Updated at 5 p.m. to include comment from Paul McKee — St. Louis–area government agencies have begun fining Northside Regeneration developer Paul McKee.
Since October, the City of St. Louis’ Department of Public Safety has filed four liens against Northside Regeneration-owned properties, leveling fines of between $500 and $1,150 per property for unresolved building code violations.
While the fines are low, the citations have gone unaddressed for long enough that the city has filed cases in court.
In June, the city attempted to end its redevelopment agreement with McKee, accusing him of failing to fulfill its terms. The city’s default letter claimed that, among other things, McKee’s buildings had widespread code violations.
McKee told St. Louis Public Radio in August he had not been regularly cited for property violations until after the city found him in default. In fact, the city didn’t have that avenue for some violations until earlier this year.
While some north St. Louis residents have complained McKee failed to keep up his properties for years, the developer had been exempted from certain fines levied against vacant buildings. A city ordinance exempted properties subject to redevelopment agreements with the city or its agencies, which included Northside Regeneration and its owner prior to the default.
That exemption was eliminated in June after Alderwoman Cara Spencer, D-20th Ward, filed a bill with the Board of Aldermen to have that clause removed.
She said she’s glad that the city has begun to treat Northside Regeneration like other property owners.
“I think removing that exemption and being able to apply the building code equally and equitably across every property owner is something that we should be doing as a rule of good government,” Spencer said.
McKee owns more than 1,600 properties in north St. Louis, according to documents provided by the developer to the city in 2017. He told St. Louis Public Radio in August that several hundred were vacant structures.
City representatives say they aren’t targeting McKee, and these are fines that any properties with an unresolved code violation could face.
“It’s standard procedure citywide where a building has code deficiencies to have it assessed by the city building division and then written up and prosecuted accordingly,” said Matt Moak, the section leader for the City of St. Louis’ problem properties law division.
In an August interview with McKee and his property manager, Delonia Winston, the developer said that after the city declared him in default, he began receiving dozens of code citations and fine letters from the Building Division.
Winston said then that the volume vastly exceeded the number of past violations she’d received notice for, and that she planned to “just let [the violations] pile up until they tell me what they want me to do with them.”
McKee said that he wanted to demolish the structures, but that permits were slow to get approved because at the time, the city had not condemned many of the properties. Since then, the city has listed several for demolition.
At the time of the interview, Winston noted that the developer owns around 300 structures that require demolition.
McKee told St. Louis Public Radio by email that his property manager, Winston, reviews building citations and sewer bills. "If they are truly owed, [Northside Regeration] will pay!" he wrote.
Last week, the Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District also filed a suit against the Northside Regeneration for almost $3,000 of unpaid wastewater and stormwater charges at a single address.
MSD spokesman Sean Hadley said that when Northside Regeneration took ownership of the property in 2016, it already had more than $500 in unpaid fees. Additional bills went unpaid, and the account moved to collections. Northside Regeneration also transferred a different property to its name with around $7,500 in unpaid bills and has not settled the account since.
The balances transferred from the old owner to Northside Regeneration because the developer did not use a title company, which would have required owners and sellers to clear the title during the transactions, Hadley said.
Northside Regeneration has not paid bills for at least five other MSD accounts currently receiving service, but the past-due amounts have not yet gone to collections or court, according to Hadley.
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See the ordinance revision that removed fine exemptions for property owners in redevelopment agreements with the City of St. Louis.