Progressive Urban Planning taking root in Forest Park Southeast

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This Wednesday the St. Louis Planning Commission is expected to approve form-based code for Forest Park Southeast (FPSE), the neighborhood that encompasses The Grove entertainment district and the residential blocks between Highway 40 (I-64) on the north and the Union Pacific railroad tracks to the south. If approved, the Forest Park Southeast Form-Based District will go to the Board of Alderman to become law.

This is a huge step forward for St. Louis.

Form based code conceives of neighborhoods as a whole and regulates the built environment by using physical form (not just separation of uses) as the organizing principle for the code. This gives the public a voice in what is built as well as what it looks like. Traditional planning since the 1940s has focused on what use is permitted — separating retail from residences or industrial uses. Form-based code defines what the street itself should be — and thus limits developers to projects that support that urban vision. Under the bill, small exceptions could be granted by city staff, but larger changes would require an appeal process unlikely to allow building forms not in the neighborhood’s interest.

Among other powers, form-based code can stipulate a development’s physical features, it’s setback from the street, the height and size of a structure (it’s envelope), and whether it must contain first floor retail. This means that the public can prevent a private owner from building a suburban style house on a block of urban rowhouses or a suburban style gas station and surface parking lot along a dense urban boulevard. With form-based code, the public can stipulate that a certain location should contain shops fronting the sidewalk or that a building must be between three and seven stories. It is a progressive vision. It assumes that citizens have a collective say in how a private building’s facade relates to our commonly owned public spaces.

Planning for the FPSE neighborhood has sought to strengthen the Kingshighway and Vandeventer edges of the neighborhood, transforming them into walkable urban streets. According to Planning Commission documents, the plan seeks to “reinforce the well-established, historic and walkable character of the residential cores of the neighborhood with incremental infill and development,” while maintaining Manchester Avenue as the neighborhood’s Main Street and primary community gathering space.

The FPSE code identifies seven different types of neighborhood forms for the 350 acre district. The code identifies specific design requirements and building types for each of these seven. To the north, Chouteau will function as a grand boulevard and residential edge of the neighborhood. Tower Grove will develop its mixed use character south of Manchester as a connection to Tower Grove Park and the Missouri Bontanical Garden.

Park Central Development and 17th Ward Alderman Joe Roddy began the years long neighborhood planning process in 2014. H3 Sudio worked with neighborhood residents and stakeholders to develop a vision for what the neighborhood should look like in 2025. A neighborhood plan was adopted in 2015. The FPSE Form-Based District codifies steps toward that vision. Images are from the 2015 neighborhood plan developed with H3 Studio.

St. Louis will only benefit from progressive urban planning. Along with city-wide preservation review, municipal consolidation, TIF reform, tax abatement focused on poorer city neighborhoods, transit-oriented development, community benefit agreements and mandatory set-asides for low-income and universal design units in large residential projects, form-based code is another powerful public tool in shaping the St. Louis that ought to be. Form-based code can help foster a predictably high quality built environment, an environment built for people and in the public’s shared interest. My hope is that other city aldermen and alderwomen will lead the kind of lengthy community planning process to set the vision for their neighborhoods and gain the planning tools to help make that vision a reality. The Central West End and now Forest Park Southeast have shown the way.

 

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  • kjohnson04

    This should be adopted citywide. Namely because there isn’t one, like Goat314 said, and outside of Soulard, anything and everything goes (with parking minimums), without regard to the built environment.

  • Goat314

    We need a city wide form based code. The city is a little over 60sq miles with no room to expand. St. Louis’ urban policies suck, because we don’t have them.

  • DS1981

    It is odd that this is called “progressive”. Contemporary progressive architecture already so lacking in St Louis will obviously not be allowed under this ordinance. More faux brick that looks like crap.

    • Rusty

      This is about urban form, not faux brick

    • Adam

      What are you talking about? A form-based code has nothing to do with faux brick.

  • Tpekren

    Not sure, but how would this play with Drury Inn that owns a chunk of properties and will supposedly develop/build a hotel one day along Kingshighway? Curious if anyone knows if they are pushing back? Any ideas what they might be up to as of late?

