RSS icon Email icon Bullet (black)
  • “The Law Enjoins Us To Become Stewards of Our Architectural History”

    Posted on July 22nd, 2009 Toby Weiss 2 comments

    coming-soon-nothing1

    Friends of the San Luis Seek Demolition Halt,
    Right to Appeal Preservation Board Action

    On July 17, the Friends of the San Luis, Inc. filed a petition in Circuit Court to obtain a temporary injunction that would prohibit the Archdiocese of St. Louis from proceeding with any demolition work at the San Luis Apartments until our organization has exhausted its legal appeal of the approval of the demolition permit.  While we do not have a final judgment, Judge Robert Dierker, Jr. has denied our motion for a temporary restraining order.  The Building Division issued a demolition permit on Monday, July 20, and preliminary demolition work is now underway.

    Our mission is to preserve the San Luis Apartments, and at this eleventh hour we press onward with that basic mission but also a larger one.  After the Preservation Board granted preliminary approval to the demolition by a narrow vote, we intended to appeal that decision through our right under the city’s preservation ordinance.  We think that the Preservation Board’s action was made through incorrect application of the law.  Furthermore, we think that that the Cultural Resources Office report on the issue misled citizens and Preservation Board members through imprecise legal reasoning that made it unclear what laws were in play.  Since the Preservation Board acts only to enforce city ordinances, without clarity of which laws are being enforced there is no due process.

    Under the preservation ordinance, however, we have only the right to appeal an approved demolition permit.  We filed the injunction petition to ensure that we were still fighting for an actual building rather than a rubble pile.  Unfortunately, Judge Dierker is not stopping demolition as well as challenging our legal standing to bring forth an appeal of the Preservation Board decision.  Thus begins our larger cause.

    Our preservation ordinance allows an aggrieved party to bring forth an appeal.  The preservation ordinance was passed by the Board of Aldermen for the benefit of the entire city, and its stakeholders are all citizens who share the duty of protecting the city’s heritage.  The law enjoins us to become stewards of our architectural heritage, and the Friends of the San Luis gladly step forward to answer that call.

    We contend that citizen right to appeal the decision of the Preservation Board is a fundamental part of due process and essential to the enforcement of the preservation review ordinance.  Without the right to appeal, citizen participation has severely limited impact.  Citizens must have the right to act when they feel that the preservation review ordinance has been violated by its own custodians.  The right to appeal is a basic legal principle, and it must be part of St. Louis’ preservation law.

    While we hold out weary hope of preserving the San Luis, we must assert the right of the citizen to bring forth an appeal under preservation law.   We believe that future efforts will benefit from legal protection of that right, and that its fundamental sanctity is worth pursuing no matter what happens to the San Luis.

    No Parking Lot On Lindell

    UPDATE

    The San Luis is coming down.
    Read the 5-page court decision here.
    See photos of the demolition here.
    And here’s the summary of why the court battle will continue.

  • City of St. Louis Citizens vs. Their Politicians

    Posted on June 24th, 2009 Toby Weiss 1 comment

    cwe-parking-lot

    Even though the Preservation Board voted on June 22, 2009 to allow for demolition of the San Luis, the story has a few more chapters to be written.

    The 20 people who testified against the surface parking lot proposal (of which I was one) were armed with facts, figures and sound rationales to demonstrate why the proposal was unsound or should be reconsidered.  According to the by-laws of the Preservation Board, we had every reason to believe we were systematically following the rules that allowed for public discourse and debate so that the Board could make an informed decision based on the facts of the case as well as the greater good of the neighborhood and the City of St. Louis.

    We followed procedures even though Alderwoman Lyda Krewson had been graciously candid in telling some of us before the event that the outcome was a done deal.  Considering the difficult position she had been put in over this issue, it was considered one of two things:  a desire to be finished with this complicated topic or a poker player’s bluff.  Either way, we followed through according to the system set in place by our City.

    Ald. Krewson was granted the final testimony of the night, and she acknowledged the struggles she had (a parking lot is not the best and highest use of this property) with her ultimate decision to side with the property owners.  She said her final decision was based on these facts:  The property owners could not feasibly rehab the building, would not sell the property to someone else and needed the parking.

    Only 5 of the 9 Preservation Board members were in attendance.  Alderwoman Phyllis Young cited the same reasons as Krewson for her “yes” vote.  Board member David Richardson acknowledged the merits of all arguments, but wanted to fairly follow the “letter of the law” about an ordinance written in 1974 (while acknowledging that this ordinance needs to be revised to current standards) as his reason for a “yes” vote.   The tie-breaking vote came from Richard Callow, who contributed no explanation for his “yes.”

    My immediate thoughts were of aldermanic courtesy in play and that the property owner had been granted the right to do as they saw fit with their property.   On the surface, fair enough.  But this “property rights” decision did not jibe with previous decisions by the city.

    First to come to mind was the Loughborough Commons issue, wherein the majority of property owners on S. Grand Avenue  did NOT want to give up their property for a retail development, but were overruled by Eminent Domain.  I’m sure any of you can cite another fast dozen cases of property owner rights being overturned for a special interest.  And this line of thought was a contributing factor to the lingering feeling that “the fix was in.”

    In the hours and days after the decision, there is much investigation into any procedural and/or legal improprieties and inconsistencies that may exist around this issue, and we will continue to follow the letter of the law in appealing this case.  But there is no escaping the white elephant in the room:  the truism of St. Louis politics is that it’s all about WHO the property owner is and how they benefit the people in power.

