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Alternative Site Plan for Loughborough Commons

Today I was test driving some fun features with Google Maps (custom maps, drawing tools). Using the old image of the area which is now Loughborough Commons I drew one concept I had for streets and land use in the area. As you will see, my idea is quite different than what is being constructed. lc_concept1

The first thing to notice is that I have retained nearly every home that was located at the corner of the site along Grand & Loughborough. I’ve then cut public streets through the site to create numerous other smaller parcels. The main artery would be extending Loughborough Drive through the site to create a 5-block long commercial district (shown in blue). Buildings facing this street would be “mixed use” with retail/resturant on the ground floor and office or residential above (shown in purple). Residential housing of various forms would face Grand, shown in red. The two big orange boxes would be a Schnuck’s & Lowe’s with the gray box in the middle representing surface parking. Side streets from the adjacent neighborhood would be brought through the site — connecting the commercial district to the existing housing stock.
Mixed-Use (purple):

Lining both sides of a new Loughborough Drive, as well as facing Loughborough, these mixed use buildings would be a minimum of 2 stories high but up to 5 stories. The street-level would be designed for retail/restaurant tenants such as St. Louis Bread Co, Great Clips, Qdoba, Starbucks, and Office Max. Upper floors could contain office space or residential units. Retail parking would be on-street diagonal parking along Loughborough Drive. Shoppers would be encouraged to park once and check out multiple stores via foot.

The main street of Loughborough Drive would be just that — a main street. Think a cross between an old shopping district (Delmar in The Loop), a pedestrian friendly “lifestyle center” (the Boulevard on Brentwood) and a New Urbanist town center (New Town at St. Charles). This was one of the few sites large enough in the city to have developed such a mixed-use model connecting to an existing and stable neighborhood.
Big Box (orange):

This concepts accepts the necessity of big box retailing for the masses. It also accepts most big box shoppers will arive by car, so surface parking is provided between the two stores. The big box stores would not face the main shopping street (Loughborough Drive) but would instead face each other. Both would have excellent visibility from I-55. Blow & Roswell would be used to access the surface parking for the big box stores.

Two options existed for the Schnuck’s here. One is for Schnuck’s to have built on the south location I show above while the existing store remained open. Once the new store was open the old one could have been razed for the new Lowe’s. An alternative would have been to add on to the existing Schnuck’s and basically create a new entrance facing Blow St. The bulk of the existing structure could have been reused, reducing the amount of debris heading to a land fill.

Those shopping on the main street would have easy access to the big box stores, and vice versa, without having to move their cars.
Residential (red):

Housing would be located on this section of Grand, facing existing single-family detached homes. This housing would have a rear alley (shown in yellow) with rear loaded garages. Ideally the residential mix would have varied from condo buildings with shared underground parking to townhouses with individual garages. Garages at the alley might also have had granny flats for small & affordable housing. Low to moderate income and senior housing could easily be mixed in with market rate housing both in the residential section facing Grand as well as above the retail in the mixed-use areas.

For the most part I have “bent” the side streets like Robert & French as they cross Loughborough Drive. This allows the new mixed-use buildings to become more in the line of sight as well as to block views of the highway. However, making these streets perpendicular to Loughborough Drive helps create square corners which are cheaper in new construction than odd angles.

This is only one version of an alternative street grid for the site. Perhap when it has failed in 20 years we can take another stab at the site and get it right.


Lowe’s & Schnuck’s Customer Using Mobility Scooter Forced to Use Street; Center Lacks ADA Access

I’ve been harping for nearly a year now about the lack of ADA access for customers of the city’s newest big box shopping center, Loughborough Commons.  Despite $14 million in tax incentives, not all are able to easily access the two stores that opened last year, Schnuck’s and Lowe’s.

Yesterday I spotted a person leaving Loughborough Commons by the secondary entrance along Grand.  He had made purchases as I could see shopping bags in the front and back of his mobility scooter.  The center has only two ways in —- one on Loughborough and this one off Grand.  An ADA compliant route from either public street (and to either store) has not been provided.

