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Predictable and Anti-Urban Loughborough Commons Has Begun

Demolition work has begun on the site of the new “Loughborough Commons” at Loughborough & I-55 in South St. Louis (map). It will continue to Loughborough and Grand but it is the all mighty highway that sprawl developments cater to. I talked about this development before in a post from January 25th.

Before the sprawl apologists comment that we need development and progress let me say that I agree. We cannot simply say nothing is ever going to change. Cities change, I accept that. It is the type of change I have issues with. To call this development or any of its kind “progressive” is highly laughable.

This development is the least progressive way to redo this site!

What we are getting in the name of progress is a couple of big boxes which ignore the neighborhood and cater to the highway crowd. How is this progress? This is what suburban sprawl is all about. We’ve seen this same thing being built in every American city over the last 50 years. Making the City of St. Louis look more like Fenton or St. Peters is destructive in the long term.

St. Louis’ best assets are our architecture and street grid!

So the 18 single family homes are already in the process of being razed. Too late to save them. But, it is not too late to recognize how this development should be built. Which is to say, cater as much to the neighboring residents as the person speeding by on the highway. Yes, I’m suggesting we actually consider building a new development that recognizes that people do in fact walk to the store. I’m suggesting the city and developers be truly progressive and connect the shopping to the people.

In the suburbs now we are seeing such connections taking place. A bit contrived version is the lifestyle center on Brentwood with the new Crate & Barrel store. Mix of uses including a residential component centered on a walkable street. Beautifully executed is New Town at St. Charles. These are just two examples of actual progressive development. Simply knocking down old houses and putting up new boxes is not progress. Given the long history of such ideas, it is now old fashioned and out of date.

Proponents of old fashioned big box developments are the ones stuck in the past.

If we were truly being progressive we’d look ahead and use this site to build a vibrant mixed use center that incorporated both the Schnuck’s grocery store and the Lowe’s. Such a development would connect to the adjacent residential streets so those folks felt like walking to the store was an option. The next thing we’d do is recognize that the adjacent rail line is a future MetroLink light rail corridor and this site is planned as a MetroLink stop. As part of the site development we’d have apartments, loft-like condos and townhouses are part of the project. This would give built-in customers for the new retail as well as possibly having some affordable housing. Such planning is now becoming routine in other parts of the country that have realized the standard old big box development is too wasteful and uninspiring. Our political “leadership” has failed to mandate any such progressive thinking so we are left with ideas of the last 50 years. Developers like Desco are even further behind the times than our politicians.

Alderman Villa told me in January this is not a MetroLink corridor. I’m going to give him the benefit of the doubt here that he was simply given bad information by others. Those in St. Louis know we currently have what is called the Cross County section of MetroLink under construction. This will end just outside the city limits at I-44 and Landsdowne. The Metro South corridor which is currently in planning stages will connect to the Cross County and continue further into South County. But the Northside and Southside corridors are also being planned — they are in the preliminary design stages. Back in late 1999 the railroad right of way at Loughborough and I-55 was identified as a future line and stop. Alderman Villa is correct that the Metro South line is not passing this site but he either doesn’t realize or is ignoring the Southside line.

Supporting documents:
• MetroLink Corridors (note Metro South is different from Southside)
• Southside corridor is listed in some detail with others in the conceptual stages.

Hopefully within 15 years we will have the new Southside corridor winding its way through South St. Louis from downtown and connecting with the Metro South line in South County. Are we going to rebuild Loughborough Commons again in 15 years as MetroLink makes its way through the city? Perhaps this is the plan all along? Desco makes big bucks in the meantime and then sells off part of their parcel they got by forcing out residents. It is a win-win for the developer and a lose-lose for tax payers and neighbors.
Again, if this were truly a progressive and forward thinking proposal we’d take full advantage of this site and plan for the future — say 100 years or so in advance. But unfortunately developers and politicians have no incentive to think beyond 10-20 years. They will have moved on by the time their short-sighted decisions are realized.


The term for such mixed-use development around a light rail stop is “Transit Oriented Development” or TOD for short. It is a new concept in St. Louis. But the sprawl apologists want to continue building some boring big boxes with over sized parking lots. The funny thing is they have the nerve to say to those of us opposed to such wasteful projects that we are trying to stop progress.

