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Central East Side finds itself in middle of debate over demolition or rehabilitation

Central East Side finds itself in middle of debate over demolition or rehabilitation

October 22nd, 2017 by Nicole Roberts in Local News

City planners are considering turning this area on Jefferson City's central east side into a park. In the foreground is the intersection of Lafayette and East McCarty streets. The properties, bounded by Lafayette, Marshall and East McCarty streets to the south side of East Miller Street, are all in a designated flood plain, and the city plans to try to purchase the homes and properties as residents decide to sell.

Photo by Julie Smith /News Tribune.

As Jefferson City waits to see whether it will have to pay back federal money on a Lafayette Street property set for demolition, neighborhood residents are trying to create a local historic district to protect the area from future demolition.

In March, the Jefferson City Council approved a demolition moratorium for the East McCarty, Lafayette and School Street area so residents could investigate ways to prevent further demolition in the area bordered by East McCarty, Lafayette, East Miller and Marshall streets. The City Council passed a 90-day moratorium extension in June and a 60-day extension in September.

The extension ends Nov. 17.

The city and Jefferson City Parks, Recreation and Forestry Department currently own five properties in that area: 408 and 410 Lafayette St., 602 and 606 E. McCarty St. and 623 School St.

By making the area a local historic district, neighborhood residents hope to prevent it from being turned into a green space, which was proposed in the city's Central East Side Neighborhood Plan.

An ad-hoc committee consisting of 13 volunteers was established in 2004 to create a plan to help the Central East Side Neighborhood prosper, along with guiding the city and Jefferson City Housing Authority officials while it evolved.

"We believe that implementing the Central East Side Plan will enhance one of our city's most beloved places, not only for us but as a tribute to our forefathers and a promise to future generations," the plan notes.

The plan, adopted in February 2006, encompasses the area bordered by Adams and Grant streets, the Missouri State Penitentiary and Whitton Expressway. It calls for developing the core neighborhood; expanding its commercial center; and creating new parks, design guidelines and road interchanges.

The plan consists of two study areas, five districts and three revitalization implementation phases spread over a minimum of 20 years.

Behind the plan

The driving factor behind revitalizing the area was potential redevelopment of the old penitentiary. A redevelopment commission created the MSP master plan in 2001, but the state just signed 32 acres of the penitentiary property over to the city this year.

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The Central East Side Neighborhood Plan said MSP would be the "single greatest factor" to influence the neighborhood's economy. The ad-hoc committee believed redevelopment of the old penitentiary would bring an additional 5,000-7,000 new state office jobs in Cole County by 2025, and growth could spread to the Central East Side Neighborhood.

The committee also wanted to improve roadways to handle the increase traffic they predicted the MSP redevelopment would bring.

"(The Jefferson City Council) just thought things were going to happen real quick and this neighborhood could just be really messed up by what was going on over there, like people might buy properties, this house and that house, tear them down and build something new and they didn't want that to happen — they wanted this historic heritage character to remain," said Cathy Bordner, a Jefferson City resident who was on the ad-hoc committee. "So if someone wanted to buy one of these houses, they would have to keep it looking the way it would have looked when it was built."

The close proximity to the downtown area and the Capitol also made the neighborhood appealing to potential residents, the plan notes, along with its walkability.

However, the neighborhood was plagued by a decrease in population and households, along with abandoned and neglected buildings.

The area experienced a decrease in population of about 7 percent and an almost 6 percent decrease in households during the 1990s, even though Jefferson City's overall population and households increased during that period.

The primary area of study in the plan, closest to the city's downtown area, also showed the average household income at the time of the plan was about half of what was in the secondary study area — $20,000 annually versus $40,000.

The primary study area in the plan is bordered by Adams and Benton streets, MSP and Whitton Expressway. The secondary area is the remainder of the plan's boundary.

Along with declining populations and lower-income homes, the plan states, because of absentee landlords, relaxed property code enforcement and problem tenants, visitors looking at Jefferson City as a potential home could see the neighborhood as being the "crime center of Jefferson City."

Five districts

The plan contains five proposed districts: Capitol Avenue District, East High Street Business District, East Village District, West Village District and a Mixed Use District.

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The Capitol Avenue District — bounded by an alley south of East Capitol Avenue, Chestnut, East State and Adams streets — contains residences, offices and warehouses.

The plan proposes renovating properties to allow more offices and institutional and commercial buildings — no retail stores. However, the plan encouraged current buildings be rehabilitated into residential and office space, and new structures fit with the historical look of the area.

The East High Street Business District falls between alleys north and south of High Street and between Adams Street and Capitol Court, as well as two half-block areas nearby. The area currently contains commercial and retail buildings, along with small offices and residences, but the plan proposed this area be primarily a retail district. It states the area should be a "vibrant neighborhood marketplace where cars and people coexist."

While it would be primarily for retail, historic residences ranging from single-family to multi-family would be permitted between the commercial buildings, but all properties would have to retain their historic integrity and to avoid storefront additions. New buildings would have to blend in with the character of the district, as well, it states.