Above this customer is using the wide auto drive which is also used by delivery trucks.


The customer then heads northbound on the public street.  Loughborough Commons developer DESCO did not provide a public sidewalk along Grand despite a wide public right of way.  This puts people most vulnerable at risk.  Alderman Villa, when approving this project, could have likely required a public sidewalk within the public right of way.


I was expecting the customer on his mobility scooter to turn on one of the many streets that Loughborough Commons turns it back to.  Instead, he continued north on Grand toward Loughborouh.  You might ask, why didn’t he make it over to the sidewalk on the left (west) side of the street?  Well, it is not ADA compliant as not all corners have ramps.  A sidewalk along the east side of Grand would have added very little to the overall budget of the project which again received $14 million in public tax breaks.


The customer turned left onto Loughorough Ave, a very busy street!  Above you can see him just ahead of the westbound red pickup.  Due to the high volume of traffic I was unable to get across the street to get better photos as the man on the scooter approached the rear of a parked van.  It was nerve racking watching him pass this parked vehicle on such a busy road.


The man then continued on westbound Loughborough and turned right into Carondelet Park (look closely and you can see  him at the entrance).  You may look at this image and wonder why he is not on the sidewalk shown at right.  That would be a good question.  Remember, sidewalks in St. Louis are only for show — not for actual users.  This man had no way, from Grand, to get onto this sidewalk which would have put him out of harms way on a very busy street.

The man entered the park, most likely cutting through to get home. He continued on this road for a bit until he caught up with the internal path system where he continued west-northwest.  The nice sidewalk seen in the last picture does not continue into the park.

How is it that a new from scratch $40+ million project with $14 million of that in public tax subsidies can fail to accommodate real users?  Answer, lack of priority.  Ald. Villa will remind us that the center is not finished even though the two stores opened last year.  The large site has only two entrances and, given the grades of the main entrance, neither will meet the federal ADA requirements even when finished per their plans submitted to the city.

Yes, the new grocery store is cleaner than the old one and hey we are getting a Breadco (Panera to folks outside St. Louis) and a Starbucks soon.  Do these things make up for the fact we’ve failed to ensure that people such as this man can travel safely to the store?  I don’t think so.

I hope nothing happens to this man or anyone else traveling by foot, wheelchair or mobility scooter and headed to Loughborough Commons.  But, I’m putting the City of St. Louis, DESCO, Schnuck’s and Lowe’s (and soon Panera, Starbucks, etc…) on notice that Loughborough Commons fails to meet the needs of the community and to meet the requirements set forth by federal civil rights legislation, the Americans with Disabilities Act.  If some unfortunate accident happens, I will help to make sure you are all held liable.


New Orleans Group Fighting Big Box Development like Loughborough Commons

Citizens in New Orleans are fighting to retain that city’s character as generic suburban developers seek to bring “cookie-cutter” projects to their city. By way of example, the website Think New Orleans used an image of just such a project — Loughborough Commons. Yes, St. Louis is providing yet another example of what others are trying to avoid — even in the wake of a major natural disaster.

Loughborough Commons as a bad example
Click here to see the full post.

I suppose we should be thanking Ald. Matt Villa for helping bring this mostly tree-less “project” to St. Louis. A project that doesn’t connect to numerous adjacent streets and still doesn’t welcome pedestrians. We are now at over seven months since the Schnuck’s grocery store opened and still no federally mandated ADA-compliant accessible route is in place. Seven months! Even a simple accessible route between the Schnuck’s and Lowe’s store is not in place, again a violation of federal civil rights law. Clearly the developers have little regard for the civil rights of those not in cars.

More power to the good folks in New Orleans fighting to keep St. Louis-style big box development out of their urban city.


