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Transit-Ignored Development (TID) At Sunnen MetroLink Station

October 16, 2012 Featured, Planning & Design, Public Transit 26 Comments

Since it opened in August 2006 I’ve only been to the Sunnen MetroLink Station a few times. If you haven’t been you are not going to recognize it.

ABOVE: The view to the west of the Sunnen MetroLink station in Maplewood is radically different now, the equipment used to clear the area was parked close on my visit last month.

Before I get into what’s happening let’s take a quick look at what it looked like before the bulldozers started working.

Nearly everything between Hanley Rd and the MetroLink line has been razed.
ABOVE: Older well-maintained apartments next to the station were great for those who liked to live near transit. June 2011
ABOVE: Another apartment complex, this one between Laclede Station Rd and MetroLink, was also razed. June 2011

You are thinking such older structures have to go in order to build a more dense transit-oriented development. True, but that is not what is being built.

ABOVE: You can now see the Sunnen station from Hanley Rd.
ABOVE: Turning to the right we see the first new building going up in the redevelopment area. What could it be?
ABOVE: A new Mini auto dealership next to a light rail station! Seriously!?!

We should not built expensive rail transit infrastructure, light rail or streetcars, through municipalities until they adopt zoning requiring new development nearby to be dense and walkable.

Can we publicly flog the Maplewood mayor and city council for this?

— Steve Patterson


Currently there are "26 comments" on this Article:

  1. Scott Jones says:

    Hopefully this won’t be a repeat of Maplewood’s creation of that horrible big box store megaplex.

  2. But Cooper Minis are hipster cars; doesn’t that make it alright?

  3. Eric says:

    Transit Ignoring Development would be more grammatical.

  4. JZ71 says:

    1. Yes, flog ’em! 2. Nothing is forever – it’s easier to make warehouses and car dealerships “go away” than multiple, individually-owned properties, if and when true TOD becomes economically feasible. 3. Did Sunnen pay for this station? Seriously, there really wasn’t a reason to do one here, with the Manchester Station so close by.

    This is another, classic case of what we “want” and what “should happen” colliding with economic realities. Maplewood and Sunnen are stuck between wanting to do the right thing and wanting/needing to maximize the return on their investments, in both the short term and the long term. Sunnen has good pedestrian access from both the Manchester and the Sunnen stations (unlike Brentwood), yet the reality is that Mini came with cash in hand and someone like Forest City (which does build TOD in other parts of the country) did not. Should Sunnen (and Maplewood) be expected to wait another 5, 10, 20 years until the “right” project finally comes along? Or, is the “bird in the hand worth two in the bush”?

    • Good pedestrian access from Manchester? Are you serious???

      • JZ71 says:

        Yes. Given that Metrolink is on a bridge over the road, with elevators on both sides and separate, direct access from the north end of the platform onto Sunnen’s property, and the potential for the same on the south end, as development proceeds, yes!

        • Once again you speak about something without having experienced it in person. There is only one elevator on the north side and sidewalks don’t go west of the station — it’s awful as a pedestrian. I know because I’ve been there in person more than once.

          • JZ71 says:

            You’re missing my point – unlike more than a few other Metrolink stations on this line/extension (Clayton, Brentwood, Richmond Heights, Shrewsbury), the physical layout of the platforms, at both Sunnen and Manchester, IS conducive to future TOD projects, with access, potentially, in multiple directions. Sunnen didn’t build impenetrable barriers, they actually built multiple connections onto their property. That said, YES, the existing pedestrian infrastructure, outside both stations, is nowhere near adequate, once you leave the platforms and bus bays, nor is any of the current development anything near true TOD.

            BTW, Metro is somewhat complicit in what’s happening at the Sunnen station. As a part of the Mini project, the four rows of parking nearest the platform will be dedicated to Metro riders, as a new park-and-ride lot: http://www.flickr.com/photos/nextstl/5725552266/ And (thanks to Scott Jones’ link) the Mini dealership isn’t that much different from the HOK master plan, that showed/shows basically a strip shopping center on the site (with the back of the retail structure facing the platform!).

          • You made statements about easy pedestrian access based on false assumptions about stations you’ve likely never visited, but I have very recently.

