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Proposed Lowe’s in Charlotte N.C. A Good Urban Compromise

Other U.S. cities are finding creative ways of integrating “Big Box” retailing within older urban neighborhoods. Last week I showed you a big box development in Atlanta that managed to create real streets and a mix of building sizes. Now I’ve run across an interesting proposal for a Lowe’s in Charlotte N.C.

Lowe’s has made substantial changes to its plans for a home improvement store on South Boulevard….The plans also move the garden center to the South Boulevard side of the store, next to a new 5,000-square-foot retail building that could house a coffee shop, a deli or other types of neighborhood retail. As in the previous plan, the store would still have parking on the roof and be lined by up to 60 condominiums.

Just imagine, a garden center next to a coffee shop — sounds good to me. Rooftop parking is also a good solution to massive parking lots. And condos around the building. This peaked my interest and I was pleased with what I found.

First, the proposal is not yet final. At this time Lowe’s is on their 4th revision to the site plan. Neighbors are still upset about a Lowe’s in their neighborhood — they are concerned about too much traffic. Hmmm, that sounds familiar. If only they could see the abysmal Lowe’s/Schnuck’s combination we are getting.


Let me explain the site plan above since at this quality you can’t see the detail. The middle of the image is the Lowe’s with parking & trees shown on the roof. To the lower left is a small but typical parking lot in front of the building. The dark band in the picture is parking at the back of the building. But this parking is not for the Lowe’s but is instead for the residential units facing the adjacent neighborhood.


This section gives you a good idea how the Lowe’s is separated from existing residential by new housing. What amazes me is how Lowe’s has had to rework their proposal numerous times before the city would approve the plan. What a novel concept for the city to not just bend over, grab their ankles, and take whatever big box the developer says they want to build!

Also interesting is the level of detail on the proposal from Lowe’s. For Loughborough Commons we got freshmen level architectural sketches. In Charlotte they’ve got an exceptional level of detail for all to see. Click here to review the full PDF document (it is a big one – be patient). The proposal even included a bike & pedestrian map! This showed locations of bike racks (yes, more than one) as well as pedestrian circulation patterns. Meanwhile, we don’t even get sidewalks on our proposals.

The new Target could have benefited from the same type of thinking. Imagine some townhouses along the back of the newly constructed building facing the residential neighborhood.

This is for the folks at City Hall: The developers are going to do the least they can get away with some rare exceptions. Desco is not one of those exceptions! If we are going to have quality developments we must set standards to maintain a sense of urbanity. Clearly we can do this while still permitting big box developers to locate within the city. And if the current crop of people at city hall won’t make the changes we’ll just have to get new ones that will. How about a full round of recalls?

In development you get what you ask for and based on what is being built in and around St. Louis we are saying, “Give us the crap that nobody else allows anymore.” Charlotte isn’t exactly Chicago or Atlanta. Must we continue to settle for second or third rate developments from our second and third rate developers and elected officials that smile at the ribbon cuttings?

– Steve


Atlanta’s Edgewood Development Offers Inspiration for Saint Louis

Much of my time is spent ranting about “missed opportunities” at local developments such as Loughborough Commons. Responses are often along the lines of well we don’t like it either but we have to compete with the suburbs. We have such a void of good design in the St. Louis area our expectations are so low. Architects and planners in this town need to have some balls and show clients what is possible rather than continuing with the same crap.

But new big box developments need not be the drab single-use wastes of land that litter the St. Louis region. If you combine creative developers and architects with higher land cost in municipalities that actually demand urbanity you get something along the lines of Atlanta’s new Edgewood shopping district.


It is hard to tell from this site plan but a lot is happening on this 37 acre site. The developer’s promotional literature does a good job of summarizing the mix:

“This distinctive project will allow for anchor tenants and small box tenants as well as local retailers and restaurants, featuring a variety of architecture to suit the diverse tenant mix and compliment the area’s unique history. The center’s proposed ‘Main Street’ element with its blend of local boutiques, friendly eateries and exciting national retailers is sure to become a thriving hub of neighborhood activity for families and singles alike. Additionally, an existing historic building will be converted to residential lofts and this conversion will be the cornerstone that blends new to old thus making the entire project a true live-shop-play community.”