Loughbrough Commons – No Accessible Entrance After Six Months

Next week marks the six month anniversary of the opening of the Schnuck’s grocery store at the auto-centric Loughborough Commons big box/strip center (see post from opening day). To date, developer DESCO has failed to provide an ADA-compliant accessible entrance from the public street to either of the open businesses. The Americans with Disabilities Act, you may recall, is not building code but is in fact federal civil rights legislation.

Part of the public sidewalk along Loughborough was removed and has remained open and muddy alll winter — forcing pedestrians along Loughborough into the street. Heading into the center is a minimal sidewalk which does not appear to comply with the maximum slope requirements for an accessible route. Now that I have my new digital level, I will be able to verify the slope of the sidewalk and how compliant or not it may be.
Ald. Matt Villa took exception with my comments at the time that Loughborough Commons didn’t welcome pedestrians, stating that it was not finished yet. Well Matt, do you have a timeline from DESCO on when we will see an ADA-compliant accessible route from the public street and from building to building? A year? Two years? Five years?


Loughborough Commons is Not Finished Yet

When I started writing about the failures of Loughborough Commons a few months ago I was reminded by Ald. Matt Villa (D-11th) that it is not finished yet. He is correct, work is still progressing even though the two main stores, Schnucks & Lowes, are open.

In addition to a number of possible out buildings and the need to finish an ADA accessible route to a public street it seems Desco is working to correct some of the poor planning on areas that were already finished. Yes, the not finished yet $40 million project is already getting fixes.


Above you can see a new black metal fence installed recently which blocks now former accessible parking spaces near the entrance. A similar parking arrangement on the other side of the entry remains.


From this angle you can see how the angle of the main entrance would make it a challenge to see oncoming cars if you were backing out of one of these spaces. Accessible spaces, such as these near an entrance, are ideal for many so they do not need to cross a main drive. Still, these must be designed and placed in such a manner that someone using them is able to easily navigate in and out of them. This is also an example of where the minimum sidewalk width required by law is just that, mimimum.


Before the change you can see how tight the space was. When extra shopping carts were stored in the area it completely blocked the sole planned walking route from Loughborough. Civil engineers are a critical part of any design team, they are necessary for a number of areas including water runoff concerns, accessing soil conditions, engineering curbs and other details on a given site. They are not, however, natural specialists in creating walkable & ADA accessible environments. Projects of this scale, especially those with over $14 million in public tax incentives, should have a consultant on board to ensure more than simple textbook minimum compliance. At this point I still question if they will be able to establish minimum compliance with respect to an accessible route.


Above is an earlier image between the Schnucks and the Lowe’s, but as of 1/1/07 nothing has changed here. Pedestrians, including those using walkers, mobility scooters or wheelchairs are directed into the pharmacy drive-thru exit! At this point these pedestrians have only a couple of choices, those who can will simply walk through the plantings/grass and those who cannot must either turn left and exit the drive-thru lane with the cars out into the main drive for the development or turn right and go head-on with the cars in the pharmacy lane for about 5ft (just outside of view in this image) until they get to what appears to be a drainage area which provides a break in the planter. In this direction someone will have to hope the cars leaving the pharmacy drive-thru lane see them. This second route would allow pedestrians to go down that direction but the slope is too steep for a return back to the Schnucks and out to Loughborough. And forget wheelchairs for a minute, what about young families pushing a stroller! We do want young families with kids in the area, right?

What is more amazing than having such major projects built without a planning/access specialist on the design team is the idea that we leave it up to our elected aldermen to ensure the public’s interests are being considered. With our 28 mini-cities with a city mentality we get varying results from ward to ward. Some aldermen seem to know their limitations and consult the city’s Planning & Urban Design Agency. Others, like Lyda Krewson, have ideal developers like Joe Edwards so these issues are rare. But folks like Ald. Matt Villa, who assured me before construction started that pedestrians would be considered, are clearly incapable of distinquishing between token gestures toward access and good community design. Yes, he is certainly a “nice guy” but that only goes so far — not even remotely close in the case of Loughborough Commons. And just think, Loughborough Commons is not even finished.