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Schnuck’s Opens in Loughborough Commons, Pedestrians Unwelcomed.

IMG_4701.jpgYesterday I brought you an image from the new Loughborough entrance to Loughborough Commons. I showed how no provisions were being made to allow people to walk from the public sidewalk along the street to the front door of the new Schnucks, the Lowe’s and other smaller retail buildings yet to be constructed.

Apparently Ald. Villa is taking exception to my statements and has indicated, to others, pedestrian access will be provided. He also suggested people should question where they get their information, implying I’m misleading the facts. Of course, my photos do a good job of documenting the reality of what is built and you are also free to attempt to walk to the Schnuck’s yourself. In fact, I may just organize such an event — walking to the neighborhood grocery store.

But, I want to share a few more images that I took today during the grand opening. First, the image at right is the bottom of the hill as you enter from Loughborough. As you can see, the grass is planted and no curb cuts are in place. If they come back and remove grass and add curb cuts for sidewalks it will only be as an afterthought.

To Matt Villa and/or the Schnuck’s family:
Show me the drawings indicating your plans for pedestrian access. I will gladly publish them here for all to see.

The right hand drive coming into Loughborough Commons is for trucks to access the docks for the Schnuck’s store. Among the pictures on Flickr you can see this area.

… Continue Reading


Loughborough Commons Fails to Accommodate Pedestrians

No real surprise but the sprawl-centric new shopping center being constructed in the City of St. Louis lacks pedestrian connections. Loughborough Commons is the lowest form of development, suitable only for an auto-only exurb. Such clearly anti-urban development has no place in an established core of a region where pedestrians do exist.

And before the sprawl apologists tell me we need the sales tax revenue that Lowe’s and Schnuck’s will generate please read carefully:

It is entirely possible to construct sidewalks in and around big box stores. The big box and pedestrian access are not mutually exclusive. Just because you may not walk to the store does not mean we should prevent, by design, others from doing so. Got it?

But to developers like Desco the concept of pedestrians is completely foreign. Desco, if you will recall, is one of the developers that razed the historic Century Building in downtown St. Louis to construct a parking garage next door to the Old Post Office building. The argument was people using the Old Post Office needed an adjacent parking garage — they could not walk a block or two from numerous other garages or MetroLink. And if you take a look at many of the Schnuck’s they’ve built all over the region you’ll see pretty much the same thing — zero planning for pedestrians.

Using the same decades-old development formula in various sprawl areas is hard to question. With the various areas of suburbia being so isolated from each other by design it is virtually impossible to walk anywhere except in circles within your gated subdivision. But more urban areas are different. And this is another of those places where people get confused. Urban does not necessarily mean 6-story buildings in a gritty neighborhood. Urban generally means a grid pattern of interconnected streets that affords a high level of pedestrian access and multiple route choices. In this regard, much of suburban communities such as Ferguson, Kirkwood, Webster Groves, Maplewood, Alton, Edwardsville and Belleville are “urban.” While technically suburbs they do not, at least in their older areas, invoke the images of suburbia/sprawl. Downtown Webster Groves is more urban than Chesterfield.

So, with older urban municipalities such as Maplewood around the city I personally expect the entire City of St. Louis to be urban in design. Again, this does not mean everything should be high-density housing. Many areas can and should remain as single family and 2-family housing types. The area adjacent to Loughborough Commons is primarily single family homes but it is still very urban in nature — gridded streets that are all connected and walkable (the complete opposite of sprawl which has few access points and numerous streets that end).

Within a mile radius of Loughborough Commons we have over 7,000 households and nearly 17,000 people. That is quite urban relative to our sprawl areas. Granted, people aren’t to walk a mile but they will walk a quarter of a mile. That would still place several thousand people within walking distance of the development. Do we, as a society, really expect someone that can see the project to get in their car and drive to it?

So am I just bitching after the fact? Well, yes and no. I bitched beforehand as well. In fact, I attended and spoke out at the public meeting held on January 25, 2005. This meeting was a bit of a farce. The intention was not to get feedback to create a better project but a chance for Desco and Ald. Villa to say they went to the public. It was a cover your ass meeting. In addition to speaking publicly at the meeting I also talked one on one with Ald Villa and with a representative from Desco’s engineering consultant. Disingenuous claims of “we can’t show sidewalks at this scale of drawing” were said to give me the brush off. However, as I pointed out, they were able to show the thickness of the curb and parking lot strips — they could show sidewalks. The real issue is they didn’t plan any sidewalks. None. Zip. Nada. Not even along Loughborough and Grand where they would be removing existing sidewalks!

