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The New QuikTrip at Gravois & Chippewa Should Be An Urban Prototype

The general consensus is the relocation of an existing QT from the Bevo area up the street to the wedge at Gravois & Chippewa is OK. Assuming that to be these case, let’s discuss the design options for the site.

But it is a gas station you say, implying options to do not exist for the site layout. After all, everyone knows you place the building as far back on the site and put all the pump islands out front. What is to debate?

Well, that very assumption!

Yes, I’m calling for QT to build an urban gas station like those required in other cities around the world. Not only are the design options interesting and more urban, it makes better use of the land which can return higher profits. Here is the basic argument: flip the typical site plan around — put the building next to the street and the pumps in back.

First, let’s see just how wasteful QT is with land development.

Existing QT on Gravois at PestalozziAt we can see from the existing QT to the east on Gravois they have made little attempt to maximize the site. As a result, a very large land area that was originally many smaller parcels is reduced to only serving one function: the QT. This is not an urban model and is well suited to far suburban areas but not in an urbanized city environment.

But this post is not about what they did wrong at this site and what it could look like if rebuilt. I’m showing the example at right to demonstrate wasteful site planning practices common among such entities as large gas stations.

Alternate QT for Gravois & ChippewaAt left is my crude diagram of the [proposed] site [at Gravois & Chippewa]. The teal color represents the canopy over the gas pumps with the red rectangle representing QT’s standard building design. The blue triangle represents an urban opportunity. Here is what I picture: a 2-3 story building with street-level retail and small living spaces above. These might be rental, perhaps condo? The building might be designed to create some live/work spaces. The building might end up being more than a single building.

What does all this change accomplish? Several things. First, an urban building at the corner reduces the visual impact of the gas station while still providing that service. The urban corner building also begins to place some “community” in the area where, according to Ald. Kirner, none exists. This would be an incremental step toward rebuilding what was once two highly pedestrian friendly urban corridors.

I am not calling for QT to design a special building to house their function —- I’m tolerant of the standard formula. They actually do a decent job of connecting their buildings to public sidewalks which could be easily accomplish in the site plan mockup I’m showing. And the urban building?

I’m guessing folks are going to say two things. One being there is no demand for either retail or living spaces in the area and second that QT is not in the business of building such buildings. True, demand may not exist at the moment or even five years. But if QT builds their facility in the manner I’m suggesting and plants some evergreen trees behind the building it certainly wouldn’t look any worse than coming down Gravois looking at nothing but gas pumps. As demand increases and say MetroLink ends up on Gravois or the tracks nearby then we are ready to do some urban in-fill without having to relocate or rebuild the QT — we’d be that much ahead. And I wouldn’t expect QT to build the building — I’d expect them to sell or lease the land. A non-profit housing group could lease the land from QT on a long term lease so that QT got a good tax write off and then build some smaller living spaces without any off-street parking. This would be great for those who either can’t drive or don’t want to drive. On-street parking could serve the retail spaces.

Think of this as land banking — we are saving this corner that might normally be wasted through typical sprawl planning and holding it until we are ready for something a bit more urban. To move the process along I’d favor some sort of tax incentives to QT so they could offer this land on the cheap to a developer that completed a structure that met some basic urban criteria. This could be a win for the city and QT.

– Steve


Edwardsville’s Pedestrian Tunnel for High School Students

IMG_4872.jpgWhy did the student not cross the road? Because they were chicken? No, because they have a new $480,000 pedestrian tunnel in place of the former shuttle buses. And it is against school policy for them to walk across the two lane street in front of the high school. Seriously, I’m not making this up!

Last June I did a brief post on the planned tunnel after reading an article in the Belleville News-Democrat. This past Saturday morning I visited the now finished tunnel on a tour of Edwardville, Illinois (map).

So, there it is on the right: the long walk under Center Grove Rd with the massive high school campus in the background. Remember the days when you could walk or bike to school? Those times seem long gone. Now students drive their own cars to school and in Edwardsville some students, roughly 200, have to park across the street and walk under the street to get to the campus.