This is exactly how big box developments like Lowe’s and Target can be integrated into neighborhoods. The smaller buildings provide opportunities for local retailers with offices or living units above. Shared parking encourages walking from store to store creating an energy that most sprawling developments lack. I’m not fond of Atlanta but I may have to schedule a visit soon to see it first hand. The development opened this summer. To see some photos of the project under construction and of the surrounding homes click here.

UPDATE 9/27/05 @ 10AM – See more images of the Edgewood Retail District and an analysis of the design from a New Urbanist perspective here.

Like Desco’s Loughborough Commons this development is in the middle of existing housing and is adjacent to a rail line serving commuters (MetroLink will stop at the Loughborough Commons site in the future). Both have a Lowe’s and a major grocery store. The similarities end there.

Other recent developments in the region, like THF’s Wal-Mart & Lowe’s project in Maplewood, is a conventional drab single use project. Just imagine how different that area would feel had they gone in the same direction as Atlanta’s project.

Locally our developers, architects, planners, and city officials are selling us short. We deserve no less than such a vibrant mixed-use development.


Predictable and Anti-Urban Loughborough Commons Has Begun

Demolition work has begun on the site of the new “Loughborough Commons” at Loughborough & I-55 in South St. Louis (map). It will continue to Loughborough and Grand but it is the all mighty highway that sprawl developments cater to. I talked about this development before in a post from January 25th.

Before the sprawl apologists comment that we need development and progress let me say that I agree. We cannot simply say nothing is ever going to change. Cities change, I accept that. It is the type of change I have issues with. To call this development or any of its kind “progressive” is highly laughable.

This development is the least progressive way to redo this site!

What we are getting in the name of progress is a couple of big boxes which ignore the neighborhood and cater to the highway crowd. How is this progress? This is what suburban sprawl is all about. We’ve seen this same thing being built in every American city over the last 50 years. Making the City of St. Louis look more like Fenton or St. Peters is destructive in the long term.

St. Louis’ best assets are our architecture and street grid!

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Loughborough Commons will be Common indeed!

Desco’s proposed Loughborough Commons is a case study in thinking only about the box and certainly not outside the box. Tonight’s public meeting had some pretense of a public input forum but in reality it was a ‘here is the generic strip center we are giving you let us know what color flowers you want planted under the monument sign’ type of meeting.

Prior to the meeting I had a chance to speak with Alderman Matt Villa as well as an representative from the engineering firm and Desco. First let me say that I like Matt. We are close in age and I’m personal friends with his wife’s sister and her husband. But, any association with someone on a personal level can’t an excuse for keeping silent on a bad proposal. To Villa and the engineer I raised concerns about connecting the public sidewalks to the development. The woman, I believe her name was Denise Coleman (she didn’t offer a card), said at this scale they couldn’t show sidewalks but they be there. Hmmm… [Note 8/31/06: Her name is Dennice Kowelman]


At right is the overall site plan for the proposed project. Loughborough is on the far right and is the Northern boundary of the project. To the bottom (East) is the railroad line and I-55. The top of the picture is Grand. For those of you that know the Grand Blvd which goes all the way from North St. Louis to Carondelet Park this Grand is much different – it is residential street. The part of the site on the left is the old Nordyne site.

Apparently in the last year Nordyne just closed up shop and moved out of the area – not bothering to tell the city they were leaving. Nice. Villa says it was a call from Desco that alerted him to the fact Nordyne was selling the property.

The upper right corner of the site plan – marked Outparcel A is where 18 single family homes now sit. With room enough for three out parcels, 50,000sf of additional retail and more parking than is required by the city I just don’t get why they need to take the existing homes. Two answers are most apparent. One is the home owners, if left, would hate backing up to such a boring big box development and second developer wants maximum exposure. Houses along Loughborough will block the view of the side of the Schnuck’s store. With the houses gone and some sort of typical fast food establishment on the corner people passing by will quickly realize this isn’t a pleasant residential neighborhood but a boring strip center.

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