          • JZ71 says:

            One, you’re right, I got the number of elevators wrong (there ARE steps on both sides of Manchester, the one elevator is only on the north side). Two, you’re wrong, I have been physically at the station a couple of times, and I travel through both the Sunnen Station and the Maplewood/Manchester Station every time I ride Metrolink, so I am familiar with both stations, the Blue Line and its urban/suburban context. Three, my statements about pedestrian access concerned the stations (on the properties Metro owns/controls); they did not address the larger question of pedestrian access on the public right-of-way nor on adjoining private property. Reread what I initially said: “Sunnen has good pedestrian access from both the Manchester and the Sunnen stations”. I did not say that the general public has good access, but what I probably should have said is that current Sunnen employees have good access”. And four, thanks for venturing out to “my” part of the metro area!

  5. Guesty McGuesterson says:

    Flog, I guess…but has anyone tried just calling them up, or attending any of the public meetings about the development?

  6. Guesty McGuesterson says:

    I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have been so flip. Let me enlarge my point: Is anyone doing anything proactively, or are we all just sitting back and criticizing things that are too late to change? Until there is region-wide citizen support for proper development – citizens who vote, who can let their elected officials know that they support good planning – then all we’re doing here is wanking.

    Sorry to be so blunt but St. Louis is the least-engaged place I’ve ever seen. Elected officials respond to their constituents, so somebody has to educate and mobilize the citizenry. And it doesn’t take a ton of people, just a few with loud mouths and good organization, writing letters to the editor, calling into radio talk shows, engaging via Social Media. You people know how it works. St. Louis needs an urbanist watchdog organization that is credible, that keeps an eye on developments and TIFs and the like, that engages with elected officials, public agencies, and the public, and that participates in a timely way. It would be helpful to have an organization that works to get good urban policy-supporters re-elected, and helps to oust the less-friendly ones.

    Why are so many bad policy decisions made in St. Louis? Because there isn’t anybody holding elected officials accountable to make good ones. It’s as simple as that.

    • T-Leb says:

      I would suggest you find out the answers to many of the questions you raise… For starters, Sunnen is an old St. Louis family owned business. Sunnen wants to re-develop their plant also… this story is far far far from finished.

    • JZ71 says:

      Show me the money! Mini showed up; did any TOD developers show up? Did Sunnen say no to them? Yes, government can advocate, guide and just say no, but someone, most likely in the private sector, needs to spend THEIR money to make things actually happen. And as a corollary to your observations on local government, if it’s every man for themselves, with nearly 100 hands out, then that’s the REAL problem!

    • moe says:

      Agreed….1) JZ is right…he with the money makes the rules. and 2) Guesty Mc…seems that is most of what St. Louis does…sit’s back and harps AFTER everything is said and done. But then again maybe that is indicative of society in general today. It is far easier to complain than it is to show up a few times and voice opinion beforehand. Then there is that nasty little issue about property rights. Let’s say this is zoned commercial, then what is that commercial? Who’s idea of commercial use is correct? What about the bar owner vs a car dealer vs a mini-mall? Zone if differently? Sure, then you have another group of citizens and businesses complaining about too many different types of zoning. Bottom line…no one is going to be pleased before or after the fact.
      On another note, I just read in the Post – Sunday about smaller communities debanding due to budget shortfalls. So maybe we will see some consolidations of note in the coming years….that should make things easier and better for us all!

      • Sunnen’s land was rezoned by the Maplewood city council from LM Light Manufacturing to a PUD (Planned Unit Development). Basically, they gave Sunnen permission to create their own rules and build whatever the heck they wanted.

  7. Well, while the Sunnen’s station ridership may be near zero at the moment, it will be hopping Nov 3 through Nov 6 for the election. After that, back to zero.

    • Eric says:

      Which make you wonder why the station exists at all. Perhaps MetroLink should no longer stop at this station (and have it removed from maps, etc.) until something more appropriate is built there.

  8. John says:

    To add insult to injury they didn’t even try to keep the pedestrian access from the south. Due to the train tracks running east-west, the only through streets from the south in Webster Groves are Brentwood, Hanley, and Big Bend. Big Bend runs northeast, so that takes one too far east of the station. There’s no way to cut east from northbound Brentwood until Manchester, at which point one might as well go to the Manchester station. Anyone coming from the south has to use Laclede Station/Hanley, and now they’ll have to detour north and west around the dealership to the new Sunnen Drive extension instead of the direct route that used to be present. What a bunch of buffoons.