IMG_4875.jpgDon’t look for any steps or walkway to get you from the south side of Center Grove Rd down to the tunnel, it is assumed that nobody walks in this part of town. Probably true enough, it is nothing but tacky buildings set in individual seas of parking.

I should also point out the tunnel was planned from day one. It wasn’t built until this summer because they just received the funding to construct it. So when planning a new high school campus the concept of say placing it closer to walkable areas seems to have been ruled out. I’m actually told the school district is much larger than the City of Edwardsville and that the schools is pretty centered within the district. The solution then becomes two smaller high schools rather than one large high school. You can point to additional costs to do that but that can be countered with the additional costs of sprawl and, in this case, a pedestrian tunnel.

IMG_4878.jpgThis is Center Grove Rd looking west from the parking lot entrance. That is not a sidewalk you see to the left of the road, it is the shoulder of the roadbed. You can see some of the recently built sprawl in the background. What a horrible environment they are subjecting their impressionable youth.

Sadly, they are in effect teaching kids pedestrians and streets don’t mix.

– Steve


Ald. Kirner: “Very Little Community” at Gravois & Chippewa

Ald. Dorothy Kirner, D-25th Ward, was recently quoted in the Suburban Journal about the plan for the QuikTrip to move from near Gravois and Delor (14th Ward) to the former used car lot of McMahon Ford:

“There is very little community in there. It’s all businesses,” Kirner said. “I don’t see any problem with the residents.”

The message is basically we’ve long since wiped out any residents of the area and therefore nobody is around to object to yet another over-scaled gas station on a prominent city corner. In cities where urbanity is valued, not derided, such a site would become a mixed-use project with street-level retail and housing — helping to create community where it may not currently exist. Such limited view thinking will continue to prevent St. Louis from reaching its full potential as a vibrant urban center.

– Steve


Some Reasons for Blighting for Loughborough Commons Remain Unchanged

Today I ran across the city ordinance establishing a CID (Community Improvement District) for Loughborough Commons. Through taxes this will account for about $3 million in improvements for the area. Click here for the 5mb PDF file. Ignore the last few pages as those pertain to another bill wherein Slay Bulk Terminals leases some riverfront land from the city, headed by Mayor Slay. Hmmmm….

What I found interesting in the CID file was an October 2004 report prepared by local firm Development Strategies to justify the blighting and establishment of the tax incentives.

This report describes and documents those conditions that, without TIF will continue to erode the Redevelopment Area’s economic vitality and hasten its transition from an economic asset to an economic liability for the City of St. Louis, its residents, and the taxing districts that depend upon it as a revenue source. The existing I-55/Loughborough Redevelopment Area suffers from a multitude of physical and economic deficiencies including defective and inadequate streets, unsanitary or unsafe condition of site improvements, deferred maintenance, a large soon to be vacant structure, improper subdivision or platting, conditions which endanger life or property by fire or other causes, and economic obsolescence.

Man, that is a lot. Good thing this was passed and everything razed. But what are some of the details behind the report leading to blight?

Well, how about “defective and inadequate street layout resulting from… interupted [their spelling] grid street pattern.” I also like, “Unsanitary and unsafe conditions resulting from: lack of sidewalks, dangerous vehicular movements.” Continuing down the list they cite “deteriorated site improvements resulting from: deteriorated parking areas, deferred maintenance” and “improper subdivision and obsolete planning.”

The report talks about the street grid that once existed many years ago:

As part of the grid, Blow Street and Robert Avenue ran uninterrupted form the west of what is now I-55 to the east of the highway. In addition, Colorado Avenue ran north-south from Robert Avenue to the north. This pattern of streets provided good access and circulation for the property in the Redevelopment Area.

It then explains how the railroad and the highway changed that and how some streets went away. No mention of putting back the grid that was removed for Nordyne and Schnuck’s (formerly a National store).

Lack of sidewalks is a whole section. This is the best part:

Many of the streets in the Redevelopment Area lack sidewalks or have inadequate sidewalks. This creates a hazardous condition for residents, employees and visitors. Specific problem areas include:

1. Lack of sidewalks on both sides of Blow Street
2. Lack of sidewalks on the east side of S. Grand to the south of Blow Street.
3. Cracked and uneven sidewalks along the east side of S. Grand Avenue between Loughborough Avenue and Blow Street.
4. Cracked and uneven sidewalks along the south side of Loughborough Avenue to the east of S. Grand Avenue.

