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Richmond Heights City Council Supports More Sprawl

February 9, 2006 Big Box, Events/Meetings, St. Louis County, Suburban Sprawl 11 Comments

Monday evening the Richmond Heights City Council selected the worst of three proposals for the area being called Hadley Township. In a prior post I reviewed the three proposals and I considered the ‘new urbanist’ proposal from Conrad Properties as the best of the lot. Even my strong dislike for THF Realty didn’t stop me from thinking their proposal was second.

The site plan (108K PDF) is the flawed start of the Michelson/Heine-Croghan proposal that was selected. Let’s start at the corner of Dale Avenue and Hanley Road. The buildings on either side are supposed to form a “gateway” to Richmond Heights. The color rendering on their proposal shows a picturesque sidewalk scene but reality will be quite different. As long as Hanley remains a major street without calming methods such as on-street parking it will no be a street to walk on. Dale has more potential but the M/H-C proposal doesn’t appear to include any on-street parking either. Furthermore, the building that is to form this gateway is single-story with a predictable clock tower to add some visual height.

While I appreciate the efforts to retain some existing housing they’ve done so by cutting these houses off from the new development. This results in a bunch of cul-de-sacs where the streets now cross the creek. We should be connecting, not separating.

Retail ranges from a big box to a medium box to a strip center. Yawn. I guess we didn’t quite get enough of this mix from THF’s sprawl center to the south or the waste of land off Eager to the west. But look at what appears to be the sidewalk in front of the big box, it becomes a service drive behind the medium box and strip center.

Their proposal calls for a hotel in the exact same corner that the THF proposal did. Surprise, right by the highway. Like the THF proposal, it is unlikely that a hotel guest will be able to walk along sidewalks to a nearby restaurant.

The numbers tell the real story. The selected proposal has a total of 156 residential units with all but 16 of those as either attached or detached single-family. The THF proposal had total of 637 residential units (136 single-family detached, 373 condos and 128 apartments). Not bad. The Conrad proposal topped all with 850 total residential units (50 single family detached, 350 single family attached, 350 condos and 100 apartments). Richmond Heights was afraid of urban density.

But it is the density of Conrad’s or THF’s proposals that would have created a walkable neighborhood and much more tax base. The Conrad proposal called for the most public assistance in total dollars but theirs was the least as a percentage of the total project cost ($58-$68 million, 16-19%). By contrast, the Michelson/Heine-Croghan proposal is seeking $47 million in assistance which is 28% of their proposal. The tax payers in Richmond Heights are getting taken!

Richmond Heights had a chance to create a spectacular area but they have instead settled for low density mediocrity.

– Steve

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Currently there are "11 comments" on this Article:

  1. Jim Zavist says:

    Are you surprised? I’m not. Too many small governments chasing a finite supply of regional sales tax dollars will almost always end up with results like this. Like any other addictive drug, retail developments and their sales taxes (at least in the short run) seem like manna from heaven to many a politician. Sure, you have to provide police and fire services, but unlike with residential developments, you don’t have to provide schools or trash pick-up, and (in theory) you have a whole bunch of people from outside your little burg (who can’t vote for or against you) leaving their tax dollars behind when they shop, unlike those pesky residents who actually expect city services for the taxes they pay! But like the arms race, there’s always a newer, “better” development being built down the road that will soon leave your TIF high and dry and generating a lot fewer tax dollars (see Deer Creek Center, just south of here) . . .

    [REPLY – You are so right. Deer Creek Center is a good example. What an opportunity that is/was.

    But the part that confuses me is the Conrad proposal actually had the potential to generate far more tax revenue for the city than the one they selected. Granted, it didn’t have any big box stores but is there a big box left that is already not within five miles? They will regret this decision. – SLP]

  2. Brian says:

    Yep, it’s all about the money, and appealing to the auto-bound masses.

    Frankly, if Richmond Heights is going to vote for its own destruction by chasing the mighty sales tax dollar, then their city shouldn’t complain when MoDOT tears into their community for Highway 40 reconstruction, including the pointless Bellevue interchange.

    Afterall, what the Hadley neighborhood is to Richmond Heights, Richmond Heights is to the St. Louis region– a disposable pocket needing to be razed for our love of the automobile and mighty dollar.

  3. Matt B says:

    Expanding on Jim’s point about how new residents aren’t really that desirable, the reality is additional residents could end up being a net tax loss for the city. If you figure 1.5 kids per single family residence (and none in the condos or apartments), that is an additional 600 students added to the school district, which is pretty small.

    Property taxes paid by each household with a school age child is not enough to offset the cost to the city/school district.

    I agree with you Steve, but the shame is our backward state is more dependent on retail sales taxes than any other state in the nation, and we have one of the lowest property tax rates. As a result local suburban municipalities will continue to favor retail centered big box developments over denser urban residential and mixed-use developments.

    [REPLY – Agreed on the math around kids. As a non-breeder I’m doing my part.

    While the Conrad proposal had less total square footage of retail it had far more office space. With more workers and residents the retail & restaurants could have generated as much or more in sales tax revenue for the city while also increasing the property tax base. – SLP]

  4. John says:

    A grand opportunity becomes a grand illusion OR saying one thing while doing the other. Not surprising at all…

    The mayor in the release is clearly attempting to rewrite history. In addition, selecting the plan that will result in the lowest number of residents is consistent with the City’s continuing efforts to emphasize other matters over people, especially families with children. In the last two decades, the population of the City has declined by over 30% !

