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The St Louis Contrarian

Providing Independent and Intelligent Insight on St. Louis Public Policy Issues

Archive for the category “historic preservation”

The limits of Historic Preservation

St Louis is a city tied up in historic preservation. Most of the city is in some historic neighbor or another. Is this a good thing?

Well, it depends. If you have a truly historic house the designation brings resources to the table to improve the property. If you have a non historic house in a historic district you could be screwed. That is because rehabbing that property will require historic preservation processes that will add significantly to the cost of rehabbing the house, often more than the value of the property itself. Properties get abandoned and neighborhoods deteriorate.

Alderman and other civic leaders have pushed to designate deteriorated areas as historic in an erroneous effort to create revitalization. If anything these efforts hurt.

What can be done? First develop a reasonable definition of historic. Not every old building meets the standard. Second allow more flexibility in design. We would never have had the modernist architectural style if every neighborhood had to conform to existing styles. Finally use a reasonable definition of historic. The federal register talks about unique. That would be a good starting point.

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Development Subsidies in St. Louis

I attended a neighborhood housing board meeting in one of the neighborhoods of St. Louis recently. The group discussed a rehab job on a vacant house that will cost in the neighborhood of $250,000 to rehab and then sell for $120000. Development subsides will cover the gap.

This process makes no sense to me. I see the need for development subsidies in communities that are comprehensively redeveloping their housing stock and do not yet have housing values to break even in the process. These subsides should be limited to a reasonable percentage of the ultimate value. In the case I cited the subsidy of $13000 is more than the value of the property. This is crazy and it has been done thousands of times in St. Louis. Instead of comprehensive rehabilitation, aldermen or community activists pick out a property to rehab which has not overall effect on improving the community. Someone needs to take a good look at the whole process. Milwaukee where I previously lived and worked required that any housing with rehab costs higher than the end value be demolished. Written by Paul Dribin

Historic Tax Credits and Trump

President Trump has proposed in his tax plan to eliminate the Federal Historic Tax Credits. This would be a disaster for most cities, and most significantly, St. Louis. Federal and state credits have been effectively used in St. Louis for years to rehabilitate and develop housing that is historically significant. The dollar value has to be in the hundreds of millions of dollars. The value to the community is even higher. This for a tax plan that increases the deficit and simply lines the pocket of already very wealthy Americans. Second, this does not even get at the possible cuts in the State of Missouri Historic Tax Credits proposed by Governor Greitens Written by Paul Dribin

Historic Preservation in St. Louis

St. Louis has a remarkable and significant historic housing stock. Preserving this stock is very important. Yet, I often question the method or lack of method in which it is carried out. I particularly have problems with how houses that are not historic but located in historic neighborhoods are treated. These houses must meet the same stringent standards of the historic houses even if they have no historic value of their own.

A big problem with the St. Louis approach to historic preservation is the notion than all old buildings are historic. This is simply not true. Second, the federal register characterizes historic buildings as being unique, which is not usually the case in St. Louis. Third, aldermen and other political leaders have pushed to designate neighborhoods as historic in an effort to spur development. Often is has the opposite effect. Costs get driven up significantly, making a developer’s ability to do a deal more difficult without subsidies. It has also caused too many buildings to stand vacant.

We need a more sensible approach that balances preservation with economic development. Perhaps expenditures for preservation should be no more than the end use value of the property. Flexibility needs to be added to the architectural standards. New and innovative architectural styles are not allowed under the preservation system. Modern architecture would not have been allowed. Written by Paul Dribin

Blues Ice Rink Again

The federal government has refused to allow construction of an ice arena on a environmentally fragile site in Creve Coeur Park. Last week officials from the federal government were in town to hear grievances from local politicians. The lawyer for the ice arena played the oldest game in the world when facing a negative decision from the feds. He argued prejudice on the part of the federal officials based upon newspaper articles they had received. The only way to attempt to win this is to argue that the feds acted in an arbitrary and capricious manner.

Enough of this nonsense. Let’s find another site and get on with things. Written by Paul Dribin

St. Louis Museum District and the Suburbs

St. Louis has a fabulous set of museums parks and public institutions. They include the zoo, history museum, planetarium, art museum, and botanical gardens. Most of these attractions are world class and they are free. For some reason the Botanical Gardens charge admission. They are paid for from property taxes on St. Louis City and county residents.

The rub in the whole thing is that people outside the city and county pay nothing in taxes and get to visit for free. When this board was originally established, there was not much population outside the city and county, and not many visitors from around the country and world. Now there is a need for additional funding.

I would recommend that the remainder of the region either pay through taxes or pay admission fees. This is only fair.

Written by Paul Dribin

One Way in Which St. Louis is Like California

California has just passed new legislation for creating more affordable housing. It is a drop in the bucket of what is needed but a good start. The reasons for the California housing crisis are many. An overheated economy and lack of supply help explain the problem. The lack of supply is predominantly due to restrictions on height and density, and extremely involved zoning laws restricting multifamily development.

St. Louis does not have an overheated economy but still suffers from unnecessary restrictions. I point to the historic preservation requirements in the City of St. Louis as a significant barrier to affordable housing. The suburbs have zoning laws which require low density and policies against the development of multifamily housing. Changes in zoning and land use will not alone create the conditions for affordable housing but it certainly would help. Written by Paul Dribin

Don Roe

I am giving a shout out today to a great guy, the Planning Director for the City of St. Louis, Don Roe. I have known him for years to be a great and highly competent guy. He has had to exercise enormous tact and patience working with neighborhood groups, high level city officials, and the myriad and Byzantine policies of the City of St. Louis. When I worked for HUD he was always the go to guy to get things done. Written by Paul Dribin

Weird Things About City Development

Paul Krugman published an article in the New York Times which made sense. He argued that cities have not grown in a rational way because cities either allowed helter skelter development or engaged in NIMBY policies. Houston is an example of the former and San Francisco the latter. More publicity needs to be given to the discriminatory effects of exclusionary zoning in many communities.

Interesting St. Louis City seems to engage in both types of negative behavior. The city will give away the store to certain large developers but hound to death small developers with historic preservation requirements. A better balance is needed. Written by Paul Dribin

Historic Tax Credits for Residential Use

The St. Louis Business Journal had a poll today which appeared critical of State Historic Tax Credits being used on residential properties. These credits are part of the state program which is used primarily on apartments and commercial buildings.

If used properly, the credits can help rejuvenate historic neighborhoods and preserve housing. The criticism seems to be that sometimes people who use these credits don’t need them. A simple solution would be to means test the program so that only households who need the credits will use them. Written by Paul Dribin

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