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Paul McKee, Board Member of St. Charles-Based Pro-Sprawl “Urban Choice Coalition”

Paul McKee, the St. Charles developer and land baron behind the “Blairmont” project has continued to remain in the news of late. I ran across his name while researching the board members of a pro-sprawl, anti-city group based in St. Charles County. Mr. McKee is a board member of a group that interestingly is anti government intervention out in the virgin farmlands but is all in favor of intervention in the city.

The following is the mission statement for the Urban Choice Coalition in its entirety:

WE BELIEVE in the right of individuals to live wherever they choose and can afford. We reject the blanket condemnation of growth in suburban counties as being a root cause of urban decay and further reject the pejorative term “urban sprawl” to describe the healthy expansion of new communities.

WE BELIEVE that it is the right of individuals to select the state, city, county, neighborhood or development of their choice to call home and not be denied governmental services, grants or benefits, otherwise available on a national or statewide basis, because of their choice of residence.

It should not be the role of government to deny services to anyone based on their choices of where to live.

It should not be the role of government to set up artificial growth boundaries, outside of which citizens or communities receive any less governmental benefits.

It should not be the role of state or regional government planning agencies to erect growth boundaries and attempt to dictate or dissuade anyone from living where they choose.

WE FURTHER BELIEVE certain public policy issues should be resolved on a statewide or regional basis, but that those decisions concerning who and where to extend local utilities and roads, or to build new schools and local government facilities are, for the most part, best left to local decision makers elected by the people they represent and that these local decisions should not be turned over to or subject to, further review by statewide or regional planning commissions not elected by the people.

WE FAVOR enhancing the quality of life in the urban core and positive inducements to promote “city living” as the best means of attracting new residents and stabilizing older neighborhoods.

But presumably it should be the role of the state governent to enact massive tax breaks for one person, say Paul McKee, so that he may assemble large areas of land within a single municipality within the state. Of couse the legislation passed by the Missouri legislature isn’t limited to McKee’s well-known but unannounced housing project but the various requirements pretty much make it tailor made just for him.

It would seem to be that an individual property rights type person, one who opposes big government intervention in land planning matters, would also oppose such intervention everywhere. But to McKee and his co-sprawlers they want it all — the ability to rape open farmland with single-use projects which are auto dependent as well as receive huge tax breaks for assembling land (which happens to contain people & buildings) on the scale of urban renewal projects like Pruitt-Igoe.

Oh yes, I see, they believe we need to have “positive inducements” in order to attract people to this idea of “city living.” Why the quotes on city living McKee & Co? I know why, you don’t really understand city living. Or maybe you do? You are likely afraid of the whole idea of people enjoying dense and walkable mixed-use neighborhoods. Sure, you talk a nice game about the “rights of indiviuals” to live where they like but you are all afraid they will stop picking the auto-centric housing subdivisions you call “communities.” And face it boys, the sprawl neighorhoods you’ve littered on the landscape for years has absolutely nothing to do with free choice — government planning has created the zoning codes that mandate everything from the lot size to the street width.

Pro-sprawl zoning in the suburbs has limited choices  — you can’t just build a corner storefront with your living space above anywhere you think their might be demand.  Oh no, in their world we must divide everything up — no mixing of residential, retail and office.  They  don’t really support individualism or free thinking about land use, they like what exists and simply want nobody to stop them until they’ve managed to merge St. Louis with Columbia MO.

The only way New Town at St. Charles got built in the urban manner that it did (urban relative to lot sizes, setbacks, street widths, etc…) is that the City of St. Charles agreed to adopt DPZ’s smart code for New Town.  Without this new zoning, what we see in New Town would not have been legally allowed as the area was zoned for industrial uses.  So where are McKee & Co when it comes to the sprawl-mandated zoning that predominates St. Charles County?  Right behind it 100%!

Another section above is how they like decisions left to local decision makers.  I’m just guessing because that is cheaper for them than having to contribute to a bunch of regional and state officials.  This weekend’s Post-Dispatch story on McKee pointed out his contributions to Aldermanic President Lewis Reed and Mayor Francis Slay.  Of course, to get that new tax bill passed he had to drop some money around the state as well.

To see the list of directors for the Urban Choice Coalition don’t look for it on their website.  You might even get the impression from their anonymous site that they are ashamed of their views — not wanting to be associated with it.  I can’t say that I blame them really, I would not want to put my name on that BS either.  So for the board list I had to go to the Secretary of State’s records, click here for their last report.  Basically it is all the people that financially benefit from the planned sprawl of the countryside in St. Charles County, including engineers, road builders, and the Executive Director of the Home Builders Association of Greater St. Louis.

Everyone agrees that North St. Louis needs major new investment and infill construction.  I just don’t think McKee and his anti-city, pro-sprawl buddies are the right people for the job.


New Target Store Includes Bike Racks, Access Blocked by Shopping Carts

Big box retailer Target just opened a new store in the suburban St. Louis municipality of Dardenne Prairie in a center called, oddly enough, ‘Dardenne Town Center.’  Like most suburban centers this one has some good and bad elements.

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View of Target approaching from sidewalk off Henke Road — Yes, a continuous sidewalk from a public street to a big box front door.  Landscaping, seen in the left of the above image, helps soften an otherwise harsh facade.  This type of greening can easily be included in strip/big box centers without blocking that all important visibility from major roads.  Note the extra shopping carts in the image.

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Above we see a lone cart in the way of one side of bike rack intended for two bikes (one each side, parallel with the carts).  Someone arriving from the adjacent neighborhoods via bike could easily move this single car and secure their bike.  But what if more carts were here?