Just look at the size of this site relative to the scale of the adjacent residential neighborhood. The old fashioned developer likes to put together large parcels of land like this at highway exits so they can build their sprawling projects. The idea of taking this exact same site and planning how to break it up into manageable pieces is simply unheard of in the old school. Politicians also fall into the old school way of thinking in St. Louis — that you must amass big parcels to move forward.

I’d take this site and continue the four streets into the site – creating the city blocks that likely once existed. I’d keep the Schnuck’s and Lowe’s but they’d be part of a much denser project. They would become part of a real neighborhood rather than an eyesore on the edge of one. The Lowe’s could take the form of the urban-friendly Home Depot in Chicago (click here for photo). The developer would be able to create parcels of various sizes just like in the old days before we got all the big sprawl projects. Local entrepreneurs would actually be able to purchase a parcel and build their own urban storefront. This is a better long term solution for the region by supporting the option for local businesses to own their own locations rather than paying rents to big developers. Typical big box developments generally only support large national retailers that don’t want to own real estate while the small business owner can’t afford the big project rents. New, truly progressive developments, can accommodate both the national chains that want to rent as well as the local business they wants to own. The question is do we want to turn over our local economy to big developers and national chains or do we wish to create opportunities for locally owned businesses?

The proposed site plan from January 2005 says to me that national retailers and highway traffic are more important than local business opportunity and nearby pedestrians.


It is very sad that our society is so wasteful that we’ll squander the chance to create something great on this site. That people want so bad to have a Lowe’s they’ll accept the store in its lowest form. I’ve seen better. I have friends in other cities that live near better developments. I know we can do better. I know we deserve better. Many of you reading this also know better.

The site plan turns its back on the adjacent blocks of residences. When I was there today I saw an older man walking home from the existing Schnuck’s store. Once this site is redeveloped it will be harder for him to do so. Again, will the sprawl apologists please tell me how this is progress? Can we not create jobs, collect additional sales tax revenue and make it possible for people to walk to the store? Is that too much to ask? It seems to me when you are starting from a scratch with a large urban site you have the best opportunity for connecting to the neighborhood.

Back in January I mentioned a lack of sidewalks shown on the site plan. The site engineer said sidewalks couldn’t be shown on the scale of drawing. But, as I mentioned on the previous post, they were able to show the thickness of the curbs!

The development proposed in January hadn’t planned any sidewalks along Grand or Loughborough much less any pedestrian way to enter the development.

No consideration was given to the person that lived a block away that wanted to walk to the store. This is typical of suburban sprawl developers because they are used to dealing with curvy cul-de-sac subdivisions that have only a single entrance or two off of a main arterial road. Because they follow the old sprawl model they simply don’t know how to integrate new development into urban cities. Examples of new development that combines big box and small box development integrated with existing neighborhoods can easily be found in planning journals. These developers simply don’t care to think differently and the political leadership either doesn’t care or is too afraid to think different. But, we must. Otherwise we will become the sprawling suburbs just as they are trying to remake themselves into something more connected.

I’m realistic to know that the development that will get built will not be the forward thinking progressive type of development seen in other cities with spines and true leadership. My minimum hope is the person that lives in the blocks to the West of the development can walk out their door and walk on sidewalks all the way to the front door of the Schnuck’s on a sidewalk. That is all I hope for at this point. But I’m not even optimistic about that. The Gravois Plaza development which is in a more more urban setting doesn’t even have sidewalks connecting the neighborhood to the stores.

I do have some predictions for the future of this development as currently planned:

• Two of the three “out parcels” will remain unbuilt including out parcel A where the single family homes now stand. If more than one out parcel is built out it will be with a fast food restaurant with a drive-through lane.

• If out parcel A at the corner of Grand & Loughborough is developed it will face inward toward the main parking area with the back of the building facing the residents on Grand and the park across Loughborough. Most likely anything built here will have a drive-thru lane with either a menu or window facing the residents &/or park.
• Lighting for the development will create light pollution by spilling over to the residences across Grand and the park across Loughborough.

• Any attempts to create pedestrian access will be half-assed at best. Pedestrian entrances will be limited and pedestrians will be forced to cross very wide auto lanes within the project. Pedestrian connections from building to building to building within the site will be non-existent.

