Several members of the Urban EcoBlock board, including Dan Hellmuth and Bobby Bonner, met virtually with key members of the City of St. Louis’ Planning and Urban Design Agency in late September to discuss the “EcoCode” document that was recently completed. The UEB board had been collaborating with Don Roe and Cecilia Dvorak to create a building code that could facilitate the development of the Urban EcoBlock for the past year. After an initial review of the board’s draft EcoCode, the City recommended developing a model of a potential EcoBlock site to more effectively illustrate the concept.

Mary Hart Burton, Zoning Administrator for the City of St. Louis was a key participant in the meeting with Cecilia. After general introductions of the meeting participants, Dan presented a brief history of the Urban EcoBlock and its mission as well as the background of its board members. The group then walked through the EcoCode document structure at a high level, after which the conceptual model of the Academy neighborhood was presented as an example.

The main topic of the meeting was whether the EcoCode-St. Louis as presented was an acceptable model for a Planned Unit Development as constituted within the Zoning Ordinance of the City of St. Louis, or whether it needed to be put forward as a Form-Based Code as originally intended, which would require an additional enabling ordinance.

We clarified that the EcoCode as written was not conceived to be parcel-based. It had been contextualized to the urban core of St. Louis and envisioned at this stage as a “floating zoning” code. The sample block design in the Academy Neighborhood was intended as an example of how a block would be developed if this code was in effect or available to be utilized. It was pointed out that this design has not gone through a rigorous community vetting process which would be required as part of a PUD or a Form-Based Code process.

After some discussion to clarify the intent of the Code, Mary concurred that it fit within the parameters of a PUD as written, so an additional enabling ordinance was not necessary. Nor was it necessary to draft this as a Form-Based Code, which is a more lengthy and potentially more costly approach.  The advantage of this approach is that it requires considerably less time to accomplish the adoption of the code, and a PUD can be utilized by a developer more easily.  In some sense, the PUD in this case has been essentially form-based codified already.

The EcoCode can now be featured as an approved development model. The next step will be to develop a synopsis of what the process will be to create an EcoBlock on a specific site or sites, following the parameters of the PUD process in which the community is engaged and a preliminary development plan is created.

A potential incentive for a developer following the EcoBlock code requirements could be the use of tax abatement.  This has accomplished the goals of the Urban EcoBlock to create a robust but flexible zoning model to reduce the cost and effort for a community and/or a developer to implement it.  In addition, the broader EcoDistricts protocol provides a comprehensive planning tool to aid in the location and assess the amenities (or lack thereof) in the local area, and proactively engage the community to be part of the planning phase of a potential EcoBlock.

After the EcoCode is posted on the St. Louis Planning and Urban Design website, the Board will issue a joint press release and then follow up with an RFQ that will be drafted, reviewed and then posted to seek a developer or group of developers to create the first EcoBlock in the City of St. Louis.  This will involve a deeper look into the variety of locations that we have been considering as ideal candidates.

Finally, Bobby discussed the work he has been doing with the St. Louis Area Working Group (SLAWG) and the pending presentation of the Urban EcoBlock concept to this and other related groups.  Cecilia has also taken part in planning efforts related to the Mapping Agency and is familiar with the area.

The Board is eager to advance its mission, amending the EcoCode as discussed, and ultimately engaging the perfect developer partner(s) to create an attractive proof of concept!