Friday, February 23

Green Street apartment plan faces headwinds from St. Louis City Hall | Politics

ST. LOUIS — Despite a positive vote from the city’s planning commission and St. Louis Board of Aldermen more than a year ago, officials have delayed consideration of a developer’s incentive request for a $73 million apartment complex on McRee Avenue after the project drew opposition from a city alderman.

The episode is the latest example of Alderman Tina Pihl and Mayor Tishaura O. Jones’ administration asserting their power over development deals that won initial approval under their predecessors. 

Green Street Real Estate Ventures wants to build a 268-unit apartment structure at 4591 McRee Avenue in the Forest Park Southeast neighborhood and is seeking a sales tax exemption on construction materials for the project — now a larger investment than its early plans.

But Pihl, who represents the area, said she was surprised when the proposal showed up last week on the agenda of the St. Louis Land Clearance for Redevelopment Authority, which facilitates many development incentives. She spoke with St. Louis Development Corp. Director Neal Richardson, whose office heads the LCRA, about her concerns and he agreed “the community needs to review this,” Pihl said. 

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“This development has not been reviewed by my constituents,” Pihl said Monday. “It went up to the LCRA without my review. I’m going to advocate for the citizens to have a voice.”

The LCRA cancelled its May 24 meeting, citing a lack of quorum. The agenda for a rescheduled Friday LCRA meeting, though, no longer included the Green Street project.

A spokeswoman for Green Street said the company had no comment. 

Green Street’s initial plans for 4591 McRee called for retail and entertainment uses with an estimated cost of $21 million. The Board of Aldermen two years ago approved 10 years of 90% tax abatement for the site based on those early plans. 

Pihl said the project’s scope now is “totally different.”

Sara Freetly, a spokeswoman for SLDC, confirmed that Richardson spoke with Pihl about the matter. 

“Since this project was originally approved by the Board of Aldermen, SLDC believes it is appropriate to have the Alderperson representing the ward in which this project resides inform constituents of the substantial changes and garner their support prior to LCRA taking it to their board for formal approval,” Freetly said in a statement. 

However, the St. Louis Planning Commission in December 2020 approved rezoning for the site to accommodate a 260-unit apartment structure. The St. Louis board of aldermen approved the rezoning last year, though it was Pihl’s predecessor, Joe Roddy, who carried the bill. 

Voters in 2021 elected Pihl to represent a ward where a substantial share of the city’s development activity has occurred in recent years. Pihl has pushed other developers that are seeking city incentives or rezoning to contribute to affordable housing, a policy she says is meant to leverage investment in the city’s central corridor to benefit poorer residents and neighborhoods. City development officials under Jones have pursued similar policies.

Developer Steve Smith’s City Foundry made a $1.8 million contribution to the city’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund in exchange for Pihl’s support for $18 million in tax increment financing incentives. New Jersey-based Aptitude Development — which is pitching a a seven-story, 177-unit student housing development in Midtown but is not seeking incentives — agreed to contribute $250,000 to affordable housing.

The tactic has delayed at least one project. An apartment complex in the Central West End’s Cortex tech hub has been stalled for a year after Pihl and the Jones administration reentered negotiations over its incentive package.

Green Street is among the most active developers in the city. Next to the site where it wants to build apartments, at 4565 McRee Avenue, Green Street this year finished a $21 million redevelopment of a former warehouse into a complex that now houses the popular Bar K dog park concept and where this year it moved its headquarters from Clayton.

It is developing several residential projects in the Forest Park Southeast neighborhood and Grove entertainment district that Pihl represents, including some with “workforce housing” units that charges lower rents. But Pihl said Monday that workforce housing is not affordable housing. 

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