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Saturday, November 14, 2009

Conflicting Goals on Southwest Avenue

In the October 2009 Communicator Newsletter, the Southwest Garden Neighborhood detailed plans to re-do the streetscape along Vandeventer and Southwest Avenues.

Components of the project include upgrades to the pedestrian signals, crosswalk, and traffic signal timing at the intersection of Kingshighway and Vandeventer, implementation of a road diet along Vandeventer (reducing traffic lanes from 4 to 3, excep at the main intersections), installing new street lights with cut-off fixtures (which will reduce light pollution and increase lighting for the pedestrian), increased plantings of low maintenance ground cover and hardy tree species, reduced curb-cuts, and ADA-compliance.
Sounds great--and very necessary, right?

While I'm unsure of the boundaries of the project, it's nevertheless disheartening to see that a portion of Southwest Avenue may soon lose its urban charm and become less friendly to pedestrians even as another section of the road sees an upgrade.

Favazza's restaurant, located at 5201 Southwest, is seeking demolition permits for two neighborhood commercial/mixed use buildings, at 5209 and 5211-13 Southwest according to the latest preliminary Preservation Board Agenda.

These are the buildings in question:

View Larger Map

The full report is not yet online, so the reasons for the requested demolitions are not yet available (anyone want to call Favazza's and ask?). The best guess is, of course, a nice and spacious adjacent parking lot.

Unless the ultimate proposal is new construction on site, which I doubt, Favazza's plans to tear down two pedestrian-oriented buildings on a stretch of road soon to be improved just doesn't make sense. Again assuming a parking lot is coming, the result will be a less walkable, uglier street.

The Hill and adjacent Southwest Garden are thriving St. Louis neighborhoods. Especially in the case of the former, the record has shown that small, storefront retail with limited parking leads to a more walkable and walked neighborhood. The Hill's commercial rows are interesting--and lively for St. Louis, which is mostly starved of the brisk pedestrian traffic of denser cities in the Northeast.

Tearing down two buildings on a strip with major potential is an all around bad idea. Yet it's even less bearable when you consider the waste of public investment in making roads pedestrian friendly and then removing all the reasons pedestrians would ever want to walk them.

I think to Martin Luther King Blvd. from Jefferson to Grand as an example of a pure waste of money whose improvements only brought more attention to the sorry state of buildings along the stretch. The city and some private owners have worked together to strip most of the refurbished street and its sidewalks of any urban buildings that make walking interesting and comfortable, that give small business owners a chance to invite the pedestrians to the stretch in the first place. See what I mean?

View Larger Map
Here, new streetlights and sidewalks only cast light on the emptiness of the surrounding blocks.

My argument is not that disinvested places or streets with few urban buildings do not deserve to have better sidewalks; it's just that there should be a special effort to justify such investment. In other words, keep these roads as urban-formatted and pedestrian friendly as possible! Keep the remaining buildings in place; assign an urban design overlay zone that is very restrictive with regard to parking lots! Simple as that.

The Preservation Board should deny the ridiculous demolition proposals on Southwest Avenue. You may voice the same opinion at the monthly meeting, to be held:

Monday, November 23, 2009
4 p.m.
1015 Locust
Suite 1200

Please show up and protest bad, if typical land use planning in the City of St. Louis. See to it that our commercial corridors are ripe for reinvestment and pedestrians, not drivers and visual blight.

(My apologies in advance if Favazza's is experimenting with radically amazing new construction on site of these two fine buildings and is not, as I suspect, shooting for a parking lot).


STLgasm said...

New construction or not, there is no good reason to demolish these buildings that have been a part of this neighborhood for a century or more. Favazza's should realize that they are part of a great neighborhood, and if their plan is to put a parking lot on the site, it will greatly diminish the neighborhood appeal that makes the restaurant such an institution. I can't imagine that residents of The Hill would support demolition, as they are fiercely protective of their neighborhood. Everyone should take 5 minutes and write to the preservation board-- this is absurd!

Brian said...

Those buildings would probably be pretty easy to lease to commercial tenants. Favazza's has flourished for years with their current parking situation - why do they feel the need for parking now?

Colleen said...

I emailed Favazza's yesterday:

Colleen Kirby wrote:
> Hello Favazza's -
> I'm a Southwest Garden neighborhood resident and I just wanted to let you know that I'm not super keen with the idea of tearing down two commercial/mixed use buildings on our "Main Street" - esp. when they are just ripe for reinvestment. I've seen buildings in far worse condition be rehabbed into beautiful images of their former selves. There is no reason to decimate this bit of continuity on our urban landscape. PLEASE reconsider.
> All the best,
> Colleen Kirby

The response I receieved was:
Please call John ( 3145686557 or Tony Favazza (3145686561) to explain

-- John Favazza

Explain what? I haven't had time to sit down for a phone call. Maybe this weekend, but that's probably not the best time for a restaurant owner to chat. I guess they don't get what the problem is?

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