• A bike rack will be an afterthought at the Schnuck’s yet that will be the only one provided on the entire site. It will be the mostly un-useable dish drainer type and located too far away from the entrance for property security.
• The number of trees in the parking area will be reduced from the plan once actually built. A third of the trees that are planted within the development will die or be run over within 3 years and the developer will not replant them.

• At least one of the additional retail spaces in the project will remain unleased. Of the new tenants one will close up within 5 years.

• Within 15 years either the Schnuck’s or Lowe’s will be closed and the space vacated.
• Massive public subsidy will be needed to remake the site when MetroLink makes its way through South St. Louis. U.S. Senator Villa will push through funding measures in congress to compensate the developers well.

Of course by making these predictions ahead of the completion of the project I hope that I will stir up the politicians and developer to prove me wrong. We’ll see…

– Steve


Currently there are "14 comments" on this Article:

  1. Matt says:

    When I first heard about this plan, I was pretty excited. But not really anymore. There’s so much potential here but it’s being wasted. And I can’t believe Matt Villa denied this was a Metrolink Corridor. How can he be in public office and not know that? I guess that shows where his priorities are. And how about the gated development just a little west of this site? That’s another project that doesn’t fit at all. Just because someone wants to build something inside the city does’t mean the city has to say okay. If you look at the two developers (Lawless Homes and Desco) that shows you why we are getting suburban sprawl type developments. They are suburban sprawl developers. Maybe if the city would have pushed little harder for quality developments we would have seen Pyramid, Loft-Works, Whitiker Homes, or any of the number of developers who have done good work in the city, come up with a plan for this area. It’s just wasted potential.

  2. Neal says:

    These are all great points Steve. I would like to add a couple of things.

    The city is doing some great things in this area to promote foot and bicycle traffic. The two that come to mind are:

    1.) River Des Peres Pilot Project (The project will connect the River Des Peres Greenway to Carondelet Park in south St. Louis City.)

    2.) Improvements to Carondelot Park ( http://www.stltoday.com/stltoday/neighborhoods/stories.nsf/southsidejournal/news/story/30E2E31703006F7F862570030078A519?OpenDocument )

    This will INCREASE pedestrian traffic to the shopping center and DECREASE auto traffic. This is a GOOD thing.

    I encourage everyone to e-mail (http://stlcin.missouri.org/index/contactald.cfm?Ward=11) Alderman Matt Villa and reinforce Steve’s ideas. It is not too late to let Villa know we don’t want or need another Gravois Plaza in the city.

    [REPLY – Yes, please email, call or visit Matt Villa. Opinions do count and I think he will listen. Improving the park and other facilities for pedestrians and cyclists is great. Building new shopping areas that don’t invite the pedestrians and cyclists you’ve just spent money trying to attract is foolish. – Steve]

  3. Brian says:

    “Within 15 years either the Schnuck’s or Lowe’s will be closed and the space vacated.”

    Well, since a southside Metro extension is well over 15 years from now, maybe we can see this project as land-banking for future TOD about a future Loughborough station.

    Similarly, the proposed Arsenal station would be located next along the Schnuck’s on The Hill, and the Shaw station along Missouri Botanical Garden’s parking lots.

    While these large parcels currently have auto-oriented development, their size and few owners will may make them very attractive to acquire someday for dense, mixed-use redevelopment akin to former Target site in Kirkwood Junction.

  4. B.J. says:

    I live in Carondelet and am happy about this development. The city continually looses tax revenue to areas of the county that have developed big box retail. Like it or not most people now prefer to shop big box, Old Navy, Home Depot, Borders, Best Buy, Target and even stores like Whole Foods. I find myself driving to south or mid county several times a week for shopping and would much rather my taxes went to the city. The city continues to suffer through budget problems that increased residential development has not solved. They must provide opportunities for retail and this is the perfect location, a lot that was previously industrial in use and close to a highway. I just wish it had been another developer who would have had the foresight to include a greater variety of stores.

  5. rob says:

    “If out parcel A at the corner of Grand & Loughborough is developed it will face inward toward the main parking area with the back of the building facing the residents on Grand and the park across Loughborough. Most likely anything built here will have a drive-thru lane with either a menu or window facing the residents &/or park.”