So how did the crack team of Desco, Kowelmann Engineering and Ald. Matt Villa solve each of these blighting conditions? No sidewalks on each side of Blow Street? No problem, lets just remove the street entirely! That took care of number 1 on the list. For number two, the lack of sidewalks along the east side of Grand, they did nothing. Presumably this blighting condition remains. And those cracked and uneven sidewalks between Loughborough and Blow? No problem either, they simply removed them and do not intend to replace them. The final item, poor sidewalks on Loughborough will be fixed through the logical solution of replacement. The fact remains an unsafe condition due to lack of sidewalks along the east side of Grand Ave is unchanged. The blight cited as reasons for tax incentives and the use of eminent domain has not been solved after $40 million of expense. Sad.

The section on “Improper Subdivision or Obsolete Planning” is a propaganda gem:

This subdivision has produced lots that are inappropriate for residential use and are very inefficient to service. Some of the lots are as narrow as 25 to 35 feet wide and 283 feet deep. This is clearly not a desirable lot dimension for residential use. The depth of other lots have been reduced to 100 to 150 feet, but the narrowness of these lots and the lack of an alley create conditions where must of the lot is consumed by driveway and parking area and servicing of the residence must be done from the street in front of the house. These conditions represent a deviation from the typical residential pattern in the neighboring residential blocks and are not representative of good residential planning.

Yes, and they are all about good planning at Loughborough Commons! It appears five residential properties had this amazingly long yards which is a bit unconventional although certainly appeal to some. Such oddities exist all over this city but that is reason to wipe it clean and start over. Furthermore, three of the long properties faced the now removed Blow Street. Their combined width and depth would have ben an ideal candidate for an in-fill townhouse or condo project much like those we might see in the West End.

Stand-alone grocery stores, like the Schnuck’s store in the Redevelopment Area, are becoming increasingly difficult to economically sustain in a competitive retail environment where shoppers prefer to have all the convenience of multiple purchasing or service options at a single location. All of the major competing grocery stores that are closest to the Redevelopment Area have the benefit of being part of a strip center or a concentration of retail offerings.

This argument falls flat when examined. First, I think this holds true in suburban ares where people don’t want to navigate the family minivan from one parking lot to another on say a hellish road like Manchester in Ballwin. While this report cites a number of grocery stores attached to some sort of strip center they failed to mention the closest store — the former Schnuck’s on South Grand near Holly Hills.

The residential properties represented maybe 4 acres out of a total of roughly 30 acres. This land was at a far corner and in no way represented a block to redeveloping the remaining 26 acres. The city represented by Ald. Matt Villa and Mayor Francis Slay failed to do due diligence and correct all of the reasons the area was blighted in the first place.

We need new and better representation at City Hall or such fleecing will continue. This is incompetence at all levels of the development design and approval process.

– Steve


A Review of the Actual Site Plan of Loughborough Commons

I’ve finally seen the approved site plan for Loughborough Commons: Pedestrian access off Grand at the south end near the Lowe’s? None. Public sidewalk along Grand? None. Sidewalk along the west side of the main drive? None. Public sidewalk along Loughborough? Yes. Sidewalk along the east side of the main drive. Yes. Bike Parking? None. Parcel A (aka big pile-o-dirt)? Scary!

Let’s look at each individually:

As indicated earlier no pedestrian access is planned at the south entrance to Loughborough Commons. This secondary entrance is a wide 35ft and is near many homes to the west of the project as well as other homes where someone might walk along Koeln under I-55. Again, the drawings do not indicate any accommodation for pedestrians at this end — those walking will need to walk along the grass, walk in the auto drive or just get in their car. You can say that someone won’t walk to Lowe’s to buy drywall which is true enough. However, hardware stores of all sizes have many small sales. Furthermore, someone living in this area would naturally go this direction to get to the Schnuck’s grocery store.

