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Chesterfield Valley May Add Shelters At Inaccessible MetroBus Stops

June 9, 2014 Accessibility, Featured, Planning & Design, Public Transit, Retail, St. Louis County, THF Realty Watch, Walkability Comments Off on Chesterfield Valley May Add Shelters At Inaccessible MetroBus Stops

I applaud Chesterfield’s continued support of pubic transportation. Last week I read about more potentially good news:

Chesterfield’s City Council on Monday night gave initial approval an cooperation agreement between the city, Metro, and the Chesterfield Valley Transportation Development District for of bus stop shelters in Chesterfield valley and in other areas of the city in which there are Metro bus routes. A final vote on the legislation is set for June 16. (stltoday)

Bus shelters are an improvement, but what about getting to/from the shelters?

One of five MetroBus stops along Chesterfield Airport Rd serving retail in the Chesterfield Valley, just a sign on the shoulder
One of five MetroBus stops along Chesterfield Airport Rd serving retail in the Chesterfield Valley, just a sign on the shoulder (below highway 40 sign). Click image for map.
The other side of the same stop shows the grass that must be crossed to/from the stop. A sidewalk exists at this spot but not all stops have a sidewalk nearby.
The other side of the same stop shows the grass that must be crossed to/from the stop. A sidewalk exists at this spot but not all stops have a sidewalk nearby.

I took these images in October when I checked out the area in a rental car. My conclusion was Chesterfield Valley is an ADA nightmare, taking MetroBus to shop wouldn’t be possible in a wheelchair. Given that everything was built since the big flood of 1993, it should be ADA-compliant.  I checked Chesterfield’s ADA Transition Plan, there’s no mention of their responsibility in the public right-of-way.

I’d love to meet former Chesterfield Mayor & Metro President John Nations and current mayor Bob Nation at one of these MetroBus stops to have them see the challenges the transit-using public, including the able-bodied, face in navigating this area on foot.

— Steve Patterson


THF Big Box vs. Planned Creve Coeur Downtown

This story caught my eye back in July:

THF Realty, a major developer of Walmarts and other big-box stores, is sniffing around the Orchard Lakes subdivision just north of Creve Coeur and near busy Olive Boulevard and Interstate 270.

A company representative met with subdivision trustees on June 3 to discuss a potential buyout of the entire subdivision, according to a subsequent letter from the trustees to subdivision homeowners. (STLToday)

Not surprising since vacant highway-adjacent parcels no longer exist. The subdivision of 256 single family homes is adjacent to I-270, extending more than half the distance from Olive to Page.

ABOVE: Blue box indicates Orchard Lakes, click to view map in Google Maps

THF Realty wants to make sure all those motorists driving on I-270 can see the generic big box development they are planning.

ABOVE: View of I-270 from Orchard Lakes subdivision

I knew where the subdivision was located but had never driven any of it’s streets, so last month I drove each street in the subdivision.

ABOVE: Orchard Lakes entrance sign

I grew up in a subdivision of similar vintage as Orchard Lakes. From a check of St. Louis County records these houses were built between 1961-66.   There is nothing particularly unique about the homes or the subdivision itself. With a few exceptions, all the homes looked well maintained. Many have newer windows and roofs.

The ranch houses of Orchard Lakes are typical of others from the period in the St. Louis region.

Few sidewalks exist in this subdivision, it’s not at all urban. Not rural either, decidedly suburban. There is no orchard, probably never was.

ABOVE: The only "lake" at Orchard Lakes is a decent pond at best.

There are lots of very nice mature trees though.

ABOVE: Leaving Orchard Lakes to the south the sign reads: Creve Coeur welcomes you.

Orchard Lakes is in unincorporated St. Louis County – barely. Creve Coeur has annexed commercial property along Olive Blvd but they didn’t want the adjacent residential areas. For a while now Creve Coeur has been planning to remake Olive & Ballas into their downtown.