    • WikiWild

      From my understanding they have been land banking for some time. I’m not sure if this will be an obstacle for them or not. It appears from the renderings on the article below from earlier this year that the rendering from 2008 may fit into the allowances in the form based code. I’d imagine that Drury will site tight for a while longer and see how all of this plays out before showing their hand.

      https://nextstl.com/2017/05/drury-development-seeks-demo-fpse-building-kingshighway/

      • Rusty

        Great, more landbanking and waiting, just what this City needs, thanks “leaders”

        • jhoff1257

          How is Drury buying up available properties the fault of city leaders? Should the city not sell vacant or abandoned properties to people that want to develop those lots?

          • Adam

            Well, the city should place a time limit on the sitting and enforce maintenance. Drury owns multiple dilapidated properties that abut residences on Gibson and Arco. A friend of mine has tried multiple times to purchase and rehab one of their neglected properties across the street from his—a property that they want to raze for parking. They’ve been hurting property values in the neighborhood for years.

          • Nick

            I think a time limit or something similar would be impractical, and policies such as that would lead to less investment in the city overall.

          • jhoff1257

            I think there’s room to find a middle ground in these types of situations. I don’t quite know what it should be, but enough so as to not stifle development throughout, but also strong enough to prevent debacles like McKee.

          • Nick

            True, these particular situations are not cut and dry. For example, it sucks if there is actually demand to rehab these buildings, all the while being blocked by Drury while they themselves delay any development. However, if you tell potential investors they need to invest in properties that are planned tear downs, or they only have so many years to start development before the city confiscates their property, that creates a VERY strong disincentive to put money into the city.

          • Adam

            perhaps developers shouldn’t count on tearing down buildings that are in preservation review districts. Drury knew what they were getting into before they bought the properties.

          • Nick

            I don’t understand your comment…Drury hasn’t been told they can’t tear down those buildings (not that I can find anyways); they purchased the properties with the idea to redevelop a decade ago, then held off plans because of the recession.

          • Adam

            they’ve tried at least a couple of times to raze the buildings facing Kingshighway and been denied by the PRB. they just tried to demo one of them again within the past 2 or 3 months–look at recent PRB meeting agendas. that’s why they finally boarded them up properly: pressure from the neighborhood (my friend was at the meetings) and denial of demolition.

          • Nick

            Interesting, did not know that. Then yes I agree with you it was a poorly planned project on Drury’s part.

          • Rusty

            Yeah, landbanking has worked wonders for the City, we need people like Nick to lead this city

          • Nick

            What part of this conversation has anything to do with landbanking?

          • jhoff1257

            Well this particular post has nothing to do with it. But going back to Tpekern’s original comment 6 days ago (re: Drury) it’s pretty obvious this individual thread is about land banking.

          • jhoff1257

            In some cases it has. Many of the properties in this very neighborhood were bought up by the redevelopment arm of Washington University years ago. Part of the reason we’re seeing so much development (especially single family rehabs) are because of WU’s land banking over the years.

            In other cases it doesn’t work, see: McKee, SLU, etc.

            Which is why we need some sort of policy that can keep people like McKee and SLU in check, but still allow organizations like Wash U to plan for neighborhood redevelopment, which has not only worked very well here, but in several other neighborhoods around their campuses.
            https://nextstl.com/2015/02/forest-west-properties-washington-university-issues-rfi-85-properties-grove/

  • Crystal Davis

    that first piture looks real nice. i aint never been to stlouis is it a nice city does most of it look like that

    • jhoff1257

      Much of the inner city looks like this. The suburbs, however, are more typical to most American cities.

      • kjohnson04

        Very spread out, low density, sidewalk and multimodal averse.

  • citylover

    Interesting.

    IMO, one of the great things about the grove currently is how wacky it is. There’s a lot of architectural diversity. Interesting to see the old and crumbling vs the contemporary. I understand form based code is good in an urban sense, but I think there’s a certain beauty in the unplanned/ tacky side of St. Louis.

    Maybe I’m wrong. But if everything has a restriction or a guideline, then we turn into every other neighborhood/ every other city.

    • Nick

      Agreed. I think these codes can be well-intended but lead to perverse results. Along similar lines, I was disappointed to hear the Columbia Iron Works rehab project was denied because the new potential tenant (can’t remember the company) wanted to tear down a dilapidated apartment on Tower Grove. We could’ve had an entire block rehabbed, including the structure on the corner of Vista and Tower Grove, all to save one nondescript apartment building that is showing no signs of being turned around anytime soon. Shortsighted and not good for the neighborhood in general IMO.

