Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Grant's Farm Manor Development

Grant's Farm Manor Development

Yesterday's Post-Dispatch reports on the controversy surrounding proposed development of the former clydesdale pastures known as Grant's Farm Manor, located generally southeast of the corner of Gravois and Musick in the Affton area.

The Busch family has sold this 94-acre property - mostly zoned "Non-Urban" and partly "Flood Plain Non-Urban" - to a developer that wants to build 350 homes or so, along a section of Gravois (MO Rte 30) that is four lanes with no turn lanes, and a section of county arterial Musick that is hilly, narrow two lanes with no sidewalks or shoulders.

To his credit, Kurt Odenwald - who represents the area north of this site including Grant's Farm itself - has started researching the project and its possible implications. John Campisi, in whose district the proposed development sits, seems to have less knowledge about the project.

Odenwald is smart to be concerned about this development. I wonder how highly-priced these houses would actually sell. It sounds like the Busch family got a pretty penny for the property. However, I can recall just a few years ago talk of a "gang house" in the Tara VI/VII/VIII subdivision on Roscommon Drive just south of the development site.

The Tara subdivisions were developed in the period 1958-60 by the old EJ McNary Construction Co., which built several thousand economical little two-bedroom ranch houses (most with asbestos siding and no garages) in this period across South County. Many were purchased by Korean War veterans. Some are still occupied by their 80+ year-old original owners.

For example, near Telegraph and I-255 is Tara South III/V developed by McNary in 1959-61, but further south.

It followed Tara South I/II, located generally east of the intersection of Pottle Ave and Robert Koch Hospital Road, just west of the Bussen Quarry (founded 1882) and the former City of St. Louis tuberculosis quarantine hospital known as Robert Koch Hospital. It later was used by the City (along with the Truman Restorative Center on Arsenal) as a nursing home for low-income seniors. Koch Hospital closed and was demolished in the mid-1980s; that site is now owned by Bussen and sits mostly vacant.

Also, near the Musick Road area but slightly southwest of Tara VI/VII/VIII you'll find Tara Plat 1 and Plat 2, located generally between Lavinia Drive and Baptist Church Road; and west of Baptist Church Road, Tara Plat 3 and Plat 5. All were built between 1955 and 1959.

I suspect the target market for these new houses will be closer to the demographics of Grantwood Village, the little incorporated burg of 883 souls north of Gravois and west of Laclede Station, made up mostly of sprawling 1950s ranches on winding, tree-lined streets. These are much more expensive homes than you'll find in any of the "Tara" subdivisions.

Meanwhile, I suspect Mr. Odenwald may be thinking long-term:

1) he has aspirations for countywide office, so he wants to be seen as effective in dealing with a project that is technically outside his district.
2) If this property is developed, can Grant's Farm itself be far behind?

I think development of Grant's Farm is inevitable. How long can a totally free attraction (with parking only $8) be sustainable, especially if the Busch family members don't have such a strong attachment to the property as their own personal estate.

Part of me is surprised it's lasted this long. Once A-B sold the Cardinals, Busch Stadium, and the various garages, I thought maybe the family was thinking of getting out of real estate. Sure, Adolphus Busch IV has been a prominent opponent of flood-plain development in St. Peters; but that doesn't mean they'd necessarily oppose development of one of the last remaining greenfield sites in South St. Louis County. Particularly if they could make some serious money off the deal.

How many of the Busches still live on the Grant's Farm property? I think its only a matter of time - maybe 5 years, maybe 10, maybe even 20 - but eventually, that 281-acre property in the heart of the suburbs will be developed.

How it is developed is another question entirely. It would be interesting to see some kind of New Urbanism development, incorporating historic elements like The Bauernof as a sort of town square.

Come to think of it, that could be really cool. And since Grant's Farm is adjacent to Grant's Trail, you'd have ample oppportunties for cycling recreation and transportation. Public transit service in this area is rather limited, however. Maybe by the time a development happens on that site, MetroLink will be extended south from Lansdowne/Shrewsbury via the BNSF corridor.

Converting Grant's Farm into a New Urbanism development sounds more appealing the more I think about it.

Maybe the developers of Grant's Farm Manor should think about a New Urbanism approach now, rather than the traditional single-family layout. It wouldn't really address neighbors' concerns about traffic problems and accidents on Gravois, but it would be pretty cool. Most pseudo-New Urbanism developments in the St. Louis area have been in the outer-burbs; trying something a little closer in like this location whose surroundings date mostly from the 1950s might be interesting.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

With Grant's Trail and Grant's Farm, this development could appeal to those seeking to live in a walkable, amenities-rich, planned community, like New Urbanism.

However, I imagine the development will mirror the subdivision along Grantview Forest Drive just southeast of Gravois and Baptist Church-- bland, typical, modern subdivision.

I actually grew up in a Tara house-- a brick house on Faraday. After the now infamous Sunset Manor, the Tara subdivisions are some of the most affordable pockets of the Lindbergh School District. But as Crestwood Plaza shows, these 1950s/60s areas have become drive-thru suburbs-- places you just drive through to get from the newer outer burbs into the city.