After nine years of botched planning and big box buffoonery, the citizens of South St.Louis have finally laid to rest the worst laid plans of several megastore developers. Here is the account received this week from Kerri Bonasch of the Southtown Coalition: “In an almost anti-climatic ending, the St. Louis City Board of Adjustment voted 5-0 yesterday, June 6th to uphold the denial of Kmart/Developers Diversified Realty of Cleveland’s attempt to build a suburban style Kmart in the middle of one of this city’s premiere neighborhoods. After 45-minutes of discussion, the board chairperson asked for a motion to be brought forth.The motion to uphold the previous decision by the city’s Board of Public Service to deny the Kmart request passed unanimously. The unanimous decision was not expected by members of the Southtown Coalition, who were in their usual place, the front row of the hearing room at St. Louis City Hall. The Southtown Coalition, now more than 40 neighborhood organizations, formed almost two years earlier to fight for the future of St Louis, in this arena, was optimistic about the outcome. Apparently the Coalition convinced even the most skeptical business oriented member who noted “You cannot overlook the will of the people in determining the “general welfare”. General Welfare is one of 5 standards to which any conditional use permit application is upheld. Doreen Dodson, of Stolar Partnership, stated after the hearing that she believed her Client, DDR, and their Agent, The Sansone Group would appeal.” Note: This decision by the Board of Adjustment is important for other citizen’s groups to review, because at least part of the rationale for denying the project was based on the zoning code requirement that land actions taken serve the “general welfare” of the residents. This requirement is typically found in most zoning codes, but is often dismissed or overlooked by public officials. “General Welfare” is an important concept for community groups to understand and use (see the book Slam Dunking Wal-Mart for more details on “general welfare” arguments.} A significant outpouring of anti-sprawl testimony at such hearings can be used to illustrate that a project works against the general welfare.
This battle goes back to 1992, when the May Company closed its store on the site that eventually became a proposed location for Kmart. The city purchased the land, and then put the St. Louis Development Corporation in charge of developing the land. Several historic buildings on the site, the May store and Famous Barr, were demolished. There followed after that a string of proposals, including an HQ home improvement store — all of which never reached the level of implementation. Meanwhile, the Southtown Coalition formed, and began espousing a pedestrian-scale, urban oriented mixed use project more compatible with the existing neighborhood context. But the developers never listened to the neighborhoods, and kept pushing suburban style sprawl. The end result is Kmart is not OK for South St. Louis. To read more about the remarkable coalition of neighborhood groups that dumped one of the country’s largest retailers (and developers, DDR), go to www.southtowncoalition.org, or contact [email protected]