The Kirkwood City Council on Nov. 15 balked at some of the new features contained in a series of proposed ordinances based on the recent study of parking and land use in the downtown business district.
The bills include the elimination of height restrictions measured in feet from the zoning code, in favor of a limitation on stories in a building. The restriction would be six stories, rather than the current 40-foot height restriction. A story is generally considered to be 10 feet.
But the bill lacks a specification for “story,” so it really contains no height restriction, some council members said.
Some flexibility was built deliberately into the proposal, City Planner Jonathan Raiche told the council. The consultant’s report, presented in 2017 by the DPZ consulting firm, called for a more welcoming attitude by Kirkwood to developers with higher-density projects, particularly plans for mixed commercial and residential developments in the downtown area.
The bill would attract projects to Kirkwood that now are built elsewhere in the West County area, Raische said.
Real estate prices in Kirkwood have made low-density commercial projects very difficult to develop, he said. Less constricting building regulations would allow developers to “build to 60 feet, or six stories, or they could build to 65 feet, or they could use a steeper-sloped roof and get to 70 feet. This gives the ability for the form to take different shapes.”
The bills were introduced at the Nov. 1 meeting and were up for final approval on Nov. 15. Concerns expressed by council members and Mayor Tim Griffin resulted in the vote being postponed until the Jan. 3 meeting.
Measuring building height by stories rather than feet “just doesn’t seem to me to be enough definition,” said Council Member Maggie Duwe. “There can be so many moving parts that can result in buildings being much higher – much higher – than 60 feet. And ultimately this could, in a lot of ways, not limit height at all, or hardly at all, but rather allow buildings to be as tall as a builder wanted to make each ceiling on each floor, times six, which gets to be pretty high.”
Council Member Ellen Edman added that council members “are not there yet” in regard to accepting 60-plus-foot buildings in Kirkwood.
“I don’t feel like I’m committed to six stories anywhere in the study area, and then no maximum at all,” she said. “I just feel we need to work on this more.”
However, Edman said she derived some assurance in the ordinance that the council review site plans.
Council Member Nancy Luetzow also had concerns about the height changes.
A site plan review is an important constraint, but “by the time it comes to us, it’s kind of hard to put the brakes on … and say, ‘it’s too tall,’” Luetzow said.
Griffin said liberalized height restrictions could work on some of Kirkwood’s downtown streets, but clear constraints need to be developed.
“It sounds like the council wants some more thought on all of our parts on how we can achieve the changes we want to do and still have some kind of height restriction,” he said.
At Griffin’s suggestion, the council also postponed consideration of the bill introducing a maximum, rather than minimum, building setback requirement in the downtown area. A zero setback would be permitted under this bill.
This question will be taken up at a work session meeting in December, said Griffin.