Residential Development in The Grove meets controversy as Plans Change after Demolitions

The Grove is in the midst of a development boom, with a new project or business entry announced seemingly every week. There is an incredible amount of momentum, driven by a stable business and restaurant community on Manchester and the residential stability granted by the CWE, Cortex, and Forest Park’s amenities. Many of these developments are celebrated by members of the community for adding density, tax revenue, and support for the nearby businesses, which is of particular importance in the age of COVID.

The latest proposal, spearheaded by Amy and Amrit GIll of Restoration STL, instead finds itself in the middle of a controversy. The latest Forest Park Southeast Development Committee packet reveals a larger-than-expected residential structure, dubbed the Arbor on Arco, shown above. (Clarification: The Forest Park Southeast Neighborhood Association is a separate entity from the Forest Park Southeast Development Committee. The latter is run through Park Central Development and will see the proposal, the former has no control over the proposal despite efforts to become more involved in the process). The Arbor on Arco will offer 152 units atop of a wood-frame construction and one story podium. Also visible is an amenity deck supposedly with a pool on the second floor, a feature that is becoming very common and has a lot of potential benefits as residents increasingly seek outdoor space to complement their indoor units.

Added density is an important element for retail corridors like the one steps away from the proposal on Manchester, a benefit recognized by community members I was able to speak to regarding this project. However, it is within the business practices of developer Restoration STL where the controversy comes in to play. Those who have followed Restoration STL might know that this project has roots back to 2018, when Restoration STL provided a rendering of a 95-unit, brick-clad structure, shown just below. The initial rendering revealed an urban feeling designed to emulate a row of historic brownstones and maintain architectural compatibility with the surrounding neighborhood. Many of the units would be accessible from the street, and the structure had a greater emphasis on brick construction, not relying on a podium and enclosing residents off into an amenity space. This project, too, would provide significant added density.

Provided by user urban_dilettante on the UrbanSTL forums

This section of the street, from 4211 to 4239 Arco, previously contained a row of brick-clad single and multi-family residences. Each of them had their own entryways, similar to the feel and design replicated by the original 2018 rendering above. This is important because it is the very first 2018 rendering that Restoration STL used as the basis for their project, justifying their demolition. Most of these buildings were vacant and dilapidated according to Restoration STL, but in the The Grove housing market there is generally very little real vacancy when homes are listed, even when in need of renovation.

Location, provided by Google Maps

Some of these buildings, as can be seen below, were entirely salvageable, even in better shape than the buildings that Drury Hotels is demolishing through neglect. The leftmost building was demolished last month. While it looked less than perfect, was in a structural condition that could have been saved. With fresh brick tuck pointing on its side, and seemingly a relatively solid looking stone foundation, this building would be ripe for a redevelopment.

View of the structures on Arco, as provided by Google Street View

Residents I have spoken to expressed a feeling of dismay, feeling as though they have been victim of a “bait and switch” tactic by Restoration STL for demolishing historical structures under a false promise. Many had been excited by the original proposal, far-cry from NIMBY-ism, looking forward to the addition to the neighborhood and the added density. The rendering would have fit well with the form-based code of the neighborhood, honoring the history of the block.

Many residents feel that the strategy by Restoration STL leaves the community little choice but to approve of their new proposal. Because the demolition has already occurred, there is now nothing left to save. Yet, they did so under the guise of a development that actually fit the neighborhood’s architectural character. The old rendering and project details are still currently and publicly displayed on their website. Now that so much is gone, those residents prefer the new proposal to vacant land in the heart of the Manchester strip, where Manchester meets Arco. The added density is such a positive, and the design isn’t so bad that it should be rejected, but it reflects a business practice that is deceptive to members of the community who care about their physical surroundings.

The Arbor on Arco project cost is slated to come in at a total of $32 million, with 134 1-bedroom and 18 2-bedroom units. It will be presented at the Forest Park Southeast Development Committee meeting on September 15th at 5:30 PM. Those interested can listen in on Zoom, following the instructions in the packet.

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