In April 2002, the City of Creve Coeur adopted the Comprehensive Plan. Together, with the Pedestrian Plan and Design Guidelines, these plans set a standard for protecting community assets and strength- ening community character. Among the numerous recommendations made in the Comprehensive Plan are several for the Central Business District. Specifically, the Comprehensive Plan recommends the creation of a downtown (or town center) in the vicinity of the Olive-New Ballas intersection. (Plan PDF)

Orchard Lakes is just north of their proposed downtown/central business district:

The strong real estate market in Creve Coeur is anticipated to continue to be a basis for strengthening residential areas while at the same time stimulating major reinvestment in aging or underutilized commercial areas.

Clearly Creve Coeur’s planners didn’t envision the surrounding residential getting replaced by high traffic big box. To a degree this is what Creve Coeur gets for incorporating only the commercial areas along Olive, but not the adjacent residential to the north. Will be interesting to see if either gets built.

– Steve Patterson


What is an Accessible Route?

I often write about an “accessible route” (or lack thereof), but what constitutes an accessible route? In the days of walkable urbanism and streetcar suburbs you didn’t have wheelchair access but you also didn’t have multiple stores on 20+ acre sites connected only by large surface parking lots. In those days all were connected by this thing we call a sidewalk.

Decades now of building for the car and not humans has destroyed the ability for a pedestrian, disabled or not, to reach the main entry of many businesses from the public sidewalk without having to traverse space occupied by cars. However guidelines relating to the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) intended to make all future establishments reachable from the public sidewalk without having to walk though driveways where cars are coming and going.

The ADA itself just establishes the fundamental civil right to be granted full access to where the general public is permitted. However, through the “Access Board” the rules are established. The rules (guidelines) are known as ADAAG (pronounced A-Dag) — The ADA Guidelines for Accessible Buildings and Facilities. Enforcement of the ADA falls to the federal Department of Justice. However, municipalities, counties and states are free to adopt the ADAAG guidelines as part of their own requirements.

This brings me to my original question, what is an accessible route? For the answer we go to section 4.3 of ADAAG. Much of this section deals with halls and other routes. But one section, if enforced, would change the face of sprawl development:

4.3.2 Location.

(1) At least one accessible route within the boundary of the site shall be provided from public transportation stops, accessible parking, and accessible passenger loading zones, and public streets or sidewalks to the accessible building entrance they serve. The accessible route shall, to the maximum extent feasible, coincide with the route for the general public.

(2) At least one accessible route shall connect accessible buildings, facilities, elements, and spaces that are on the same site.

Developers & cities on which they work have down the route from accessible parking. They just tend to ignore the rest. But “and public streets or sidewalks” is pretty clear. In part #2 above the guidelines require all an accessible route between locations on the same site. This is really just basic sound planning but sadly it is ignored more often than followed.

I’ve shown you numerous examples before. The new Lowe’s in Loughborough Commons is not reachable along an accessible route from a public street. New free-standing Starbuck’s facilities in the area such as the one on Watson and the latest on Broadway lack accessible routes from the adjacent public sidewalk. The entire development at Gravois Plaza lacks an accessible route to any of the store entrances much less all of them. It is just as bad if not worse out in sprawl-ville. For example Brentwood Promenade is just west of a MetroLink station yet none of its stores are accessible from the public sidewalk and even once you are there going from one store to the next cannot be done on an accessible route. Sometimes it is a mixed bag. The new shopping center in Dardene Prairie has a connection from one public sidewalk to the Target & JCPenny but it then fails to connect to other buildings within the site. The typical fast food joint or strip center in an out parcel is often just an island in a sea of asphalt for cars.

If cities required developers, especially those receiving tax incentives, to follow the ‘accessible route’ requirement it would actually make the developments better for all the customers not just those who happen to be disabled. The parent with a five year old and a baby in a stroller could easily get from store A to store B without having to brave the dangers of taking their two offspring through a busy & crowded parking lot or having to load them back in the car to drive closer to a store within sight. Even if it is just a nice day and you’d rather walk than drive, following this guideline makes that a more pleasant possibility.

Compliance is not an impossibility but rather a shift in thinking away from the auto only status quo. Examples I’ve found include a former mall site in Bloomington-Normal,and an Arby’s on Lindell. One of the best examples is a mixed-use project in the bay area that I found in December 2006.