      • tpekren

        Might be mistaken, but believe the development include some goofy surface lot stated as safe or secure zone on the renderings?. I believe a lot of the push back is Columbia Iron Works development gives you development of one bigger buiding, demo, and guarantees more open space in a city with plenty of open space.

        Could be mistaken even more, wasn’t the out fit that wanted to buy out the Columbia iron works and move is a non-profit?. My take on that is one bigger building saved, more green space and hope I’m mistaken on the non-profit because they would guarantee less taxable property on the rolls. Someone will have to correct me on the non-profit aspect if totally off base.

        • tpekren

          I guess what I’m trying to save, no doubt the plus is saving and utilizing Columbia Iron Works building itself. But their is trades off and are they worth it?

          • Nick

            Understood. I think reasonable people can come to different conclusions on this. I will say, IMO, the sacrifice is smaller than many claim. The only true sacrifice is the apartment building. The parking lot is mostly going on top of a vacant lot anyways….and if the demand is there in the future, it can always be converted into a building of some kind.

            I also think people discount the possibility of the Iron Works Building and the corner building continuing to degrade the longer they sit. Time is not easy on vacant buildings…and it’s very possible that within a year or two they can crumble (or burn) to the point where no one wants to spend the money on a rehab.

        • Nick

          Not sure the nature of the business, but yes I believe the demo/parking lot was the big reason behind the pushback. Obviously many disagree with me, but my view is the parking lot and demo were worthy sacrifices to move the rest of the project along.

          • Whipple

            Thankfully your views are dying out

          • Nick

            Yeah? I’ve lost count of the number of people who are tired of hearing your views. Why don’t you do us all a favor and troll elsewhere.

          • Whipple

            At least my views are still legal in FPSE, unlike yours

          • Nick

            I haven’t espoused anything illegal guy. Let’s just leave it at that so you can rest up. You have a full day of annoying everyone ahead of you.

      • Adam

        Not sure if MO Foundation for Health has abandoned this, but considering that they were just moving from DT this is not a loss, especially considering they wanted to tear down that “dilapidated” 4-family for a parking lot. At the rate the Grove is moving, the iron works, the corner building, and the “dilapidated” building will be back in use before long.

        • Nick

          I’m less confident that block is as hot as you suggest. Yes the Grove has improved leaps and bounds in recent years….but there’s still dozens of empty/abandoned properties in the Grove….also we’ve also experienced several years of a very strong real estate market…further still, many projects only occurred because of subsidies of various kinds. My guess is if MO Foundation doesn’t follow through with the rehab, that building, and block, will be empty quite a while.

      • Whipple

        The point of the code is to prevent the type of short sighted demo you advocate for…

      • The Missouri Foundation for the Health project was not “denied” at all. The Preservation Board denied demolition of one building facing Tower Grove Avenue, which must have been describable because the Board found it met criteria set forth by the city’s preservation ordinance enjoining the city to block demolition. The Preservation Board’s action does not impede the project, but does prevent demolition of one building (which doesn’t seem to be in the way of a very cool project).

        • Nick

          Perhaps my wording was misleading….however, I was under the impression from various discussion boards that without the demo, there could be no parking lot to meet their standards, therefore the group was no longer interested in the site. So in essence the project when taken as a whole Honestly since the denial of the demo last spring I haven’t seen any official news either way.

  • Sam

    Is this the first of its kind in the city?

    • Presbyterian

      No, the Central West End already has form based code.

  • Whipple

    Maybe this would have stopped that QT from being built…

    • Presbyterian

      Yes. That’s the idea. New code would require two story minimum with zero or minimal setback from the sidewalk at that location.

      • Whipple

        A day late and a dollar short

        • STL Forever

          Whipple, your negative comments are lame and tiresome. If you can’t see the positives in our great city, then move on!

          • Whipple

            Almost as tiresome as the continued suburbanization of this City

          • jhoff1257

            A dense, urban form based code is exactly the opposite of suburbanization. St. Louis has a long way to go, but it’s making good strides. If it’s not enough for you, run for office and do something about it.

    • Nick

      In 30 years Quik Trips will be protected by these same neighborhood codes

      • Whipple

        I don’t think they are designed to stay upright that long…