Again, this is the lowest form of design. The only way to make it any lower would be if the buildings were constructed only out of concrete blocks or faced with vinyl siding. Desco is basically scraping the bottom of the urban design barrel with Loughborough Commons. Are we as a city and region that desperate for new construction that we are not willing to insist that developers raise their standards just a tad? I’m not saying require a high-density mixed-used project (although that would have been great) but simply to allow a neighbor to walk from their home to the grocery store on a sidewalk. Is that really too much to require? Instead, this neighbor seeking a few items will either have to drive or walk in grass or in the entrances used by cars, SUVS and trucks. Schnuck’s claims to be the friendliest stores in town but walking to them is anything but friendly.

Loughborough Commons --- Main EntranceThis view is looking south from the new main entrance on Loughborough. The new Schnuck’s is down the hill but as you can see they’ve already planted grass next to the entrance. Pedestrians must walk in the drive or on the grass.

The curb cut does show provision for a sidewalk along Loughborough, something not even shown on their original drawings in January 2005. I suppose they assume that people just wander around on main streets but don’t actually walk to destinations such as a friendly neighborhood grocery store.

Loughborough Commons --- Main EntranceTurning to the west we see the curb cut in the foreground for the sidewalk running along Loughborough although at this point it is not clear which side of the massive traffic signal controller the sidewalk will take. My hope is the sidewalk will go to the left so that it is set back from the curb and traffic. This would allow for street trees to be planted, although developments like this usually don’t like trees as they tend to block views of the buildings. The curve of the plantings suggests the sidewalk will be pushed out toward the street and to the right of the traffic control device.

The massive pile of dirt is where homes once stood. I certainly hope a stack of dirt is not the highest and best use of this land.

Loughborough Commons --- Grand Ave EntranceThis is a view of the other entrance to the project, off of South Grand. It should be noted that Grand south of the park and Loughborough is a very residential street — much different than most of Grand.

This is the most convenient entrance to the hundreds of people living immediately adjacent to this project and as you can see the Lowe’s is actually quite close so walking is not unreasonable. However, no provisions have been made for any pedestrians at this entrance — no curb cuts in the new entrance. No sidewalks for pedestrians.

We as a city should be embarrassed that we’ve allowed such a project to be built without even minimal (token) accommodations for pedestrian access. If we want to be a strong urban core city we’ve got to start acting like it at some point.

Prior Posts:

January 25, 2005 (Initial Public Meeting)
June 4, 2005 (Construction Begins)
September 27, 2005 (Alternate Development from Atlanta)
October 4, 2005 (A more Urban Lowe’s with rooftop parking)

– Steve


First Look at Hanley Station

As the new MetroLink light rail line to Shrewsbury (aka Cross County extension) is set to open in less than a week I stopped by the new station near Hanley & Eager (map). Oh boy, what a mess that area is. Traffic is horrible and the adjacent developments are sorely lacking good pedestrian connections. But, this post is not about the immediate station but a new project just a hop, skip and 4/10ths of a mile walk to the South. From the project’s website:

Hanley Station is a mixed-use, urban community development located in the heart of Brentwood, Missouri. Hanley Station will feature 150 contemporary condominiums, a 123 room extended stay hotel, 3 free-standing restaurant venues and 11,000 square feet for lifestyle/boutique shopping. The development is anchored by two 5 story parking garages which provide direct, multi-level, covered access to all residents. Hanley Station subtlety offers its residents and patrons a true taste of “new urbanism”, yet maintains the thick tradition of one of St. Louis’ most sought after neighborhoods.

“Urban community?” Parking garages serve as anchors? A “true taste” of New Urbanism? Hmmm, I wish they had elaborated on the “thick tradition” of the neighborhood! Sadly I don’t think the marketing person that wrote this piece has any clue what defines an urban area, what it takes to comprise a community and what new urbanism is really about.

That all being said, the project is not bad for what it really is — some high-end condos (based on cost per square foot) with some adjacent restaurant and retail space. Unlike other projects in the area, the developers are willing to mix some uses and pack quite a bit into the relatively smallish site. They’ve also warmed my heart by extending a public street from the Hanley Industrial Park through their site out to Hanley.

