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A Call for No Censorship in University City

Mayor Shelley Welsch's latest blog post.

A vision for the long-term future of one part of our community is coming under strong, vocal attack. This concerns me greatly, and I think it should concern you, too.

The Parkview Gardens Sustainability Plan recommends that the development in the Parkview Gardens area become much more dense – to attract hundreds of additional residents to our City who want to live in our diverse community; support the shops and restaurants in the Loop; enjoy being within walking distance of a Metro stop; and bring hundreds of thousands of additional dollars to our City coffers. The people who developed this plan see the potential for massive, positive, impact not only in this neighborhood, but spreading out to Skinker north of Delmar, to Olive Boulevard east of Kingsland, and to the Loop itself.

But one portion of this plan is under attack by a small group of vocal business owners, many of whom are not residents of University City, who want to continue to receive free parking on a City-owned lot as has been provided for many, many years. They want to have this plan censored so that U City residents who helped pay for the plan do not get into a discussion on what’s best for University City. This is wrong.

I fully support this plan. I believe censoring this plan is wrong.

First, a bit of background.

A couple of years ago, the was the lucky recipient of a joint grant of more than $300,000 from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the U.S. Department of Transportation. The grant was to be used to come up with a long-term, sustainable vision for the Parkview Gardens neighborhood on the eastern edge of our community. Many more details about the grant can be found at the project website noted above, but the grant was provided to fund a study of how to make this centrally-located neighborhood sustainable for the long-term future, and how University City and the City of St. Louis (where parts of the neighborhood are located) could take full economic advantage of this neighborhood – i.e. how to make the neighborhood the economic engine it could be for the whole City.

Partner organizations have been working on the plan since then. The partners include the City of University City; the City of Saint Louis; ; the two federal departments; the Parkview Gardens Association; the Great Rivers Greenway District; Trailnet; the Regional Housing and Community Development Alliance; the and Arcturis. There have been five public workshops; presentations to the City Council of University City; and at least two appearances before the University City Plan Commission.

A draft plan has now been presented to the City Council of University City. This is a visionary plan – it presents ideas on what could be done over the next generation to address “several interrelated issues that need to be addressed in order to ensure the sustainability of the Parkview Gardens neighborhood:

  1. A lack of neighborhood connectivity
  2. A need for additional affordable housing
  3. A need to improve the quality of existing open spaces so that they can be better utilized for both recreation and transportation”

I repeat – this is a vision not just for this generation, but for the next generation. But there has been a move by some to ensure that this vision is censored – that parts of it be deleted from the plan so that University City residents of today who helped fund this study and residents and leaders in the future don’t have the opportunity to study, and consider, what the U City residents of today and the partners in this process envisioned for the future.

The portion of the plan that has come under fire by this small group of business owners is a discussion on what might be possible on the City-owned lot just off Kingsland north of Delmar – that would change the lot from surface parking to something else. Right now parking is provided free on this lot as it has been for many, many years. The complaining business owners argue that not having free parking on a surface lot will negatively impact the Loop businesses – but I’ve been told by people in the field that there is no data to support the contention that free parking has to be on a surface lot and not in structured parking.

Again – there is no “live” proposal to do anything on this lot – and with the economy as it is, and the bad-taste in developers’ mouths because of a 2004 effort to bring new development this location, I don’t think there will be a “live” proposal anytime soon. (Note: That 2004 proposal was to build 300 condos on the lot; provide parking for all condo residents; retain the same number of free parking spots in a structured, lighted and secure parking garage – a type of parking proven to be successful around the country; and build a new market for the loop fronting on Delmar. No sense crying over spilled milk, but if that had been built we would have had 300-500 residents within ½ block of the Loop shops and restaurants, and the City would have been bringing in literally hundreds of thousands of dollars annually in additional revenue from a variety of sources. This would have been nice in those difficult days following the 2008 economic meltdown.)

Some of those working against this plan, and calling for censoring of the report, have said that it does not matter what our Plan Commission members think about the plan because “they have the votes needed on the City Council to remove the objectionable part of the plan.”

That’s sad.

If you feel like I do about censorship, I hope that you will take time to let your Council member know your thoughts – on deleting a part of the visionary document, not on building on the lot in question. If and when anyone comes with a proposal to develop that lot, THAT will be the time for the people of our community, business owners and others, to share their thoughts and concerns. The Council sitting at that time will be charged with making a decision about what would be best for the City.

The Council will probably be discussing this issue at its regular meeting on Monday, July 9th,  6:30 p.m. in the Council chamber.