    City of St. Louis Citizens vs. Their Politicians

    There is a distressing disconnect between the citizens of St. Louis City and their elected officials over what is best for renewing and revitalizing this city.

    (This irony must be noted: on the very same night as the San Luis issue, the citizens of Ballwin experienced the exact same disconnect with their elected officials over the Schnucks issue, so this problem is not exclusive to the City.)

    As we have been taught – and as state and federal laws clearly state – one must participate in the democratic process in order for it to work.  Or as it is plainly stated by the man on the street:  if you don’t vote then don’t complain.  But from the bubble-burst of the Nixon presidency on down, citizens are personally discouraged by political deviation from the stated will of the people.  Examples off the top of my head:  the voters of Missouri had twice voted down legalized gambling and concealed firearms, and how did these issues end?  So, when the people have spoke but the politicians are ignoring them, there’s no denying that other factors beyond democracy are in play.

    Nationally, this unease with political disconnect resulted in a majority vote for “change we can believe in.”  As with so many matters, the City of St. Louis is decades behind the curve, but this has not completely discouraged the 355,000+ people who purposely choose to live here because they know the advantages of living here and believe in its potential.

    To remain concentrated on the San Luis issue, I will set aside many other glaring examples of disconnect between our citizens and politicians.  When it comes to matters of city planning and development – two issues that ultimately affect every taxpaying citizen in tangible ways – there are thousands of citizens who actively work through multiple channels to contribute to the improvement and stewardship of St. Louis.  That the city needs improving has been absolutely acknowledged by both the citizens and City Hall, but how to do this creates continual discussion.

    Ideally, I should have been able to say “this creates continual DEBATE,” but that’s not how it actually plays out.  All too often, it’s a case of concerned citizens flapping their jaws into a vortex of silence.

    Come election time, our politicians want us to be engaged, and cite this engagement as one of the reasons they are so proud to represent and fight for this city.  But once we’ve voted them into office, the party line is disconnected.  Even though they take our calls and read our letters, they don’t seem to comprehend what we’re saying.

    When it comes to planning and development issues, St. Louis City advocates are very clear and concise about the What and Why.  We are overly detailed about documenting, educating and debating why we are for or against any given issue.  That so many people continually join in these discussions and take action through the proper channels underscores how important these issues are.  It is heartening and inspiring to know that St. Louisans care this deeply for their city.

    And in exchange for all this public discourse that is closely monitored by City Hall, we get… silence.  Or even more maddening, we get responses that tend towards “Citizens Against Virtually Everything,” or something to the effect that we just don’t understand what is needed to elevate the prospects and standing of this city.

    If our politicians truly believe we don’t get it, then respect us enough to EXPLAIN your decisions.  We taxpaying and voting citizens may not fully understand the stresses and complexities of the issues you deal with, so tell us.  We assume you do not make any of these decisions lightly, so share with us the processes that went into the final decisions.  We may not like the outcomes, but the truth is ultimately easier to deal with than confusion or collusion.

    And collusion is the natural conclusion we come to when you refuse to educate on or include us in the decisions that impact our lives and the prospects of this city.

    Do not dismiss this as emotional, knee-jerk reactions; the stereotype of “backroom St. Louis politics” persists because of documented history of its existence, and because of the continual reticence to change this way of doing business.   This is a “big small town” and everyone knows everyone’s business.  The tension comes from those who work within the shadow system vs. those who engage in an open and public manner as prescribed by the written laws.

    It is true that if one wishes to reform the system, they must work to change it from the ground up.  New generations of passionate, educated and informed citizens are already doing so, and you can safely bet on greater numbers of them relying on existing laws and engagement of the citizens as a means for steering the City of St. Louis into the realities and possibilities of the 21st century.

    When it comes to St. Louis City planning and development, of our politicians and representatives I ask these questions:

    • How often do the concerns and visions of your citizens influence your decisions?
    • How often do the concerns and visions of special interests influence your decisions?
    • Do you feel that there can be an agreeable compromise between citizens and special interests?
    • If you could change one thing about the St. Louis political system, what would it be?

    Of our St. Louis City residents I ask these questions:

    • How often do the concerns and visions of the politicians reflect your beliefs?
    • How often do the concerns and visions of special interests reflect your beliefs?
    • Do you feel that there can be an agreeable compromise between citizens and special interests?
    • If you could change one thing about the St. Louis political system, what would it be?

    To stay current on the San Luis issue, bookmark No Parking Lot On Lindell.

  • One Week to Stop a Parking Lot

    Posted on June 15th, 2009 Toby Weiss No comments

    oneweektostop_color

    On Monday, June 22, a demolition permit for the San Luis goes up for review before the St. Louis Preservation Board.  The owners want to demolish the building at Lindell & Taylor in the Central West End for a surface parking lot.

    If this doesn’t sit right with you, we need you to speak up.
    Here’s your options:

    E-mail the Preservation Board now

    Attend the June 22nd meeting

    E-mail Lyda Krewson, the alderwoman of the ward the San Luis stands in

    E-mail the operations officer at the Archdiocese

    To assist you in speaking up on this matter, we have a form letter you can use to send to any of the people above. Cut and paste it verbatim, or use it as a starting point to express your own views.

    Click for the sample letter

    If you want the Preservation Board to deny a demolition permit, it is important to say so.  It is crucial that the Board and the owners of the building understand that this surface parking lot proposal negatively impacts the potential and the spirit of St. Louis City.