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Richmond Heights City Council Supports More Sprawl

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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Conrad is Best Team to Redevelop Richmond Height’s Hadley Township

This post will cover a lot of ground including mass transit, pedestrian connections, politics, historic preservation, suburban sprawl and of course; eminent domain. But I’ve given away the conclusion in the headline. Of the proposals presented at last night’s meeting in Richmond Heights on redeveloping a part of that suburb known as Hadley Township, the Conrad team was by far the best.

THF, which I despise, actually had a much better proposal than I would have anticipated. The architecture firm of Heine-Croghan, which had a proposal as a developer, showed a lack of experience doing urban planning. Mills Properties, that had submitted a fourth proposal, was not at the meeting because apparently their approach wasn’t comprehensive enough to be compared to the others. Translated that means it didn’t take enough people’s homes to be considered by Richmond Heights.

From the literature I picked up at the meeting it seems that a fifth proposal, not on Richmond Heights’ website, was received. It was from QuikTrip, the Walgreen’s of gas stations. Maybe they wanted to do the world’s largest gas station comprising all 57 acres? Just imagine the number of pumps? People with Hummers might have to fill up again once they got to the other side of the QuikTrip.

Before I get into looking at the proposals for the area I want to talk about the area and how it got to this point. To the North is the highway that is about to get rebuilt. To the East a stable neighborhood. To the South the THF Realty monstrosity known as Maplewood Commons and to the West, across Hanley, the most f*cked up collection of strip malls, big boxes and offices that are sadly all relatively new. Among them is a new MetroLink light rail station that will be opening late this year.

The area in question was, at one time, a very stable and middle class African-American neighborhood. But because of the prime location speculators have been buying up properties for years. One was the aforementioned Mills Properties. The City of Richmond Heights has also acquired a number of properties within the area. The Richmond Heights Public Works department is located within the redevelopment area as are some other offices for the municipality. In short, the area suffers from being too well located to remain a nice middle class neighborhood.

In other similar areas, say Olivette just North of the tony suburb of Ladue, middle class houses were bought and razed for larger homes. But this didn’t happen here. I’m not sure if the speculators knew the land would be worth more if they could turn it into more strip malls or if it was because of the racial makeup of the neighborhood that they thought they couldn’t sell new in-fill houses to the white masses. Either way it has put these people’s neighborhood in the middle of a real estate game where they are simply the pawns. Yet as more and more speculators have bought property in the area it makes it harder and harder to sell your place to a new owner-occupant. The self-fulfiling downward spiral begins with the remaining home owners left realizing they will be forced to leave their family homes.

… Continue Reading


THF’s Bornstein Blames Tenants for Lack of Bike Parking

At a public meeting in Richmond Heights tonight I had a chance to talk with THF Realty’s Alan Bornstein. I waited until after all the residents got through trying to find out what they will be paid for their family homes before I took my turn.

I am biased. I like good urban design and despise the dreck that THF builds throughout our region and others. I especially hate the recently completed big box development in Maplewood that lacks any bike parking even though it is surrounded by residential neighborhoods. As a kid I would often bike to nearby stores (often to buy model cars — oh the irony).

Mr. Bornstein is an avid cyclist.

He and/or THF actually give thousands of dollars every year to cycling causes. However, when it comes to providing physical environments that encourage bicycling or walking we see nothing but accommodations for cars. In their Maplewood project you’ll see a sidewalk here and there but they don’t connect the dots. Two new restaurants are opening this week yet you can’t walk there unless you are willing to walk through the project’s drives and parking lots. So sad that lots of people lost their homes in the interest of the public good and yet we can’t even walk from place to place on a sidewalk or lock a bike to a bike rack while dining or shopping. It is sad that this is what passes for development now and even sadder that we don’t demand better.

I asked Mr. Bornstein why the Maplewood project had no bike parking and he said it wasn’t in the tenant’s program. The project wasn’t mixed use and the tenants didn’t call for parking therefore it was not a consideration. That was the best he could do? I gave him a condensed lecture on why they need to learn about connecting places and how they should perhaps read a book on New Urbanism or check out the Project for Public Spaces. He wasn’t interested. It felt good to give him a piece of my mind.

I’m sure I could have approached him differently and had a pleasant conversation that would have ended with a brush off. He makes millions doing what they do, working for Wal-Mart heir Stan Kronke building sprawling parking lots next to obsolete big boxes. I’m not going to change his mind with a rational argument about good urban design. He knows better designs exists. His firm caters to the big tenants. It is what they do.

THF Realty shouldn’t be allowed to put up a pup tent anywhere much less be given redevelopment rights that include the power of eminent domain.

– Steve


A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To Suburbia

Today, while driving out to Manchester & 141, I decided to stop at the Target store in Kirkwood. The parking lot was packed. I bought a new car two weeks ago (Scion xA) so I wasn’t interested in parking close to the door and getting dings.

I backed into a space on the extreme edge because large SUV’s nearby would make visibility when leaving a challenge. As I walked across the large parking lot it really hit me how dated this two-year old store seems since it lacks any underground parking like our city location at Hampton & Chippewa. I don’t visit places with large parking lots often so it was quite a reality check. We’ve really come a long way by having our new Target with the bulk of its parking underneath the building.

I’m still trying to shop locally. I just had to get a new knit cap due to the cold, I spent $1.99 on a new one. I resisted buying anything else. If you know of a local store with good knit caps please comment below.

– Steve


Targeting Changes in Big Box Stores

The October/November issue of New Urban News has a nice article on Target stores:

Until recently, all Target stores were the typical single-story boxes with surface parking. But in the last half-decade, Target has built or acquired 35 multilevel stores with structured parking and another 8 stores with parking underneath. In all, about 3 percent of Target’s 1,350 stores nationwide have unusual urban formats that Target calls “unique.”

The full article is brief but highly recommended.

One of the key messages from this article is Target and other retailers change from their standard big box and big parking when forced to. But the stores are also a success with higher sales to offset their higher development and operating costs. While the new Target at Hampton & Chippewa is okay it is not the urban model we should have downtown.

As much as I want to support local retailers I do think a single Target in the downtown area would be good for both the retailer and the downtown residents. Some may suggest the ever changing St. Louis Centre shopping mall but I was thinking further West — somewhere between Tucker (12th) and Jefferson, North of Market and South of Dr. ML King Drive. We’ve got a number of vacant city blocks that would be excellent for such a store.

One of the main problems with newer stores is the lack of windows along the sidewalk either to the sales floor or window displays. Some solutions mentioned in the story is newer versions of displays that might include media but what I like most are called “liner stores” — smaller stores that line the sidewalk to create interest.

We are thankfully witnessing the beginning of the end of the big box store in a sea of parking. Yet not far from me the already obsolete Loughborough Commons is being built — complete with two big boxes, more parking than required by code, and several outparcels. The whole site faces the all mighty interstate and backs to the adjacent residential. We need more enlightened developers, or just more enlightened elected officials to force developers to give us good design over sprawl.

– Steve