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The Lights of Sprawl on I-44

Thursday morning I was driving West on I-44 heading to Oklahoma for the holiday weekend. I left my house just past 5am so it was still dark as I left the region. I was amazed at all the lights from people heading East from places such as Pacific, Washington, St. Clair, Eureka, Union, and Sullivan.

I was over an hour away from downtown before the traffic volume decreased to a “normal” level. Where were all these people going I wondered to myself. Why did they live so far away from their workplace? Could they not afford anything closer or was this by choice.

I often hear people cite that they don’t want to live on top of each other as a reason for living out in the “country.” But then I see the subdivisions where they live. The lots are wide and the houses far apart but to get that big front yard the houses are set far back. The back deck overlooks the main road or the neighbors deck. I have more privacy in my small backyard.

Another reason often given is the kids. But to pay for this dream home in the “country” the parents have to work which can mean long commutes. The people I saw will likely spend close to two hours driving each and every day. That is equal to 21 days a year gone! How is that good for the kiddies?

MetroLink planners have been looking at stretching lines out near the I-270 loop although the low densities in those places make it questionable. Yet along I-44 construction work continues to widen the highway further and further West. Too many people and vehicles for the existing roads yet nowhere near enough people to consider a commuter rail line.

I suppose until gas prices go up we’ll continue to see the car lights along I-44.

– Steve


Wildwood Should Retain What’s Left Of Its Rural Character

The Post-Dispatch has an interesting story in the paper titled; Suburbia, horse country collide.

It seems the Wildwood City Council is considering a measure to limit the size of outbuildings. This is not uncommon as most municipalities have such ordinances. However, most do not have such large parcels of land. A newly formed group, Wildwood Horse Owners & Acreage Association, or WHOA for short is fighting to maintain the rural rights to barns and stables:

The organization opposes a plan before the City Council tonight to limit the size of unattached “accessory” buildings to 1.5 percent of the square footage of a property parcel. It would set a maximum building size of 6,500 square feet without special City Hall permission.

The proposed legislation, bill #1245, can be read here. I can see how people might not want someone building a barn bigger than the house on a 3 acre lot. But on land of say 20 acres a large barn seems like a basic element. I support keeping the rural character of Wildwood and don’t care for all the new McMansion subdivisions.

Still, I’ve seen some awful new metal barns and indoor riding arenas. It is one thing to argue for the right to keep horses and quite another to put up some enormous boring beige metal box. Wildwood probably needs to do some combination of both, limit size for smaller parcels (under 3 acres) and create some design guidelines for structures on larger sections.

Riding lessons are still on my to-do list. Maybe for 2006…

– Steve


St. Louis’ THF Realty Creating Anti-Pedestrian Sprawl in Colorado

Billionaire & Wal-Mart heir Stan Kroenke’s development company, THF Realty, is continuing to create more sprawl across the land. This time they are taking 2,000 acres of Colorado farm land and converting it to a generic wasteland of big boxes, massive streets and boring office parks.

To appease critics the project includes an 80 acre wildlife area for eagles. The remaining project will be a devotion to the automobile. The most glaring example is the last sentence from the following from contractor RG Brinkman:

“The Buckley Road Street Improvement consists of constructing 2 miles of major arterial roadway to connect the north end of the Prairie Center site to the south end. Buckley Road is an essential connection of the new residential construction occurring south of the Prairie Center project. This new construction includes all necessary utilities and paving required to serve the retail portion of this site. A pedestrian underpass with a skylight also is being constructed to allow for access to the future school.

A pedestrian underpass for the kiddies!?! Wow, that sounds really appealing — a street so challenging to cross we must put pedestrians underground. I can’t imagine spending $500 million destroying 2,000 acres and at not at least making it so people can walk from place to place without having to duck under roadways.

I found this quite telling as well:

The mass grading for the Prairie Center project consists of the mass overlot grading for a 250 acre commercial section of property. Approximately 1.5 million cubic yards of material had to be moved in order to provide the required elevations for the building pads and parking lots for the Prairie Center project.