  9. Aragornman says:

    Steve, I am usually a fan, but in this case you blast the mayor and city council without having truly done your research. Sunnen has been acquiring this site for years; this is not a recent plan. The apartment complex that you show as “well-maintained” was extremely deteriorated, only partially occupied and had multiple code violations and constant police calls for service. the stairwells has collapsed in several cases and their was water damage and exposed supports throughout. If you had walked into the complex, rather than just driving by and taking a photo, you would have seen this. Did you call the City, Sunnen, or talk with any local residents about the development? There was virtually no opposition at the most recent city council meetings on the subject. I agree that our region repeatedly misses the boat when it comes to transit-oriented development opportunities. However, before you say things like “publicly flog” you should at least do a little research on the history and specifics of a project

    • A fan huh? I should’ve just walked in rather than drive by? Well, I sold my car six months ago so I was on the sidewalk in my wheelchair. This station has been open for over six years and Maplewood failed to enact decent zoning to prevent what is happening. The station shouldn’t have been allowed without a good zoning overlay.

    • samizdat says:

      Hmmm, sounds like the property owners let it deteriorate. Might not those owners be Sunnen? And perhaps nothing was done because, well, you know, money talks, etc., etc.

      Regardless, this is just another stupid development plan ok’d by the equally stupid people running Maplewood. Shame on them for steering their residents (who were rightfully unhappy, if your reports of shoddy management are largely true) in the wrong direction.

      Oh, well, the construction jobs ‘ll last about six-eight months, so that’ll be good. My guess is that much of any retail/office will remain vacant. Would have been more sensible to raze the old apartments and put in higher-end properties, in order to serve Clayton and the West End/BJC area. But that would have required a bit more brain-squeezing, and that seems to be too much work for a lot of people these days. Nothing like more paved parking to increase run-off to our combined sewers. Sweet!

  10. tpekren says:

    The one part of this development that makes sense to me – Making Sunnen drive a east west connection between Big Bend and Hanley. That being said because metrolink didn’t do Maplewood any favor by splitting/parting Laclede’s road nor did the city fight to keep its grid in place. They could save some face if Laclede as it exists now in Maplewood was extending parallel to the east side of the tracks until it T-d into Sunnen drive with its new configuration. Then you got a street that ties in Manchester, Hanley & Big Bend via a residential neighborhood, light industrial park and a metrolink station.

    In the long term, Sunnen has proposed an extensive development on the land. In the short term, it is pursuing a revenue source. I very much doubt that Sunnen told themselves that this was the best development worth pursuing but something that came knocking hand in hand with a banker. But with all due respect to the Sunnen family, their vision is to connect their manufacturing facility with an underutlized light industrial park by building another business/office park. Look around St. Louis, their is no shortage of competing business parks or stand alone office buildings/space!! I think they ended up putting themselves into a poor business plan the day they started buying up properties.
    The reality is muni’s are chasing sales tax dollars. Unfortunately, for inner city burbs they are sacrificing residents for those tax dollars and actually decreasing residential base which is mind boggling to me when you are land locked as a community. If you look for places that multi residential/mixed use is happening, it is either in the city like Highlands/CWE/Downtown or far western suburbs (greenfield). Somehow the city has something figured out while the surrounding inner communities have not or has done a very poor job planning for it (think Hanely Station). The metrolink spine line will continue to grow ridership/jobs (think BJC, Cortex) and development and the cross county line won’t (think a mini dealership which is just moving its jobs down the street for a bigger sales lot).

    • JZ71 says:

      Pretty much nailed it! One point of disagreement is that revenue-increasing redevelopment is necessarily bad. What we see around here – nuking entire residential neighborhoods – is one extreme. What’s happening around suburban Denver, and to a lesser extent in older parts of the city here – residential replacing manufacturing – is the other extreme – lofts don’t generate the sames tax base as when the now-loft structures were full of workers. You’re right, we need balance, not just chasing taxes “other people” will pay to fund “my” services.


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