The West and East Village districts are similar in that they are primarily residential areas and the plan proposes keeping those areas as residential areas, although walk-in businesses like cafes or small corner stores would be welcomed.

The West Village District is bounded by East McCarty, Lafayette, East Miller and Chestnut streets and includes an area at the intersection of Jackson and East Miller streets. The East Village District, a wider area, is bounded by East Capitol Avenue; East McCarty, Locust, East Miller and Benton streets; and Clark Avenue and Riverside Drive.

The area constrained by East Capitol Avenue, Sullivan Street and the proposed MSP Parkway is considered the Mixed Use District, which the plan envisions would contain not only retail, commercial and entertainment areas that center around the International Shoe Company building, but also multi-family loft units.

"Because the Mixed Use District is tied to the redevelopment potential of the old International Shoe Company building, the preservation and adaptive reuse of this structure is of paramount importance," the plan notes.

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The Vecino Group, a Springfield-based developer, wants to turn the old shoe factory into Capitol Avenue Lofts and applied for a 4 percent tax credit through the Missouri Housing Development Commission. However, Stacy Jurado-Miller, co-owner of the Vecino Group, said the group will have to reapply for the tax credit because the most recent tax-credit round did not occur.

MHDC was not approving or denying low-income tax credit applications until Gov. Eric Greitens' Committee for Simple, Fair and Low Taxes released its report on finance cuts to state tax rates, which would experience cuts to tax reform legislation and tax-credit programs.

Jurado-Miller said the group is still interested in the old shoe factory and plans on resubmitting an MHDC tax-credit application in the next funding cycle.

Along with these districts, the plan proposes a variety of open spaces or parks, such as the area between East Miller Street and U.S. 50, which could be made into an open space to create a neighborhood buffer from Whitton Expressway, as well as convert areas adjacent to the Wears Creek floodplain to open space to "minimize property loss" during flooding.

Bordner said she does not remember the committee discussing converting the floodplain area bordered by East McCarty, Lafayette, East Miller and Marshall streets into green space, and she hopes the city will reconsider.

Residents are working to make this area a local historic district — the first in Jefferson City — to protect it from becoming a park.

Local historian Jane Beetem said she is finalizing a draft local historic district application for the area and hopes to present the packet to the City Council before the moratorium ends Nov. 17.

The district would encompass the 600 block of East McCarty Street, 400 block of Lafayette Street and all of School Street, as well as possibly three houses on the east side of Lafayette Street and 500 Lafayette St.

Bordner and Beetem said many residents in that area want to rehabilitate older homes, which the plan states is a strength of the Central East Side Neighborhood.

"Many residents have shown an interest in preserving historic homes and buildings by renovating them in order to live and/or work in the neighborhood," the plan notes. "The interest of historic preservation residents could be utilized to help others in the area learn how to complete an effective rehab of an older home, as a residence and/or business purpose."

20-year timeline

To establish the Central East Side Neighborhood and the proposed districts, the plan proposes enhancing the streetscape, promoting rehabilitation, encouraging economic diversity in the East High Street Business District, creating design guidelines specific to each district, creating more interchanges to help with MSP traffic, and addressing absentee landlords and abandoned houses.

To accomplish these actions, the plan consists of three phases stretched over 20 years.

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Short-term goals — to be achieved within five years of the plan's adoption — include creating overlay districts, design guidelines and redevelopment projects, along with enforcing property codes. Policy, ordinance or zoning changes and implementations should occur within the first five years, also.

Intermediate goals call for new office buildings and a hotel convention center, as well as review of improvements to corridors in the neighborhood and the impacts interchange improvements would have on the community.

Some street improvement suggestions include streetscape improvements along Lafayette Street and possible interchange improvements at Lafayette and Chestnut streets to help with MSP redevelopment traffic.

The long-term goals — 10 or more years after the plan's adoption — include finalizing MSP's redevelopment and local revitalization. It also calls for enhancements, such as adding one-way streets or eliminating some on-street parking, to new corridors and streets so they can handle possible traffic projections.

Throughout the 20 years, the plan encourages the city to address absentee landlords and abandoned buildings by consistently enforcing property code violations and targeting buildings that are the most problematic to remove blight in the neighborhood.

"Correcting this problem will not be easy and not happen overnight," it notes. "However, a reduction in problem properties could have enormous impact on overall perception of the area and an improvement in the quality of life for those who live in the neighborhood."

The Housing Authority currently has rehabilitation agreements with several property owners to address blight in the area. The Housing Authority also filed a civil suit against Barbara Buescher, property owner of 105 and 101 Jackson St., and Stephen and Cheryl Bratten, owners of 103 Jackson St. The lawsuit states the Housing Authority wants to acquire the properties by condemnation.

Bordner said she thinks the plan overall has several points that still apply today, even though the city waited to act on the plan until several years after its adoption. However, she recommended the city look back at the plan and decide which parts it wants to implement and be willing to make amendments to the plan.

"It's not perfect, but it's a pretty good plan. And so start with that and change what you have to change," she said. "As they move forward, look at if they really want to implement things exactly the way it's written or do they want to make changes. Don't put on blinders and say you have to do everything exactly the way it was written because things have changed, and go from there."