Any pedestrian walking along Grand will need to be on the west side of the street as no sidewalk is being constructed along the east side of the street. While not serving any building entrances I am a firm believer in city streets having sidewalks on both sides.

At the main entrance on Loughborough the project drawings do not indicate any internal sidewalk along the west side of the entrance. This is the most logical side for those coming from all the houses to the west of the project. There will be a sidewalk leading to Parcel A but I will discuss that in greater detail later in this post.

Desco is replacing the sidewalk along the length of Loughborough. In an early post from this week I may have suggested this was not the case but in later posts was clear they were indeed replacing the sidewalk.

And finally, as Ald. Villa indicated via email and engineer Dennice Kowelman indicated via phone, they will have an internal sidewalk along the east side of the main drive. The drawings indicate it will be 5ft wide and run adjacent to the drive itself. While this is indicated on the construction documents it was not shown on the public drawings to the public in January 2005 nor does their current construction suggest such a sidewalk. I’m at a loss why the sidewalk was not poured when they did the driveway. I’m also baffled they have graded the soil and planted grass seed if they are going to do a sidewalk. They also have some access covers that would appear to be placed in a manner that will present some challenges. Again, it does not appear they will be putting a sidewalk here but the construction documents do show it. I will give them the benefit of the doubt and presume it was a matter of construction phasing.

The drawings indicate at the bottom of the hill they’d have a crosswalk taking you to the west across a 24ft drive to a striped corner and then south across a 33ft drive to a sidewalk along the front of the as yet to be built additional retail spaces north of the Schnuck’s. While I am happy they have at least this much shown it is simply not enough given the size of the project (30 acres, $40 million) and the size of the public tax breaks ($14 million). So the expectation is someone must follow a maze to get from A to B. But human nature just doesn’t work that way, pedestrians naturally take the shortest path unless the longer path is far more compelling. A plain sidewalk abutting the drive on the east is not more compelling. It dumps you out at the parking and intersection of internal drives. What will happen is people will most likely continue walking along the west side of the drive either in the drive itself or on the grass — we will probably see a worn path next year similar to those at places like Gravois Plaza.

Bike parking? Sorry, you’ll have to lock your bike to the cart racks and hope someone doesn’t hit it as they pull up in their Hummer. And yes, you can bike to a hardware store and buy supplies —- my storage on my bike is more capable than that on my scooter. It is possible some of the outparcel buildings may have some bike parking as they are not yet detailed. Well, I take that back. Parcels B, C, D and E where the current Schnuck’s is located (yes four individual parcels) are not detailed. Parcel A, where homes once stood and where you now see the great mound of Carondelet, is highly detailed. And that is the scary part.

The 13,800sf strip building is facing north toward the park but it is not located along the Loughborough sidewalk where you might expect an urban building to be. No sir, it is set back as far as it can be on that parcel with 85+/- parking spaces between it and Loughborough. Cars coming and going to this section will use the main entrance of the center. A sidewalk is shown from Loughborough where the grass is now but connecting up to this strip center, not down to the main walk in front of Schnuck’s.

Let’s assume for a moment that the St. Louis Bread Co is planning to lease space in the strip portion on this parcel rather than construct a free-standing building with drive-thru in the lower section. And you are there having your “pick-two” lunch and decide to walk over the Schnuck’s to get a few things. Following their sidewalk plan you’d walk back up to Loughborough, cross the main drive to the east, head south along the sidewalk, cross back over the main drive again this time to the west, and then cross another drive before reaching the sidewalk heading to the Schnuck’s store. Or, you cut through the grass and save roughly 350ft in distance. If you are in a wheel chair you’ll be forced to take the longer route.

So maybe Loughborough Commons isn’t the lowest form of development. It is one tiny step above the lowest because of the yet to be built sidewalk on one side of only one entrance. Yet the strip center look facing Carondelet Park will be a horrible sight and perhaps keeps them at the lowest level regardless of the final tenant(s). I’ve made a formal request under Missouri’s Sunshine Law for copies of the site plan — once obtained I will publish them here for you to review and come to your own conclusions.

– Steve