At Least Four North Side Homes Slated for “Open Space”
The home of Shirley Hamilton, in the 2200 block of Madison Street, in Saint Louis’ north side.
Although NorthSide redevelopment plans for her area indicate that Hamilton’s neighborhood is slated to be replaced, Hamilton said she’s not concerned. As a resident of a city block with only three houses, she said, she’s been expecting this. “It’s been going on as long as I’ve been here,” she said.
Another home on the 2200 block of Madison. Photos by Caitlin Hartsell.
Shirley Hamilton has been living at 2209 Madison since 1978. Her home is one of three houses on the 2220 block of Madison, all of which are small, but tidy. Between each house is a good amount of open space.
These three houses fall squarely within the boundaries of the recently approved $8.1 billion development of the city of Saint Louis’ north side. Of course, about 4,600 other properties also fall within those boundaries, but in the case of the 2200 block of Madison, NorthSide Regeneration LLC, the company behind the development, may be endangering one of its most frequently invoked promises.
That promise concerns the use of eminent domain. Although eminent domain is constitutional, it can be very unpopular, especially if it appears that a government agency is using that power merely to help a private business.
Proponents of the development, including developer Paul McKee, NorthSide lawyer Paul Puricelli, Alderman April Ford-Griffin, and Alderman Marlene Davis, have said repeatedly that the city won’t use eminent domain to take owner-occupied homes, and that fears to the contrary are unfounded. In fact, the company went even further. When NorthSide applied for millions of dollars in tax credits from the state, the company submitted an affidavit stating, among other things, that “The Applicant has not identified any owner-occupied residences for acquisition under the Redevelopment Plan.” McKee, the chief manager of NorthSide, signed it.
Along with that affidavit, NorthSide submitted a list of about 260 owner-occupied residences to the state. Hamilton’s home and the house sitting the farthest west on her block were on that list.
NorthSide has also disclosed some of its preliminary plans for the area in its redevelopment plan, which was submitted to the city when the company applied for nearly $400 million in tax increment financing (it has been approved for up to $380 million). One of the more interesting pages of that plan is page 24, which is a map of “proposed open space” for the area.
According to that map, NorthSide plans to remake four city blocks into open space: the area lying between Madison Street and Maiden Lane, west of 22nd Street and extending a little past Jefferson Avenue. In other words, despite all the assurances about the limits on eminent domain for the NorthSide project — including the affidavit of its chief manager — Hamilton and her neighbor are two owners who may not have long to occupy their homes.
That’s not to say that the company didn’t try to purchase Hamilton’s home. About a year ago, she said, she got a letter from a lawyer, representing an anonymous buyer, looking to purchase her home. When Hamilton called the number listed, she said, she was quickly offered $60,000 for the property. But Hamilton, who is retired, wasn’t interested in searching for a new home, and asked instead if the buyer could offer her a deed to a different property, elsewhere in the city. The lawyer promised to check, Hamilton said, but never called back. A few months later, Hamilton said, she was sent the same form letter.
Hamilton said that her next door neighbor did sell. According to city property data, the second house on the block is owned by MLK 3000, one of the companies that NorthSide used to acquire properties under the radar. Hamilton said she isn’t interested in moving, but if the developer could offer a trade instead of money, she would consider it. She’d like to stay in the city.
An email inquiring about how concrete the plans for open space are, and whether NorthSide would adjust its plans if property owners were unwilling to move, did not receive a response from Bill Laskowsky, NorthSide’s chief development officer, and a company representative.
Ultimately, Hamilton said, she’s not concerned. As a resident of a city block with only three houses, she said, she’s been expecting this.
“It’s been going on as long as I’ve been here,” she said. Laughing, she noted that when Mayor Freeman Bosley Jr. was in office, her home was slated to become a golf course.
“I’ll deal with it when it comes,” she said.
According to NorthSide’s plans and its submitted list of owner occupied residences, two other homes appear to be slated for open space: one on the 2500 block of Madison, and one on the 2700 block of Glasgow Street.
Within other documents submitted by NorthSide, the company has designated the area surrounding Hamilton’s home as “mixed use,” which could indicate a different set of plans for the area.