That is some serious earth moving. But when you are plopping down 100,000sf big boxes with parking you just can’t keep natural grades like so many small town main streets.

If such a development was created fifty years ago or even thirty years ago I might understand, most planners just didn’t know any better back then. But in the last 20 years we’ve seen the rise of alternatives to this commonplace sprawl in the form of New Urbanism. THF Realty must know of New Urbanism and the concepts of making developments accommodate both pedestrians and cars. It just seems they ignore good planning in favor of continuing the old ways.

Additional Information on Prairie Center:

  • St. Louis Business Journal
  • Prairie Center overview
  • New Home depot (w/pictures)
  • Additional Information on alternatives to THF’s typical sprawl:

  • NewUrbanism.org
  • Congress for the New Urbanism
  • New Urban News
  • Wikipedia encyclopedia
  • Sierra Club on sprawl
  • EPA on Smart Growth
  • Smart Growth America
  • Project for Public Spaces
  • Remember, “this land is our land.” We are the ones that should determine the fate of our built environment. Will it be sprawl as usual or will we return to places for people?

    – Steve


    Peak Tax Will Hit Before Peak Oil

    Regular reader “Brian” posted the following comment to a recent post:

    Before peak oil, however, there will be the phenomenon of “peak tax.” Oil demand will certainly outpace oil supply, but even sooner, fuel taxes will not be able to keep up with road building demand.

    Folks love new and maintained highways, but they don’t want higher taxes to pay for them. Even if gas prices stay around $2 per gallon in the near future, fuel tax receipts can’t keep up with the American appetite for more lane miles per person.


    I hadn’t really given much thought to the issue of transportation funding being tied to fuel taxes but he makes a very good point. Each year we keep building more new roads and bridges, meanwhile our aging roads and bridges need maintenance. Labor and material costs continue to rise. Yet funding for all this is dependent upon using more gasoline.

    As we encourage more people to walk, bike, scoot, take the bus or light rail, carpool or to drive more efficient vehicles the less money we are going to have for road building projects. Unless, of course, people start driving more miles. But the pattern is clear, fuel taxes are not keeping pace with road maintenance/building expenses. Something must change.

    Either the fuel tax rate must go up or expenses must go down, or some combination of both. Raising the tax rate seems difficult politically. So does lowering costs.

    Like today, the City of St. Louis will remain the most compact jurisdiction in the region in the year 2030. St. Louis County trails with the remaining counties at low densities. At one time these low density counties had the bulk of their population concentrated in cities such as East St. Louis IL, Belleville IL or Hillsboro MO. Along with the rest of the country these counties have spent the last 50+ years spreading themselves out in sprawling cul-de-sac subdivisions and strip centers anchored by big box developments.


    But let’s look at density from another perspective. I created the chart shown to the left from population and miles of roadway figures supplied by the East-West Gateway Council of Governments.

    More density means you have more people to pay for the infrastructure that is in place, roads in this case. As fuel use flattens out or decreases we’ll need to find other ways to tax ourselves to pay for our roads and bridges. The more people sharing the costs the better. The City of St. Louis, St. Louis County and parts of St. Clair County (East St. Louis) can increase population without the need to create new miles of roads. The other areas are adding population but also adding more and more miles of roads.

    This process of continuing to build more and more roads and expensive bridges at such low densities is not sustainable forever. The burden of maintaining this sprawl will be disastrous to our region. We should be investing today in repopulating the City of St. Louis, St. Louis County’s inner-ring suburbs and the close-in municipalities in metro East Illinois. Before everyone jumps to the comment section to tell me people want suburbia and an SUV, I just don’t believe it.

    Yes, on the surface that is certainly true. But the American public has been brainwashed over the last 50 years to the point most of our population lives in suburbia and they don’t know anything else. The success of New Urbanist developments, like New Town at St. Charles, across the country as well as renewed interest in cities says to me people are seeking alternatives. The process of vacating cities for sprawl was gradual and took a couple of generations.

    Government policy around housing, lending, and roads had much to do with the rise of suburbia. The question is will we as a region be wise enough to see the writing on the wall and change our policies around housing, lending and roads to return to a more sustainable development model? I certainly hope so.

