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Paul McKee, Board Member of St. Charles-Based Pro-Sprawl “Urban Choice Coalition”

Paul McKee, the St. Charles developer and land baron behind the “Blairmont” project has continued to remain in the news of late. I ran across his name while researching the board members of a pro-sprawl, anti-city group based in St. Charles County. Mr. McKee is a board member of a group that interestingly is anti government intervention out in the virgin farmlands but is all in favor of intervention in the city.

The following is the mission statement for the Urban Choice Coalition in its entirety:

WE BELIEVE in the right of individuals to live wherever they choose and can afford. We reject the blanket condemnation of growth in suburban counties as being a root cause of urban decay and further reject the pejorative term “urban sprawl” to describe the healthy expansion of new communities.

WE BELIEVE that it is the right of individuals to select the state, city, county, neighborhood or development of their choice to call home and not be denied governmental services, grants or benefits, otherwise available on a national or statewide basis, because of their choice of residence.

It should not be the role of government to deny services to anyone based on their choices of where to live.

It should not be the role of government to set up artificial growth boundaries, outside of which citizens or communities receive any less governmental benefits.

It should not be the role of state or regional government planning agencies to erect growth boundaries and attempt to dictate or dissuade anyone from living where they choose.

WE FURTHER BELIEVE certain public policy issues should be resolved on a statewide or regional basis, but that those decisions concerning who and where to extend local utilities and roads, or to build new schools and local government facilities are, for the most part, best left to local decision makers elected by the people they represent and that these local decisions should not be turned over to or subject to, further review by statewide or regional planning commissions not elected by the people.

WE FAVOR enhancing the quality of life in the urban core and positive inducements to promote “city living” as the best means of attracting new residents and stabilizing older neighborhoods.

But presumably it should be the role of the state governent to enact massive tax breaks for one person, say Paul McKee, so that he may assemble large areas of land within a single municipality within the state. Of couse the legislation passed by the Missouri legislature isn’t limited to McKee’s well-known but unannounced housing project but the various requirements pretty much make it tailor made just for him.

It would seem to be that an individual property rights type person, one who opposes big government intervention in land planning matters, would also oppose such intervention everywhere. But to McKee and his co-sprawlers they want it all — the ability to rape open farmland with single-use projects which are auto dependent as well as receive huge tax breaks for assembling land (which happens to contain people & buildings) on the scale of urban renewal projects like Pruitt-Igoe.

Oh yes, I see, they believe we need to have “positive inducements” in order to attract people to this idea of “city living.” Why the quotes on city living McKee & Co? I know why, you don’t really understand city living. Or maybe you do? You are likely afraid of the whole idea of people enjoying dense and walkable mixed-use neighborhoods. Sure, you talk a nice game about the “rights of indiviuals” to live where they like but you are all afraid they will stop picking the auto-centric housing subdivisions you call “communities.” And face it boys, the sprawl neighorhoods you’ve littered on the landscape for years has absolutely nothing to do with free choice — government planning has created the zoning codes that mandate everything from the lot size to the street width.

Pro-sprawl zoning in the suburbs has limited choices  — you can’t just build a corner storefront with your living space above anywhere you think their might be demand.  Oh no, in their world we must divide everything up — no mixing of residential, retail and office.  They  don’t really support individualism or free thinking about land use, they like what exists and simply want nobody to stop them until they’ve managed to merge St. Louis with Columbia MO.

The only way New Town at St. Charles got built in the urban manner that it did (urban relative to lot sizes, setbacks, street widths, etc…) is that the City of St. Charles agreed to adopt DPZ’s smart code for New Town.  Without this new zoning, what we see in New Town would not have been legally allowed as the area was zoned for industrial uses.  So where are McKee & Co when it comes to the sprawl-mandated zoning that predominates St. Charles County?  Right behind it 100%!

Another section above is how they like decisions left to local decision makers.  I’m just guessing because that is cheaper for them than having to contribute to a bunch of regional and state officials.  This weekend’s Post-Dispatch story on McKee pointed out his contributions to Aldermanic President Lewis Reed and Mayor Francis Slay.  Of course, to get that new tax bill passed he had to drop some money around the state as well.

To see the list of directors for the Urban Choice Coalition don’t look for it on their website.  You might even get the impression from their anonymous site that they are ashamed of their views — not wanting to be associated with it.  I can’t say that I blame them really, I would not want to put my name on that BS either.  So for the board list I had to go to the Secretary of State’s records, click here for their last report.  Basically it is all the people that financially benefit from the planned sprawl of the countryside in St. Charles County, including engineers, road builders, and the Executive Director of the Home Builders Association of Greater St. Louis.

Everyone agrees that North St. Louis needs major new investment and infill construction.  I just don’t think McKee and his anti-city, pro-sprawl buddies are the right people for the job.


21st Ward: Unfinished Subdivision for Sale

This past April I did a post on the unfinished subdivision, Ville Phillips Estates, in the City’s 4th Ward. It was an interesting story involving multiple aldermen, a recall election and buyers stuck in the middle. It is my understanding newly elected Alderman Sam Moore intends to set things right at Ville Phillips Estates.

Here is the sequel, similar story but different setting and actors.


The subdivsion started by current and former 21st Alderman Bennice Jones King is called King’s Estates. City records show building permits issued in 1999 for new homes on each of the seven lots, none were started. In 2001 King was not re-elected, Melinda Long was instead voted into office. Apparently Long went on a quest to take properties up and down the 21st ward’s section Natural Bridge — enough of a plan to get her recalled just two years into her term (KSDK story on recall vote).


