historic maps doesn’t mean it can’t be made that way now. I would think this is an opportunity to make this development a more integral part of the Lafayette Square neighborhood rather than apart from it.. Same with restoring MacKay as a through street. These people are going to be part of the neighborhood. Hopefully they are treated as such.

    • Adam

      So brick on all four sides = architecturally interesting but hardy board on the back = architecturally UNinteresting. that’s just silly. and, yeah, there are things that exist now that weren’t platted on a city map in the 1800’s. it happens.

      • Steve Kluth

        I’d have pointed out the ground level line of double garage doors would be just as architecturally uninteresting if surrounded by brick, but your point is just as valid.

    • Ashley

      can i get a source for the “jewel of STL neighborhoods” comment? everyone thinks their neighborhood is the jewel of the city.

      • jhoff1257

        It’s subjective. No source needed. As someone who doesn’t live in the City but has explored it extensively I’d tend to agree with Linda. Lafayette Square is pretty unique, even in a architecturally significant city like St. Louis. St. Louis has many “jewels” but Lafayette Square certainly stands out.

        • Ashley

          the source question was more tongue-in-cheek snark than anything. i’m a shaw resident and my neighborhood is the jewel of the city and i’ll challenge anyone who says otherwise! =]

  • Parker

    Better than before. As long as there’s significant variation between all of the units, I’m all for that design.

    Have a look down 18th & Rutger and in that general vicinity. Compare the colorful fronts of all those older homes and the differences in facades, and the trees and various charming iron gates, with what we see at Lafayette Walk – where, although brick-fronted, everything looks dull and the same.

    Do not let the new designs resemble the look and feel of Lafayette Walk. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone outside there.

    Lots of variation, greenery, and color are key for maintaining the vibe and value of Lafayette Square. Current and future residents all love it here for this.

  • Dr. & Mrs. Smoliak

    Much better than the design specs last month. Wonder what took so long to get good renderings.

    Just a couple of nitpicks –
    – use the brown pebble in the sidewalks to match the neighborhood – rather than just plain gray concrete.
    – plant a row of trees and various varieties of planters in front of all those parking spaces. I don’t want to look out the window of my 350K house and see a bunch of cars. Use trees that will grow to at least 30ft. Big trees add big property value.

    Much better overall though. Throw in excellent soundproofing between units (layers of concrete and QuietRock / green glue), great STC-rated windows, and document it all, and I’m buying – maybe two.

  • Ihanaf

    So… um… are we praising an additional curb cut on Chouteau?

    • STL

      Actually reducing the curb cuts to 1. Currently the praxair site has 2 curb cuts.

      • Ihanaf

        Compared to March plans. If you compare to current conditions, even a QT might look good 😉

    • Alex Ihnen

      Right. I’d much rather see two curb cuts on Missouri and MacKay, but neighbors won’t allow it.

  • rgbose

    Looking good!
    Please connect Lasalle. They could add a unit along Chouteau so as to keep the same number.

    • STL

      The historic street grid had LaSalle stopping 200 feet short of connecting through Mackay. Lafayette Square residents have provided mixed feedback on the LaSalle connection

  • Presbyterian

    Definitely an inprovement. I am curious why they pull back from the corner at Mackay and Chouteau. That seems odd.

    • STL

      A large msd sewer pipe runs diagonally across the site. You can’t build any dwellings over it.

      • Presbyterian

        Ah. That makes sense.

      • kjohnson04

        I guess there’s no convincing MSD to move the pipe to better location, then?

        • brickhugger

          Moving a pipe costs several hundred thousand dollars at a minimum. Depending on how much pipe is involved, this could be a multi-million dollar project. So I’m not inclined to ask them to move it; that kind of money is better spent fixing problems elsewhere.

  • John

    Definitely an improvement in traffic flow and views. Now, if they would add all brick (including the rear of units) and windows on the garage doors, they would have a more special product to offer buyers. So tired of cheap builders that cut corners. Do it right the first time.

    • Framer

      Well, yeah, but they have to sell these things after all. I guess they know how much their prospective buyers are willing to pay for all-brick vs. some siding in back. I’m sure the builders would be happy to do all-brick if they could find buyers willing to pay for it.

    • jhoff1257

      Nothing about this is “cheap” or “cutting corners.” This is a pretty great improvement over the original plan. A little siding and lack of garage door windows on the backs of these buildings probably isn’t going to steer too many people away. My guess is the builder knows what they’re doing.

      • John

        Yes, builders know what they are doing when they don’t use all brick and offer products with basic garage doors. It’s called cutting corners. In know builders have to make a profit, but they could do minor embellishments to make it more special. That is my point.

        • jhoff1257

          If it burns down while they’re building it, I’ll accuse someone of “cutting corners.” Until then I think this looks pretty good…That’s my point.

  • Framer

    Nice!