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Urbanizing A 1980s Suburban Municipality Is A Lengthy Process

In April 2007 the St. Charles County municipality of Dardenne Prairie held a design charrette led by new urbanist firm DPZ, the goal was to plan a walkable town center.  Dardenne Prairie was incorporated in 1983 and they wanted a town center? Were they crazy? I attended several of the charrette events to observe the process.

ABOVE: Residents at the opening of the charrette in April 2007

Many of the residents attended came ready to oppose anything different than the standard suburbia typical of St. Charles County.

ABOVE: DPZ staff & consultants talking with residents
ABOVE: Sketch for a new city hall to replace the trailer they used

Over the few days I witnessed the local residents buy into the urban/walkable vision. Not urban as in high rise buildings but buildings defining the streets and connected via sidewalks. Urban as in not suburban. In 2009 the city hall was finished but I didn’t get out there until earlier this month.

ABOVE: Dardenne Prairie's city hall, click image for aerial in Google Maps
ABOVE: Hanley Rd will soon have on-street parking

When I arrived I briefly chatted with Mayor Pam Fogarty, but I’d arranged to meet my friend Alderman Scott Kolbe for a tour.  Dardenne Prairie has three wards with two aldermen per ward for a total of six. These municipal offices are non-partisan. Buildings near the road and on-street parking are all part of Dardenne Prairie’s new urbanist City Plan.

ABOVE: Ald Scott Kolbe talks about the park behind city hall from the mayor's balcony

While city hall opened in 2009 the park opened in September 2011.

ABOVE: View of park from the mayor's balcony
ABOVE: On the weekday afternoon I visited the playground area was filled with kids and their parents

Kolbe tells me residents of the subdivision directly behind the park welcome the activity and encourage people to trespass through their yards to reach the park. I can imagine a paved path in the future. As I left city hall people were walking to city hall. If you connect the dots people will, at least on nice days, walk rather than drive.The sidewalk has to replace the roadside drainage ditch for that to happen. Down the street a senior housing development conforms to the new city plan, built up to the sidewalk with a pedestrian entrance facing the street.

ABOVE:

It will be years before Dardenne Prairie has a complete walkable downtown but they are putting the right pieces in place to make sure each new private development contributes toward the long-term vision. – Steve Patterson

 

Poll: Would You Support A 3/16¢ Parks/Arch Sales Tax Increase

ABOVE: The final piece of the Gateway Arch was set into place on Thursday October 28, 1965

In November voters in St. Louis, St. Louis County and St. Charles County may be asked to approve a 3/16¢ sales tax increase:

An obscure bill moving through the Legislature includes a provision that would allow residents to vote — possibly in November — on raising sales taxes in St. Louis, St. Louis County and St. Charles County by three-sixteenths of a cent (0.1875) for the Arch project and other area parks. (STLtoday.com)

The CityArchRiver group and Civic Progress say the sales tax revenue is needed to pay off bonds to complete planned improvements to better connect the Arch to the city. Much of the money would fund parks in each taxing jurisdiction:

Susan Trautman with the Greenway District says only 30 percent of the tax would go to the Archgrounds. The rest would go towards improving local and regional parks and trails.

[snip]

The tax increase would only last 20 years and collect enough money to pay for a $120 million bond issue to help pay for the project. (KMOV)

Voters in Illinois may also be asked to support a small tax increase as well. This is the subject for the poll this week — the poll is located in the right sidebar.

– Steve Patterson

 

St. Charles County Executive Steve Ehlmann Vetoed Smoke-Free Bill

St. Charles County Executive Steve Ehlmann

Yesterday St. Charles County Executive Steve Ehlmann vetoed a bill that would have given voters the opportunity to decide if they wanted their county to go smoke-free. In the poll last week the single answer with the most was the one where he would sign the bill and voters would approve:

Q: When Will St. Charles County Go Smoke-Free?

  1. Ehlmann will sign bill and voters will approve it in Nov 2012 16 [32%]
  2. Only after a statewide ban 13 [26%]
  3. Never 8 [16%]
  4. Other answer… 4 [8%]
  5. Eventually, Ehlmann will sign bill but voters won’t approve it in Nov 2012 3 [6%]
  6. Eventually, Ehlmann will veto this bill but this change will come later 3 [6%]
  7. Ehlmann will veto this bill but the County Council will override, voters approve in Nov 2012 2 [4%]
  8. Ehlmann will veto this bill but the County Council will override, voters reject in Nov 2012 1 [2%]

The issue was the casino exemption:

“If the purpose of the smoking ban is to protect the health of employees, there is no rational reason to exclude casino floor workers,” the Republican executive said in his veto message.