    – Steve


    Olivette City Council to Consider Resolution to Limit Eminent Domain

    Olivette Missouri City Councilman Andrew Glassberg has introduced a resolution to limit eminent domain. The measure is on their City Council agenda Tuesday, November 22nd, at 7:30pm.

    Over the years Olivette has considered a number of big box proposals that would have likely required eminent domain. For various reasons, including citizen objection, these proposals have all failed. Glassberg’s resolution is not intended to block any current proposal but to be a pro-active step to help his city avoid the problems faced by other municipalities.

    The following is an introductory letter from Glassberg:

    City Manager McDowell, Mayor Zoole-Israeli, and Council colleagues:

    I hereby request that an agenda item considering the adoption of a resolution restricting the use of eminent domain be added to the City Council agenda for our November 22, 2005 meeting.

    In order to begin the discussion, I am introducing the resolution adopted by the City of Ellisville, and attaching a copy to this email. Obviously, it is my intention to substitute “Olivette” for any reference to “Ellisville.” I request that the attached Ellisville resolution be included with the agenda item in next week’s Council packet.

    I am introducing this particular version because it was specifically recommended by the Olivette-Creve Coeur Chamber of Commerce to the City of Creve Coeur. I also like the fact that it references the use of eminent domain over both residential and commercial properties in a way that both protects property rights and facilitates development.

    One item missing from the Ellisville ordinance is any provision regarding the use of eminent domain allowing its use to prevent a small number of holdouts from stopping an otherwise worthwhile project. While I will want to introduce language to that effect I believe it would be useful to hold a discussion regarding the specifics of what such language should look like.

    Here is the text of a resolution unanimously passed by the Ellisville City Council in August:



    WHEREAS, the City Council desires to express its intention that the use of the power of eminent domain with regard to residential properties for the benefit of a private developer solely for a private economic development project having no other public purpose is contrary to principles of sound government; and

    WHEREAS, to reassure the residents of Ellisville of the City Council’s position in this regard, we put forth our intention not to authorize the use of eminent domain by a private developer solely for a private economic development project having no other public purpose in a residentially zoned area. The city reserves the right to use eminent domain for those traditional areas in which eminent domain has always been used such as building of roads, development of parks and other public uses; and

    WHEREAS, before authorizing the use of eminent domain in connection with any redevelopment project in a commercial or industrial zoning district, the city will first seek the partnership of local interest in areas contemplated for redevelopment and will proceed only with the concurrence of substantial numbers of the affected parties or if necessary to eliminate conditions that the City Council considers to be harmful to the public welfare; and

    WHEREAS, while no existing Requests For Proposals state that the City will authorize the use of eminent domain, nonetheless any such Request for Proposal shall be deemed amended to exclude use of eminent domain except as stated herein; and

    WHEREAS, the city has not previously used and will not in the future use its power of eminent domain to blight residential property solely for private economic development purposes.


    SECTION 1: The City Council will not grant a private developer the use of eminent domain in a residential district solely for a private economic development project having no other public purpose as set out above.

    SECTION 2: The City Council will consider amending the Ellisville Home Rule Charter to protect the private property rights of all Ellisville residents.

    SECTION 3: The City Council pledges to partner with our State Representatives to seek equitable legislation that would create a level playing field for all Missouri property owners.


    Eminent domain is the big issue of 2005 with valid points on all sides of the debate. Although it might be nice to try, completely eliminating eminent domain as a tool for development probably isn’t realistic or even advisable. Similarly, allowing eminent domain (or just the threat of eminent domain) to continue unchecked is unjust.

    Many people, when faced with the loss of their home and/or business, simply resolve themselves they are the little guy and can’t win a fight. Therefore, most agree to sell without the actual use of eminent domain — the threat is sufficient enough. In most municipalities the process starts with blighting an area — setting the stage for eminent domain if it comes to that. So the real culprit is not eminent domain but the blighting process which leads to the threat of eminent domain.

    The Olivette City Council meeting is located at 9473 Olive Boulevard (map). The meeting is open to the general public, including non-residents.

    – Steve