Hanley Station - site

The Site:

Looking at the image to the right, North is to the top. The diagonal white line represents the new MetroLink rail line that is set to open this coming weekend. The actual station is just beyond the top of the image. And that distance, a mere 4/10ths of a mile per the sales staff, is the problem with this development. Actually, the development isn’t really at fault — the site is where it is relative to the new station through no fault of the developer. The problem is that people here will be adjacent to a wonderful mass transit system that can quickly get them to Clayton, the Loop, the Airport (Lambert or Midway in Illinois), downtown and beyond yet the ability to walk there is severely limited.

The developer is doing the right thing by making the site more dense and thus quasi-urban. They could very well have said the area as hopelessly devoted to the car and built another strip center. I’m thankful they did not as this is truly the first sign of hope in the Hanley/Eager area.

Over the next 10-20 years look for this entire area around this station to be completely transformed to the point you’d have a hard time knowing the area if you had been away. In 20 years this Hanley Station project, a pioneer in the area today, will look a bit lacking in how it relates to the street and public sidewalk compared to the newer projects that will get built.

In the meantime walking to Dierbergs, Trader Joes, Target, Best Buy or the MetroLink station are all a chore. The distance is very little but the environment does its best to say, “get in your car and drive.” Later this week I’m going to do a station by station review.

Hanley Station - concept

The Project:

Again, I think they’ve done a great job getting quite a bit onto the site. The two parking garages, each with room for 500 cars, are reasonably well hidden from the public streets. The 150 condos each have a balcony which will add interest to the area as people decorate these with furnishings and plants. People on their balconies will further animate the area.

Problems evident in this drawing are numerous. First, it is all very beige. However, one of the three restaurant spaces will be a colorful Houlihan’s which is relocating to this site from the nearby Galleria mall. The development has sidewalks but they appear like most suburban sidewalks do, as obligatory afterthoughts. They are indicating some relationship between the restaurant entrances and the main sidewalk along Hanley but we’ll see how that plays out in reality vs. colored pencil. The sidewalks themselves are an extension of the curb — pushed up against the street. Lack of on-street parking, both on Hanley and apparently the new Strassner, and a lack of street trees make the sidewalks the least hospitable they could possibly be. This is just one step above not having sidewalks at all.

Currently the two parking garages and the new street Strassner are under construction. While I could make some comment about the garages being built first this actually makes sense from a construction phasing perspective — on such a tight site with the garages in back they really must be built first. These will provide parking for all the trades on the remaining project.

The developer, MLP Investments, was also responsible for the mixed-use Kirkwood Station project that replaced the old Target in downtown Kirkwood. I reviewed Kirkwood Station as one of my very first blog posts back on October 31, 2004. Click here to view that post.

With construction just getting started I hope they will pay more attention to the layout of the sidewalks and consider the placement of street trees, guest bike racks, pedestrian crossings and such. MLP wants to do things right and relative to say THF Realty that did the grotesque Wal-Mart/Sam’s/Lowe’s across Hanley I’d say they are on the right track. I’m happy when I see developers heading toward a more urban model even when not required by code to do so. When they are done I’ll take another look and see how it went.

For information on the project see www.hanleystation.com.

– Steve


Placing Your Eggs In One Heavily Leveraged Basket

St. Louis Mills mall in St. Louis County had big promises for the City of Hazelwood a few years ago (full story):

In the past, retail establishments have not been a major part of Hazelwood’s economy. But that’s about to change in a big way. Mall developer Mills Corp. recently broke ground for a $250 million shopping center dubbed St. Louis Mills. The 1.2 million-square-foot mall will include 12 anchor stores. Hazelwood city leaders approved $18.7 million in tax increment financing for the project.

The mall, being constructed on part of a Missouri River floodplain, will be anchored by high-end outlet stores, led by the St. Louis area’s first OFF 5th—the outlet version of Saks Fifth Avenue.

Rebecca Zoll, executive director of North County Inc., sees the Mills development as an epic event for the region, perhaps permanently changing its economic make-up and the perceptions of outsiders.

“This will bring in people from around the Midwest, and their dollars will go back into our community,” Zoll says. “There’s been some concern about how the mall will affect local business, but I think it will only help.”

First, I do believe that a mall can change “perceptions of outsiders” but certainly not in the positive. If a mall is an “epic event” the region is worse off than I previously thought. Maybe if you live in Wentzville the idea of getting in the minivan and driving in bumper to bumper traffic on the interstate to shop in generic stores around a food court this is a cool thing.