    If it is (and I don’t doubt you’re right), then the drive thru speaker will blare across the street at the remaining homes making life miserable for whoever lives there.

  6. ying says:

    The city can not compete with the County by copying big box developments from St louis County. Doing big box development in the city won’t help to retain residents and shoppers, instead, we will lose those people who want to live in URBAN (city) and walk to corner store.

  7. MattH says:

    I couldn’t agree with ying (above) more. This type of development is very short-sighted. The same old story of the city needing tax revenue is not a good enough reason. The city WILL lose people to other major cities who want walkable, urban neighborhoods if we allow big box developments to pop up because we feel we need to copy the county. It is the wrong approach, and I hope the city leaders will realize this soon. Although, judging from responses I have gotten from Geisman and the mayor from letters I have written them on this very subject, they won’t. I have gotten the same old “tax revenue from these retail stores is what the city needs” speech several times. Yes we need tax revenue, but that can also come from urban, pedestrian friendly stores as well as big boxes.

    [REPLY – Exactly! If people will note I didn’t say we shouldn’t have the Lowe’s or Schnuck’s. I wanted these to be better integrated with the existing neighborhood. It has been done before in other cities and it could work well here. It requires vision. – Steve]

  8. toby says:

    I added some visuals to the story Steve has so masterfully summed up twice this year (so far):

  9. Brian says:

    Though I’d too still like to see TOD at this location, until MetroLink arrives, the density doesn’t see to be there to support pedestrian-oriented commercial.

    [REPLY – I’m not advocating pedestrian-only commercial. I’m simply saying we should be accomodating those that want to walk or bike. The site can support both as nearby residents currently walk to the site. – Steve]

    The residential areas immediately about the site have lower densities (housing units per acre) than even most County retail sites. The housing stock is predominantly detached single-family, with scattered multi-family mostly isolated on the other side of I-55.

    [REPLY – The house to the West of the site is mostly single family detached but I disagree that it is suburban. It does get a bit more suburban as you to further West and South. These are small homes on narrow lots on connected grid streets. If you check out the visual above you can clearly see the street grid is very connected – something you’d never find in suburbia with its limited entries and winding streets. – Steve]

    Just like the former SLPS Green House site nearby, or the former Truman nursing home on Arsenal, these are sites within the City that are located in the most suburban-like pockets of the City.

    There remain opportunities for mixed-use hybrids for retailers at Christy Plaza, Lafayette Town grocery store, Lindell Marketplace and other City sites. But areas southwest of Carondelet Park, along River Des Peres, and southwest of State Hospital all remain large pockets of Postwar suburban-styled housing, thus unfortunately lacking market density for walkable shops.

    [REPLY – by building the new site as mixed use you are increasing the number of potential customers. That site can accommodate both big boxes, folks arriving by car, foot or bike and have people living there as well. Why not? – Steve]

    Since most shoppers will arrive by car, the developers accommodate those folks first and foremost. Still, I think the Loughborough Commons folks could at least look to Hampton Village to see how to provide minimal pedestrian access for a surface-lot commercial strip.

    Fortunately, these suburban pockets are not the norm but the exception to the City’s character. But with such diversity, including suburban looking pockets, our City remains a place of broadly diverse housing choices. And just as you should diversify your investments, a range of housing and commercial, even pockets of those dreaded big boxes, will help our City diversify and strengthen its tax base.

    [REPLY – Yes folks I know people shop at big boxes. I get it. Big boxes are being done differently when they are required to lessen their visual impact. Making it easier and pleasant for the nearby residents to walk to the grocery store will lessen the need for as many parking spaces.

    We can actually have it all if we demand quality development. – Steve]

  10. Melissa says:

    I grew up a few blocks from the existing Schnucks, near Blow and Leona. I am a practicing urban planner, and can say that I am appalled by the proposed development. If I were the planner working on this, I would go directly to my supervisor and beg to request something a bit more progressive. South City is a great place to be–my parents still live in the same house, and I do not live far away (on Cherokee), but man, don’t design it like that! St. Louis is such an amazing urban place with such great potential…let’s move forward and not remain satisfied with the satus quo. A landscape berm?? Cannot show sidewalks at that scale? I just moved back into town recently, and didn’t know about the public meeting in January, but if I had known, I would have gone and tried to discuss this project, focusing on good design and walkability. Not every development has to be bad. I am all about “economic development”, but not at the expense of urban character, design and walkability! Hey, Decso, Schnucks, anyone who is listening, I will offer my ideas free of charge… I am in the book!