If you study the history of our community you will realize that the City of University City has benefited by visionaries in the past. Our founder, E.G. Lewis, was a man ahead of his time. He founded our community with the idea that it would have a focus on education and culture. He was a feminist before most people understood the term. Later leaders were among the first to establish the occupancy permit system, which, as frustrating as it may be to some, has helped protect our housing stock for generations. Others realized the benefit of open spaces for a community and established and added to a park system so that now, with seventeen City parks, we have more parks per capita than any community in the region. Citizen leaders, fought long and hard against the redlining of our City by the real estate community in the days of white flight, and helped make this community the most diverse in this region and state, and one of the most diverse in the nation. University City is what it is today because our forefathers and mothers, elected and otherwise, had a vision for a better future, and were willing to work hard to make their vision a reality.

The people who worked on this Parkview Gardens Sustainability Plan are the visionaries of today. We should not censor their vision just because a few people disagree with part of it.

Finally, I would like to put out a call for civility.

Since I was out of town I was unable to attend the Plan Commission meeting where this Parkview Gardens plan was one item on the agenda. But I received comments from a number of University City residents who were very upset with how some in the audience spoke to members of our staff. I spoke to others who were at the meeting to confirm what happened, and it did not sound pretty.

I am used to being spoken to in this manner, and as an elected official realize it comes with the territory – unfortunate, but that’s my reality. But our staff members do not deserve to be treated in such a rude and boorish manner.

I encourage everyone, no matter your thoughts about a certain person or their actions, to remember that civil behavior is the foundation of a civil society.

In my mind, I know that was the vision of our forefathers and mothers.  Let that vision be a reality.

Caryn St.Clair July 09, 2012 at 05:50 PM
I'm confused. There has been no recent meeting of the Park Commission where the Parkview Gardens plan was on the agenda and I'm not sure we've EVER weighed in on the free/pay parking issue. So what does the below refer to? "Since I was out of town I was unable to attend the Park Commission meeting where this Parkview Gardens plan was one item on the agenda. But I received comments from a number of University City residents who were very upset with how some in the audience spoke to members of our staff. I spoke to others who were at the meeting to confirm what happened, and it did not sound pretty." Caryn St.Clair
Caryn St.Clair July 09, 2012 at 06:00 PM
I see the blog has been corrected and the paragraph now reads PLAN Commission. Thank you. The parking in the Loop isn't something the Park Commission would normally address so I couldn't figure out why we were being called on the carpet for this!
Amos Curlee July 10, 2012 at 06:34 PM
I am confused too. Is the Parkview Gardens Sustainability Plan being adopted by University City as a development plan? If so then this is not an opinion being censored, this is a public objection to objectionable policy. Not allowing our public officials to pass laws and ordinances we find objectionable is not censorship - it is our right. You can print the whole Parkview Gardens Sustainability Plan in the newspaper - if somebody objected or changed it - that would be censorship. Once you attempt to adopt it as a city plan, it is no longer just opinion and is open to modifications and objections (kind of like a contract negotiation). Please do not misrepresent censorship. Now, it is obvious you would like to develop the free parking lot. Please explain if there are no live proposals for this lot how any change to this lot supports the Parkview Gardens Development Plan? If there are no "live plans" for the lot what past or present visionaries are we ignoring? Was it not the visionaries of the past that planned the free parking lot? What exactly does the plan call to do to the lot and why? I find it very hard to find any facts in your blog posting. As far as I can tell: 1) There is a development plan 2) The loop free parking lot is in it 3) Business owners are objecting to that part of the plan 4) You did not go to the meeting. If you would like my support I need see you articulate your plan instead of blindly blaming the objectors of 'censorship'.
karen July 12, 2012 at 05:27 PM
Parking is already a problem in the loop and now the Mayor wants to make a bad situation worse. You would think the first thing the Mayor would want to do is make sure the exisiting businesses were pleased with the plan, since a number of them have been contributing to the tax base for over 25 years....long before she was in the picture. Less parking in the loop? Don't need to spend thousands of dollars to figure out that's a bad move.
Lois July 13, 2012 at 06:18 PM
I agree with Mr. Curlee in my concern about the word "censorship" in the Mayor's blog. If you have a solution that is viable and that you stand behind, then sell that idea using positive language and specific examples. Please do not resort to disparaging people and groups that do not agree with your position. Engage in constructive dialogue and explain why the idea being supported is the best solution. Often, this type of conversation results in a much better solution in the long run. The blog is unclear on one important issue: Is the dispute with the Loop Special Business District (presumably the "small group of vocal business owners" referred to in the blog) over free parking? over whether the free parking will be on a surface lot or in structured parking? or whether the free parking will become paid parking? I have re-read the blog several times and am still confused. All of the other rhetoric in the blog seems unrelated and extraneous.
Jan Adams July 13, 2012 at 06:22 PM
The plan proposes more parking, not less. If there is a condo development, those residents will want structured parking. More residents will bring in more property tax AND more sales tax. There should be a study that will provide the data necessary to make an intelligent decision. Where would we build a condo development that is close to the businesses if not on that lot?

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