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Exterior Staircase Causes Controversy in Lafayette Sq. Janette Lonsdale • Fri, Dec 17, 2010

Lafayette Square residents turned out in force for the Nov. St. Louis Historic Preservation Board meeting to object not only to the construction of a three-story staircase and entry porches on the north face of 1016 Mississippi Ave., but to object North elevation of the staircase and doors as visible from the street to the compromise put forward by the cultural resources office. The office recommended granting a variance to retain the illegal staircase with conditions that tall evergreens be planted to screen the structure from street view. After hearing considerable testimony, the board voted to grant a variance for a scaled down, two-story, staircase that would hug the side of the building. With this solution, access to the living space on the building’s third floor would be via an interior stairs and corridor. The cultural resources office drew-up its variance recommendation following a complaint about the property from Lafayette Square residents on October 22. Following a visit to the property, a Stop Work Order was issued when inspectors determined doors had been cut into the side of the building and a three level exterior staircase was under construction without approval. The building owner and developer Sean Kelly testified that the doors had been cut into the side of the building in 2004 and that the building plans for the rehab works were approved in 2007. The exterior staircase, according to Kelly, is required because the building comprises retail space at ground level, with office space on the floor above. There is living space on the third floor. The building has no internal stairs linking all three floors and an exterior staircase is required by the fire marshal. The cultural resources team said it approved the 2007 plans, but said that these plans did not include the external staircase. “On October 4, 2007, an interior and exterior permit was approved by the cultural resources office for the rehabilitation of an extremely deteriorated two and a half story building,” stated the documentation presented by cultural resources at the Nov. 2010 Preservation Board meeting. The document goes on to say that cultural resources understood that the developer planned to purchase an adjacent property to the rear of the building for the access stairs. The developer was unable to purchase that property and so in July 2010, he showed cultural resources staff an alternative staircase, which the office did not approve because it did not conform to the Lafayette Square Historic District Standards. The application expired and was therefore administratively denied. Lafayette Square resident Clarence Evans who lives on LaSalle and whose property and deck overlook 1016 Mississippi testified enthusiastically for the project and the variance suggested by the Cultural Resources Office. After the meeting Evans said the property has been in an extremely dilapidated condition for years and he is very happy to see the improvements. “I want this project completed,” said Evans. “I have been looking at this empty property for 25 years.”

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J Weston Scott of the Lafayette Square development committee led those speaking against the stair and the variance. Scott testified that the historic code clearly states that landscaping cannot be used for screening. “Something is wrong with the process,” said Scott. “And it keeps pointing at the Building Department.” Scott said he was appalled that a five-year-old building permit could be reopened for the project. “We played by the rules when we did our houses,” testified square resident of 34 years Don Owens. “We are proud of our neighborhood and how far it has come since its boardinghouse days. I look at that and I think of a tenement.” Merry Dahms, a Lafayette resident since 1974 explained that she has worked hard to comply with the historic code. “I have personally completed five gut rehabs,” said Dahms. “This aesthetic flies in the face of our historic code.” Dahms testified that she had taken pictures of a number of “fire escape” style stairs that hug the buildings they are attached to. She suggested that this might offer a more acceptable compromise for residents. Scott agreed and added that 90 per cent of the materials already used could be reused for the new structure. Kelly was disappointed by the turn the hearing had taken and at the end of the meeting was wondering how he could comply with the decision. He maintained the structure was designed to meet the safety needs and requirements of the fire marshal and the building division. He was not optimistic that those agencies would approve the building-hugging stair design.

For more information: The Cultural Resources Office of the St Louis Planning & Urban Design Agency 1015 Locust, Suite 1200 St. Louis, Missouri 63101 Phone: (314) 622-3400 Fax (314) 622-3413 Website: Share


Reader Opinions Gwen Williams DEC 17 • Some recent modifications to the historic code are so strict as to cause the costs of insurance for purposes of repair/replacement literally go through the roof. I am not referring to inferior type material replacement, but materials that may be superior in terms of longevity whose difference in composition is virtually undetectable to the eye. That said, since these codes formulate the basis for insurers estimating repair/replacement costs, those who choose to live in them and maintain them must bear the brunt of these costs. There are no "variances" as it relates to these costs. So, to then have other aesthetically unpleasing variances granted on a whim understandably causes discontent, to say the least, especially if those who have not had to bear such repair/replacement/maintenance costs are granting them. Additionally, is any consideration given to the impact of the variation on the curb appeal or value of the adjacent properties? Reference was made to the structures completely dilapidated state, but are we to use the state of dilapidation as a condition of disregarding the historic codes all together? I certainly do not wish to cause hardship on anyone, the implementation of the historic codes needs to be enforced fairly across the board and exceptions should be granted only when the majority of actual residents concur. annon DEC 17 • Landscaping is not good enough; it can be removed or die. The developer should have sorted out his stair problem on the inside of the building. This is not good enough.

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YourLocalMessenger - Exterior Staircase that is Non-compliant with Historic Code Causes Controversy  
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The building owner and developer Sean Kelly testified that the doors had been cut into the side of the building in 2004 and that the buildin...