  11. Leesa says:

    In all fairness to Matt Villa, the Metro line will not run along Loughborough, nor along that section of I-55. The line will go along River Des Peres, and then turn south at I-55 to proceed into south county. Loughborough was ruled out as an option fairly early on, I’m told by a colleague who works at the East-West Gateway Coordinating Council. There is information available online about the EWGCC’s long-range plan here: http://www.ewgateway.org/trans/longrgplan/longrgplan.htm
    Be warned, though–the long-range plan document is HUGE! So, the Metro line will be a bit south of this site.

    [REPLY – Please review the documents referenced above regarding MetroLink. Many smart people are getting two different lines confused. The document you reference lists on page 128 the MetroSouth line which continues from Shewsbury along River Des Peres – that much is true. But it also lists the Southside line coming from downtown through the southside (hence the name) and making its way along the railroad line at Loughborough. The MetroSouth and Southside lines will connect. MetroSouth is projected in 2007 dollars at $560 million and the Southside line at $720 million. – SLP]

    I live very close to this development as well. In fact, I found this post by Googling for info on the development. I really like the idea of having a Lowe’s close to us. While it will probably be very dangerous for us in the long run because we own a 120-year-old beauty that needs updates and we will spend entirely too much money there, I like the idea of having one closer than the Home Depot on Kingshigway. I also like the idea of having a larger Schnucks. I love that Schnucks store, they carry all sorts of fun little snotty gourmet items that I love. A bigger store would allow them to carry that much more! It would also be nice to see some sort of shopping areas in Carondelet. What we have is pretty sad right now.

    [REPLY – I don’t dispute that having a store closer is more convenient and the old Schnuck’s isn’t the most desirable store. I have no issues with new places. My issues is how these are placed in the city. I know from my travels and reading that if care is taken these can be integrated nicely into our urban fabric. But that is not what we are getting, we are getting the lowest form – plain jane box accessed by cars. No thoughts of mixed use, connecting to the neighborhood or future transit. I don’t our city to be a developers’ dumping ground. – SLP]

    As far as the walking accessibility issue, the site is not very pedestrian-friendly as it is. There are sidewalks, sure. The huge hill is a bit of a barrier, especially when walking home with a load of groceries. (I’ve tried this only a couple of times, and then gave up. Yes, perhaps I’m lazy, but it’s not very conducive to walking, I think.) It may be easier for those who live to the west of the development, as there is (well, was) a street that exits the lot behind the Schnucks, and the hill over there isn’t quite so huge. I do see some foot traffic there, but not very much.

    While I do hate the suburban feel of big box developments, at the same time I’m oddly pleased about this one. Strange. I’m perplexed by my own mixed feelings in this case.

    Oh, and Steve–right on! That is so NOT a suburban-type area. That is a hugely dense area, just as you said, with smaller houses crammed next to each other.

  12. matt says:

    they did something like this involving a costco and a home depot in midtown kansas city, wiping out an entire swath of admittedly run down urban fabric, but it was still urban fabric. now when outsiders come through the city, they point and ask me “WHAT THE HELL IS THAT!”

    there is no excuse for this now. even these big box retailers (which i don’t condone) know how to implement urban friendly stores now.

  13. matt says:

    by the way, an area near the big box super block in kansas city (gilham) is gentrifying in a very good way years after the thing was built, except for the properties adjacent to the enormous parking lagoon of the costco and home depot…i wonder why…it was quite obviously a city planning screw up in retrospect.

    cities have so much they can learn from one another, it’s too bad that so many people (developers…city government…citizens…) prefer to live in a bubble.

  14. Rev R J says:

    Very interested in what you have to say and would like to be kept informed.

    I have some personal concerns relative to my area and suspected projections of a local developer who may attempt to use eminent domain to take 4 family buildings so condos may be built.


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