Aside from the many issues I have with indoor malls and building on a flood plain, a big concern is the financial health of the companies on which municipalities are so dependent. These great saviors of local economies are often teetering on the edge of bankruptcy.

The St. Louis Business Journal is reporting Mills Co, owner of St. Louis Mills, has fired its President. They appear to have a few issues to work out besides getting a new executive:

Mills said Aug. 11 that it would sell its stakes in three shopping centers based outside the U.S. to a Canadian real estate firm for $981 million to help pay off debt.

The company said that Ernst & Young audit reports for 2005 are likely to contain a paragraph saying “there is substantial doubt” about Mill’s ability to continue as a going concern because of deadlines for repaying $2 billion in debt.

Mills is restating its financial reports for the years 2000 through 2005 because of accounting errors, and those errors are expected to reduce net income by $210 million for 2003, 2004 and the first nine months of last year, according to a recent regulatory filing.

St. Louis Mills is among 42 properties owned by Mills Corp.

Hazelwood gave a $18.7 million TIF to a company that is now $2 billion in debt and possibly about to default. Wow, two billion. So creditors will likely take over St. Louis Mills and they will try to sell it. Just a guess but I’m betting it will sell for less than its original $250 million price tag. As long as the registers keep ringing Hazelwood should OK. If stores get a sense things will not be fine with new owners you might see some abandon ship.

Hazelwood is not alone, from a recent Post-Dispatch article:

Now Rock Hill is struggling to survive financially while banking its future on an expansive Novus development at the corner of Manchester and McKnight roads.

Local developer Novus, you may recall, was supposed to do a massive project in Sunset Hills but ran into financing issues for the project last year. From the St. Louis Business Journal:

It’s been about a year since Novus Cos.’ planned $184 million Sunset Hills lifestyle center deal fell apart. City officials and property owners within the development area are working to move on, but Novus’ Jonathan Browne apparently is not.

Browne, president of Novus, made a plea to Sunset Hills’ new mayor, John Hunzeker, June 26 to resurrect the project that has become a poster child for eminent domain reform across the country. In attendance at the one-hour meeting in the mayor’s office were Browne, Hunzeker and City Clerk Laura Rider.

All this to fight over a relatively fixed amount of sales tax revenue. The Sunset Hills project would have relocated a Famous-Barr store from Crestwood Mall (in Crestwood) to Sunset Hills. Good for one municipality but bad for the adjacent community. Some will argue the construction creates jobs but where does that money come from? The overall sales taxes collected in the region are the same yet $184 million would have been spent to get there. Well, this money comes in the form of reduced property values from other commercial properties that used to collect this sales tax, debt carried by the developer and tax incentives. At some point we must realize we cannot keep spending billions of dollars to build newer shopping developments in a region with relatively flat growth. It just doesn’t work.

– Steve


Loughborough Commons, Eminent Domain and Fairness

Today I was have a “conversation” about Loughborough Commons with another REALTOR® that lives and works in my area. Quick background, the Schnuck’s grocery store wanted to build a new building and create a big shopping center and in the process 12+ homes were bought out and razed. A single family held out — not wanting to move.

This is where our conversation turned to disagreement. We were discussing value — fair market value. He felt it was “unfair” of the family to hold out for a higher price on their family home than what was the “market” value prior to redevelopment and rezoning of the land. I countered that it was unfair they were being forced to sell something they didn’t wish to sell. Furthermore, I stated I thought it was immoral that Desco, Ald. Villa and the City of St. Louis forced this situation upon these families for an outparcel.

When a client comes to me and wants to sell their property my job is to help determine the best price for them relative to their debt, how quickly they wish to sell and what the market will bear. Some property is in more demand than others and prices generally reflect that. If you buy all the homes around me and then want mine I am going to be wise and recognize the value just went up. Developers know the “value” of that land is considerably higher than if located in an area not being targeted for redevelopment.

Developers often will offer 25% more or so above the normal residential assessed value but often this just approaches the true market value. They’ll use scare tactic arguments to suggest all development will stop if we try to curtail these practices but little evidence if offered to back up these claims.

Taking someone’s occupied personal home is unjustifiable. Sure, if it is falling in and they’ve been dragged through every housing court in town I’ll grant you an exception. But in terms of fairness I think preference should be given to home owners, not developers. I always wonder about the people that advocate for developer’s rights in such terms — how they’d feel if it were actually their home being threatened.

Fair is relative but what is fair to me is allow people to not fear their homes being taken away from them at the whim of a developer or sales tax starved municipality.

– Steve