Alternative housing needed, officials say

By Mike Anthony

Crestwood is a mature community and city officials must encourage the development of alternative housing for citizens nearing retirement age who wish to stay in the city, but no longer want to live in single-family housing.

That was the message conveyed by City Administrator Don Greer and Assistant to the City Administrator Matt Conley during an interactive seminar last week attended by about 35 people. The Dec. 16 seminar about “Alternative Housing Opportunities” was the third in a series of four city officials have planned to begin a dialogue with residents about redevelopment. The fourth seminar, scheduled for 7 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 20, at City Hall, 1 Detjen Drive, will focus on redevelopment from a business perspective.

During last week’s seminar, Greer and Conley presented and discussed demographics about the city’s population and its housing stock.

“… Crestwood is a mature community. The median age of a resident is 44.9 years and is the second oldest within the surrounding area,” Conley said.

Only Sunset Hills, he said, has a slightly higher median age at 46.8 years. In contrast, the median age of residents in Kirkwood is 41.1 and the median age of residents in Webster Groves is 39.7. Furthermore, 19.2 percent of Crestwood residents are at or near retirement age, Conley noted.

“When you talk about population, you also need to look at housing,” he said, noting that 94.2 percent of all housing in Crestwood is single-family housing.

In comparison, single-family housing in Sunset Hills totals 87.9 percent, Kirkwood, 77.4 percent, and Webster Groves, 82.5 percent. Conley also said that the majority of houses in Crestwood — 84.3 percent — were built before 1960.”

Noting that 24.7 percent of households have residents who moved into the city before 1969, he said, “We have a sizable percentage, almost a quarter of our residents have been in the city for almost approaching 40-some-odd years …

“What do these numbers mean? You sit there and you look at them and you try to draw some kind of conclusion. Basically, 19.2 percent of our current residents are at or near retirement age … You have this large demographic, very stable demographic, at some point, something’s going to give,” Conley said. “People get older and they no longer are able or want to maintain a single-family household. They want to sit back and relax … That demographic is going to change at some point. It’s just too big …”

That will create some issues, he said, noting, “Obviously, maintaining the same house for 40 years, that kind of indicates some loyalty to the community for people to stay here for 40 years. You would assume, based on that, they would like stay as long as they can, but at some point they may not be able to. Where are they going to go? That kind of brings in this next fact is roughly 19.2 percent of the population is going to be competing for 5.8 percent of the non-single-family housing.”

The city simply doesn’t have enough multifamily housing available for that segment of the population, Conley said.

Furthermore, he said, “Of that 5.8 percent, a very small percentage of that is condominiums … How do we retain the loyal resident base that we have? That comes in the form of providing additional multifamily housing opportunities.”

Given the demographics, Conley said, the need for additional alternative housing clearly has been identified.

“OK, so we’ve identified this need for some additional alternative housing uses, where are we going to put it? Where are they going to go? Crestwood is almost 100 percent built out. If you want to build something new, you basically have to tear down something that’s already there,” he said.

One such proposal the city considered for alternative housing was the Mills Properties’ proposal to redevelop an 18.79-acre site comprised of two parcels at Watson and Grant roads. The larger of the two parcels contains Value City and is owned by Joe Grasso, while the smaller parcel contains the Creston Center and is owned by the Boegeman family.

In response to the city’s original request for proposals issued in April 2002, two proposals were submitted — one from the Jones Co. and one from Mills Properties. The Jones Co. later withdrew its proposal and the Board of Aldermen voted last March to name Mills Properties as the preferred developer of the site. Mills had proposed a $37.1 million development that would include about 240 luxury apartment units and 19 luxury condominiums.

But members of the Boegeman family told aldermen they would not sell their property and vowed to fight any efforts to acquire their property through eminent domain.

The Boegeman family is in the final stages of spending $150,000 to $200,000 to renovate the Creston Center. At the time the board approved the renovation plans late last year, aldermen warned members of the Boegeman family they were taking a risk in proceeding because the Creston Center is situated in a proposed redevelopment area.

In September, the Board of Aldermen voted to establish a moratorium on redevelopment, including the corner of Watson and Grant, and to conduct the seminars for residents about redevelopment.

Greer said, “To wrap up tonight, I really kind of wanted to take you through an example of something that the city of Crestwood had worked to deal with that I think addressed everything that we’ve been talking about … Grant and Watson is an under-developed and under-utilized piece of property. A major portion of that property was never developed — never fully developed, never fully occupied, poorly configured …”

The assessed valuation of the 18.79-acre site declined 12.36 percent from 1997 to 2001, he said. While the parcel containing the Creston Center increased by roughly 15 percent from 1997 to 2001, the city experienced a 20.5 percent increase in assessed valuation during the same period.

“So while that property (the Creston Center site) did increase, it didn’t increase at the same rate the city of Crestwood did and the majority of the property surrounding the Creston Center there at Grant and Watson declined by (almost) 12.5 percent,” he said. “And that hurt the school district. School districts, we know, are primarily focused on collecting their revenue through property tax.

“The other factor that’s involved in the city’s decision to take a look at this is that Grant and Watson, that whole section is in what’s called the pool. Remember, we talked about the (sales tax) pool. We don’t collect that tax. We don’t collect that sales tax. The sales tax goes to St. Louis County and in their infinite wisdom and formula, they decide to give us some of it back. So that is not a point-of-sale portion of the city,” Greer continued. “We do collect the parks and stormwater and the capital-improvements tax from the commercial there, but the (city’s) general fund doesn’t benefit from that. And the general fund is … the major operating fund of the city of Crestwood …”

Furthermore, the primary occupant of the site, Value City, has seen its sales decline by 52 percent from 1999 through 2003, according to Greer.

The Mills’ proposal would have benefited both the city and the Lindbergh School District, Greer said.

“What a project like that does is it stops the decline. The assessed valuation is no longer going down. In fact, eventually it’s coming up as that gets full and it would have easily doubled — and we think that’s a very conservative estimate — the property-tax-generating capability of the site …,” he said. “And that would have meant an additional $100,000 annually for the school district … For the city’s benefit, it shifts (part of) the cost of the Affton Fire Protection District from the city’s general fund … to the property owners … Again, based on density and population, remember we share money based upon our population … So when we got to 2010 and there was a new census, assuming that the thing was occupied at the rate that we had anticipated, that’s a $70,000 increase in per-capita tax revenue to the city’s general fund.”