Bennice Jones King was re-elected and is the current aldermen. Additional city records show new building permits were issued for new homes in 2005. Three of the seven were built, two are sold and owner-occupied. A third, shown above at left, is completely finished but boarded up. MLS (Multiple Listing Service) records show Pyramid Realtors was the listing agent for the houses. However, Pyramid had nothing to do with the development and construction of the homes. The development and construction was by Mosley Construction, Inc of Kirkwood.

From Mosley’s website:

In our twenty five years in commercial construction and construction management, we have never failed to complete
an awarded contract. Our commitment to quality and hard work is what we deliver to our clients.

Boy, time to update that website.


In December 2006 UMB Community Development Corporation foreclosed on the properties. Mosley Construction has not returned my call. My email to Mosley Construction from 6/5/07 was returned, “user is over quota.” Twenty-first ward Alderman Bennice Jones King has not responded to my email, also from 6/5/07.

I also contacted real estate attorney Daniel J. Burke from the firm Armstrong Teasdale which handled the foreclosure on behalf of UMB Community Development Corp. Today I spoke with a representative from UMB, Mary Amburg, who called me back regarding my request to speak with someone about the disposition of the properties. Ms. Amburg indicated they are accepting bids for the sale of the four remaining lots and the one finished but unsold house, the offer deadline is 5pm tomorrow. When I asked for a website or other information to pass along she said none existed.


Homes across the street are more of what you’d expect to see in the city although this area does have newer homes from the 1940s-1960s.  Very few streets in this area have alleys with homes having front garages or rear garages accessed via front driveways.  Apparently this site was part of a dairy at one time. From the city’s development webpage on this project, last updated on 6/27/2005:

This former dairy location is being developed by the Mosley Group into five dwellings that will be for-sale, market rate homes. Construction of the new housing is expected to begin in 2004.

The land, as you might suspect, was city owned property.  This project received 10-year tax abatement and who knows how much additional subsidies.   The homes that sold and the last listing on the finished home were all around $200,000.  The street name is Kingston Court, click here for a map.


Access Changes at Loughborough Commons

This is a quick update post from my favorite auto-centric sprawl shopping center in the city, Loughborough Commons. As regular readers know, I’ve been making a big deal about the poor pedestrian access to the center. This update shows you some good and some not so good things at this time.


Above was the view looking north from the front of the Schnuck’s store on November 28, 2006. I thought they were going to provide some sort of access at that time but they did not. Note the customer walking against traffic in the main auto drive.

So I was very glad to see that in the last few days a temporary pedestrian walkway has been created between the main auto entrance and where another building is being construted (I believe for an office supply chain store). Though likely not ADA compliant this is a very nice but long overdue gesture on the part of developer DESCO.

In the back ground near the white van they’ve also started to excavate for more of the sidewalk on the east side of the main auto drive. Eventually these walkways should connect although the stop sign at this internal intersection has been removed for months now. We’ll see how the crossing gets marked and signed. Again, I am very glad to see they are taking steps to provide this access.

Shifting now out to the public street, the sidewalk situation along Loughborough has had ups and downs turing this project.


Above is a view from August 30th, 2006 looking westbound from the bus stop. You can see the sidewalk, the old auto entrance, now blocked, and the new auto entrance. In the background is the big pile-o-dirt where the recessed new strip center is being constructed today. Not exactly great but at least passable for most.


Sadly, for roughly nine months the public sidewalk along Loughborough (just east of the new auto entry) has been left in this condition (above). Missing curb, stagnant water, broken concrete, piece of plywood, etc. The benches for those using the bus were removed last year as well.


Close up view of the conditions, above. Note the changing water marks on the warning barriers. The lights have long stopped flashing.

Pedestrians heading to & from Loughborough Commons have managed to avoid the above mess by taking a short cut which you can see clearly in the grass. This, of course, does not help those using mobility aids such as wheelchairs and mobility scooters.

I recently pointed out these conditions to officials via email. Today crews are working to finish the curb and sidewalk in this area. But just as I think I am making progress something else happens. Ald. Matt Villa, of late, has been receptive to discussions about access and has been very responsive to my requests to push for completion of some of these area. DESCO may have had these things on their schedule for now anyway so it is hard to say if my complaining was effective, I like to think it helped grease the wheel.

The above is along Loughborough east of the main entrance, let’s now switch to west of the main entrance.


Above was the scene on August 30th, 2006. The old store had just closed and the new store opened but pedestrians coming from the west were forced into the street. Yes, I know a construction zone not finished – just hold on before you scroll down and yell at me in the comments!


A month later, on September 30, 2006 a new sidewalk was poured and the big pile of dirt was removed (to where the old store was located, now razed).
Skipping ahead to April 24, 2007 and switching directions in the same area:


Above we can see the sidewalk from September 2006 is still in place and being used — we have a mom and her child heading to the store and another customer just leaving.


However, by June 3, 2007 much of the sidewalk from September 2006 and the remaining old sidewalk had been removed, including the corner ramp at Grand. Here you can see a customer who had just left the Schnuck’s walking in the street. I’m actually glad to see the old sidewalk and corner ramp go away as they were in poor condition and should have been replaced back in September 2006. I don’t know the plan here but hopefully the sidewalk will be back in place soon so that more customers are not forced into an un-friendly street.

Earlier this year the auto drive was also restriped to change some lanes, I’ll spare you the pictures (for now).


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.