Extreme Makeover

Rollin Stanley is a hotshot city planner -- which begs the question: What the hell is he doing in St. Louis?

Still, says Joseph Heathcott of SLU, the plan is vulnerable. Because of weak planning laws, Stanley ultimately can't prevent variances. "An alderman would say, 'Well, my brother-in-law runs a junkyard in Soulard, and I know that it's against the comprehensive plan, but I'm just going to grant them a variance,'" says Heathcott. "One of those is fine, but a thousand of those mean that you don't have a comprehensive plan anymore."

Shrewsbury denies that variances are much of a problem but says that they're inevitable and necessary. "You're always going to have variances," he says. "Land-use plans and zoning codes have to be a bit flexible."

And that's why the team consulted with aldermen and have gone through four drafts. Now, it's up to Stanley to sell this plan to the aldermen.

Jennifer Silverberg
"Congestion," says Rollin Stanley, "is a good thing."
Jennifer Silverberg
"Congestion," says Rollin Stanley, "is a good thing."

"He's got a tough row to hoe," says Todd Swanstrom. In successful cities without much vacant space, he says, land-use plans reflect existing uses. A tavern or industrial complex that's been in the same location for 30 years won't be forcibly moved. "But here in St. Louis," he continues, "there's tremendous potential, tremendous elasticity. It's a key moment in our history, I think. There's potential for development. But how do you get it out of that very parochial, ward-based politics and get the ward leaders to buy into the process? You have to get the stakeholders to buy into it."

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