“If tobacco smoke is harmful, there is no reason to exempt cigar bars, while regulating bars that allow cigarette smoking.” (source)

The other answers were:

  1. How should I know?
  2. Who cares, St Charles county is a worthless pile of crap
  3. Why ban a legal product? Heavy perfume makes me ill…ban overly scented people
  4. I feel that speculating over what will happen is kind of pointless.

My reason for the poll was to show regional interest in going smoke-free.  Maybe there isn’t such interest? Expect additional bills to bring this to voters, most likely without an exemption for casinos.

– Steve Patterson

 

St. Charles County Needs Public Transit

St. Charles County now has more people than the City of St. Louis (360,484 vs 319,294).  That population is spread out over a much larger area giving the county a low population density of 643/sq mi compared to St. Louis City which has a density of 5,158/sq mi.   St. Louis County’s population density is 1,966/sq mi.  One might conclude from these numbers that St. Charles County lacks the density to support transit.

In Illinois, St. Clair County contracts with Metro for transit service despite having a population density of only 393/sq mi (270,056). In addition to bus service, they funded and built an extension to the MetroLink light rail line.  In neighboring Madison County, the population density is a mere 366/sq mi yet they have the separate Madison County Transit (MTC MCT) system.

Again, St. Charles County has no county-wide transit service.  The City of St. Charles operates the horribly named SCAT (St. Charles Area Transit) system but that is little more than a senior shuttle service.

The St. Charles Area Transit system, otherwise known as SCAT, consists of five bus routes that provide transportation to various locations within the City of St. Charles as well as to the Metrolink North Hanley Station. Curb-to-curb service is provided for all riders, and all busses are equipped with wheelchair lifts.

All routes run Monday through Friday. Please allow 5-10 minutes leeway for each time listed. The routes and schedules are subject to change.

I have a copy of the fold out paper map showing the routes, none are online (wtf?). Yes, seniors need such systems but what about others? What about the other 294,691 St. Charles County residents that don’t live in the City of St. Charles?

In terms of its growth spurt, St. Charles may still be in its tweens.

“We’re probably kind of in the middle,” Anthony [director of community development with St. Charles County] says. The county estimates that its maximum capacity is about 640,000 people, he says, considerably more than the county’s current population of 360,484.)

With much more growth ahead, the county and cities within it have several things to consider moving forward, chiefly the very things that brought people out in the first place. (STL Beacon)

More growth with no plan to get folks from home in Wenzville to work in O’Fallon?  Part of me would like to just sit back and wait for the realities of an aging population combined with rising fuel prices to sink in to the average St. Charles County resident. But by the time that happens they will be in crisis mode. As part of our 16 county region we can’t allow such a large area fall into transportation crisis.

I’m not the first to realize St. Charles County needs a system. They created the St. Charles County Transit Authority and East-West Gateway studied the idea in 2006-07, an update to a 2001 plan.

East-West Gateway suggested that a sales-tax of 1/8 cent (or less) could support the proposed system which would, in turn, provide the local workforce with a transit option that is financially and environmentally friendly.

Polling commissioned by the Transit Authority in January 2008 and paid for by private donations did not indicate sufficient support for a sales tax for public transit. Voters opposed a bus sales tax for two main reasons:

  1. taxes are already “too high” or
  2. this particular tax would be an “unwise” use of taxes.

In addition, a large group (20%) stated they would not use the bus system or would not access it because its proposed routing is not convenient for them. (source)

Leaders in St. Charles County need to work on passing a transit tax so the Transit Authority can begin the work of setting up a transit system.

– Steve Patterson

 

Poll: When Will St. Charles County Go Smoke-Free?

Interesting news from St. Charles County last week:

The fate of a proposed countywide smoking ban is now up to County Executive Steve Ehlmann.

The County Council voted 4-2 on Tuesday night for legislation to put the proposal on the November 2012 election ballot. Ehlmann has yet to signal whether he’ll sign or veto the measure, which would apply to bars, restaurants and most other indoor public places. (STLToday.com)

With St. Louis City & County now smoke-free, with some unfortunate exceptions, it would be nice to see more of the region become smoke-free.

He [Ehlman] has 10 days to veto or sign the bill. If he does neither, the bill is automatically approved. (Patch.com)

This is the subject of the poll this week: When Will St. Charles County Go Smoke-Free?  The poll is located in the upper right corner of the blog.

I hope Steve Ehlmann doesn’t veto this bill so the question goes to voters in November 2012.

– Steve Patterson

 

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