    Our President is right when he says our nation is “drunk on oil”. Here we can add the fact that council leaders in Richmond Heights are drunk on sales taxes. Instead of addressing out-of-control expenses, the council sacrifices quality-of life matters for more revenues… definitely a poorly handled RFP.

    Isn’t it amazing how the officials continue to say how “wonderful” everything is while citizens continue to leave ?

    I suppose hangovers do disturb cognitive reasoning.

  5. Craig says:

    I think it is worth it to at least consider the possibility that Richmond Heights (“RH”) and current Hadley Township residents favored the Michelson proposal and voiced this preference to the RH City Council. If this preference was, in fact, voiced then I don’t think you can blame the council for doing what its constituents wanted.

    Second, in its press release on the city’s website, http://www.richmondheights.org, the city makes it clear that they were looking to establish a “neighborhood that will accomodate families in the future” when they chose Michelson. The Michelson plan provides more single family residences, in the form of detached houses and attached town homes. Condos and apartments are simply not condusive to attracting the middle/upper-middle class families that will improve RH, its schools, and its property values.

    The Michelson proposal also retains the residential neighborhood feel of the area. RH already has a development where a resident can choose to live above an Italian chain restaurant. I don’t think it needs a new development where a resident can choose to live over a Barnes & Noble or Starbucks.

    Finally, it would be great if a design could accomodate pedestrians and bicylclists. But that shouldn’t be a priority when there are currently few bicyclists and pedestrians currently in the area. I would guess that if the citizens of RH were polled, they wouldn’t be overly concerned with biking or walking to big box stores. They’ll save their biking and walking for parks and residential streets.

    [REPLY – Oh how accepting of you but you didn’t look at the numbers I linked to. The Michelson proposal had only 30 more single family detached houses than the Conrad proposal. 30! Yet the Conrad proposal had 290 MORE single family detached houses than the accepted proposal. Based on your family friendly logic RH should have gone with Conrad.

    The Conrad proposal would have given the best neighborhood feel, that is a vibrant mix of uses. Anything else is just a residential subdivision.

    If we are going to be competative in the future where energy costs are high we will not be able to sustain expensive low-density projects like the Michelson one. It simply is not cost effective. The Conrad proposal would have place many more people in the area to support the local businesses and the nearby MetroLink station.

    Major blunder by Richmond Heights. Major!!!! – SLP]

  6. Craig says:

    SLP, I should have been clearer. Although Conrad proposed more single family family residences than Michelson, Conrad also proposed a number of apartments and condos. As I said, apartments and condos do not attract the families that RH desires.

    I think it’s great that the Michelson project contains a residential neighborhood and is low density. There’s no reason to cram more people into the area at issue than Michelson proposes. Hopefully the area can stay relatively sedate compared to the areas to the west.

    I wonder what you mean by saying that “we will not be able to sustain low-density projects like the Michelson one.” Michelson’s plan of less commercial/retail space equals less auto traffic, no? There is no need to turn inner-ring suburbs into mini-St. Louis downtowns.

    [REPLY – Families do live in apartments and condos but not to the same degree as single family homes. But as Matt indicated, children are expensive to educate and you need the tax base from other sources to help pay for their education. The Michelson proposal is worse for the school system than the Conrad proposal.

    Less commercial does not translate into less auto traffic. In fact, lower density means increased traffic! The more people you have living in a given area the more foot & bike traffic you’ll have. The denser the neighborhood the more services you’ll have too — giving kids and older residents choices within walking distance. – SLP]

  7. Guy says:

    The failure to provide alternatives to autos creates many problems. I know a number of residents in Richmond Heights who would prefer cycling or walking to stores but their needs are not even minimally addressed. So cars HAVE to be used.

    The East-West Gateway Council of local governments has stated that its objectives are to improve transportation efficiencies, support individual choices, and strengthen communities. Biking and walking support these goals.

    Making more and bigger roads for autos creates results which directly conflict with the organization’s guiding principles. The continuing failure of local leaders to establish procedures to enhance choice prevents superior solutions from being properly considered.

  8. Julia says:

    So, my vet’s office across the street from Home Depot will be disappearing. Great.

    Anyone else notice that the picture on page nine of the developer’s presentation purporting to depict the intersection of “Hanley and Dale” actually had a fragment of a street sign with a different name? Generally, I favor recycling. Here, I think it’s cheap.

  9. Brian says:

    If Richmond Heights’ largest goal is to attract families with children, why would their city use TIF (robbing schools of taxes) for this project?

    RH’s goal is clearly to get more sales taxes from outsiders, not build a quality community. After all, if you can walk to the development, you’re less likely to be a non-resident, and cities want to capture as much tax base from non-residents as possible.

    That RH picked a development plan with a single-family component was more to satisfy current residents living nearby this development area. Thus, a compromise then to get what both City Hall and city residents each want, big box tax engines to fill city coffers and low-density residential to appease voting residents.

    Of course, a denser, mixed use development would have had more appreciation in value over the long haul and not require yet another redevelopment 20 years down the road. However, since RH is a point-of-sale city in a state where munies rely most heavily on sales taxes, RH wasn’t thinking about the schools or any quality of life factors in its decision.

  10. Cujo says:

    Julia, I think your vet’s office would have been eliminated in any of the proposals. Maybe they can lease a space in the new strip mall–or will those spaces be reserved for whak wireless communications stores?

  11. - says:



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