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You see, Target made the effort to include a total of four such bike racks for a total of eight bike parking spaces.  Unfortunatetly, store staff uses these racks to help align their extra carts outside the store entrance.  The availability of bike parking depends upon the location/use of extra shopping carts.  This is a common, but avoidable, problem if only the planners, architects and engineeres on these projects gave more thought to shopping cart storage and bike parking.  With lots of extra room along the front of the store, bike parking could have easily been located elsewhere and have avoided conflicts with the carts.  Again, this is a brand new store — only open for a few months now.

The Dardenne Town Center was developed by Opus Northwest, the same developers at the Park East tower in St. Louis’ Central West End neighborhood. Thankfully, Dardenne Prairie is working with urban planners from the firm DPZ on a real town center.  Designers from DPZ already have suggestions on how to improve this newly built retail “power center” which includes a JC Penny, Shop-N-Save and numerous smaller stores and a few restaurants.


DPZ To Hold Charette in Dardenne Prairie, MO

Dardenne Prairie, a largely bedroom suburb of St. Louis located in fast growing St. Charles County, is about to hold a week-long design charette with leading New Urbanist firm DPZ of Miami. Bringing DPZ to Dardenne Prairie has been a long effort of Mayor Pam Fogarty and 1st Ward Alderman Scott Kolbe, both seeking to create a sense of place in their community.

Dardenne Prairie originally designated 85 acres for a downtown. Ald. Kolbe on the initial stages:

“While we tested the waters – overall feedback has led to us creating a 285 acre site – I was pleasantly surprised by community feedback”

Ald. Kolbe continues on the feedback from residents, “They are craving that third place.”

The entire week is open to the public, the city has posted a schedule online here. Andres Duany, DPZ’s celebrity boss is not scheduled on the charette but will likely make an appearance at some point during the week.
Scheduled Presentations:

  • Opening Presentation on Thursday 4/19/2007; 7pm-9pm
  • “Pin-up” Review on Sunday 4/22/2007; 2pm-4pm
  • Final Presentation on Wednesday 4/25/2007; 7pm-9pm

Again, the charette is open to the public from 4/19 – 4/25. Except for some tours to be held on the first day (4/18), the event will be held at the Knights of Columbus Hall located at 2199 Post Road, Dardenne Prairie, 63368 (see map).

So what do you think?  I personally love the idea of these residents (population estimate 7,000) creating a sense of place for themselves centered on a mixed-use downtown.  This has the potential to become an interesting and livable area.


Oh the “Mayor’s” Sense of Irony

Mayor Slay’s website has an interesting post tonight:

Urban-esque Planning

There are two stories in today’s newspaper that should be read together.

The first is a report that the owners of Mid-Rivers Mall in St. Charles County, built in 1987 as a suburban mall, are planning a multi-million dollar 120,000 square foot addition to revive the tired property, including “a 70,000 square foot village with the feel of an urban shopping and dining experience.”

The second is a report that Spinnaker Real Estate Partners and Pyramid Cos. have closed on the purchase of St. Louis Centre, built in 1985 and pummeled for years by suburban malls, in order to transform the former urban shopping mall into a new mix of condominiums, shops, offices, and restaurants.

It might be less expensive – and less ironic — to direct St. Peters residents with an appetite for contemporary urban living to downtown St. Louis

Perhaps the mayor’s staff can spend a little less time making fun of St. Charles County’s recent attempts at urbanism and focus some of that energy on our own development patterns?

– Steve


Dardenne Prairie In Talks with DPZ for New Town Center

The suburban St. Charles County municipality of Dardenne Prairie is talking with famed New Urbanist firm DPZ to help plan a town center for the mostly bedroom cummunity. Dardenne Prairie Alderman Scott Kolbe recently met with DPZ’s chief Andres Duany at their Miami offices. Kolbe and Mayor Pam Fogarty both need to convince the rest of their Board of Aldermen to fund the initial planning process as well as put out the RFP for a New Urbanist developer. Initial planning cost are expected to exceed $300,000.

Kolbe & Fogarty are focusing on roughly 80 acres at MO-N & Post Rd (map). Without a good town center plan in place this will land will likely develop like the rest of St. Charles County, lines of small to big boxes surrounded by lots of parking.

I’ve visited the area a couple of times as well as talked with Kolbe & Fogarty about their vision. Both seem to be seeking a mixed-use area that can serve as a center point for their municipality. Integrating the old Immaculate Conception church located at the main corner is an important part of their strategy for the area.

If Dardenne Prairie’s Board of Aldermen approves the expenditure the firm of DPZ, the same planners responsible for New Town at St. Charles, would help guide the process leading to an RFP seeking a developer for the project. Construction would be at least three years away at best.

While I don’t spend much time in St. Charles County I would like to see more municipalities take such issues as seriously as Dardenne Prairie’s elected officials. I’d like to see elected officials in the City of St. Louis to consider the old urbanism we’ve got as well as the New Urbanism that we need.

Kudos to Dardenne Prairie’s Scott Kolbe & Pam Fogarty for having the vision to push for such a project in an area where one would not normally think of having a town center. In the interest of full disclosure, I have previously solicited the Dardenne Prairie Board of Alderman to assist in their planning process as a paid consultant.

– Steve




Notice of Open Meeting: Parking Commission of the City of St. Louis
Tomorrow at 12pm CST.
The meeting will be live-streamed via the STL Treasurer Facebook page.
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