Walkable need not exclude cars.  Sadly so much time is spent by Architects and Civil Engineers figuring out traffic patterns into and out of shopping centers that pedestrian traffic concerns is short changed.  People will say that nobody walks in suburbia so why bother.  If we look deeper we can see that the design of the spaces is largely unfriendly to pedestrians so it is no wonder that nobody walks.  People do want to walk but they need connecting sidewalks to do so.


Slay Vetoes ‘CID’ for Lindell Market Place

April 10, 2008 THF Realty Watch 14 Comments

Per Joe Whittington of the Post-Dispatch: Mayor Slay vetoed a bill passed by the board of Aldermen that would have created a “CID” (Community Improvement District) for the Lindell Market Place strip center which includes a Schnuck’s store.  The center is owned and managed by THF Realty.  THF is owned by heirs of the Walton family.

The article wasn’t clear on the reasons but Ald Terry Kennedy (D-18) asked the Mayor to veto his own bill.  Maybe he realized using increased sales taxes to fund a face lift on the center owned by a wealthy developer wasn’t good public policy?

From THF’s website:

THF Realty owns and operates a large portfolio of neighborhood and community shopping centers, as well as several office buildings. We manage 100 properties comprising more than 20 million square feet of leaseable area in 23 states.

Wealthy owners with massive real estate holdings and they need sales taxes to fund a face lift on their own property?  Please.


Development Neanderthals Need to Know the Real Meaning of ‘CAVE’

If you read the propaganda in today’s St. Louis Business Journal on development you might think the term CAVE is “Citizens Against Virtually Everything.” Instead, it is actually Citizens Against Vulgar Environments. And vulgar is what we often get from the developers complaining in the journal.

In the face of hundreds of millions of dollars of redevelopment activity in the St. Louis area in recent years, a vehemence against commercial development has risen to new levels.

Just in the last month,

Paul McKee Jr. has been accused of planning to “bulldoze the ghetto,” and Chris Goodson’s site for a new development on downtown’s edge was picketed on the same day plans were unveiled. Gundaker Commercial Group’s Mike Hejna denounced the new force in development: “CAVE” men, or “Citizens Against Virtually Everything.”

Hejna made the comments to a group of real estate brokers Feb. 6 after detailing the several-years-long process of getting his and Duke Realty’s $750 million Premier 370 business park approved in St. Peters.

Read the above again, it is all about the money. Dollar signs are all they see. If millions of dollars are being “invested” it must therefore be good. The developers like McKee and Hejna can’t have a discussion about pedestrian-friendly design, planning for various modes of transportation, and sustainable development. Lisa Brown continues:

Anti-development sentiment has risen to a level beyond civil discourse, to a point where developers have received threats at their homes. And this opposition is harder to overcome with the Internet as a tool — it’s hard to fight an opponent you can’t see or identify.

“Because of the blogosphere, it exaggerates things,” said Stephen Acree, president of the Regional Housing and Community Development Alliance (RHCDA). “The folks that are most vocal on the blogs are not necessarily part of the neighborhood organizations that are working in the community to build it.”

Many of the blogs, such as mine, are well identified. In fact, we are often more identifiable than the Limited Liability Companies (LLCs) these developers employ to keep their identities hidden from public scrutiny. We wouldn’t want our prominent citizens being connected to a string of properties being left open to vandals, arsonists, homeless and the elements.

And Mr. Acree, you are correct. Many of the bloggers such as myself are not part of the neighborhood organizations. Why? As an example, when I tried to get my neighborhood organization to help save a historic building they refused to act because their funding is tied to the alderman that was in favor of demolition. This is St. Louis you know and politicos can be be spiteful if crossed. Acting outside the organization you can, in my view, have a bigger inpact. By the way, the building was saved (despite claims it could not) and is being converted to condos.

Fears over eminent domain and the proliferation of blogs on the Internet have created a difficult environment for developers, said Marian Nunn, chief operating officer of St. Louis-based THF Realty, one of the largest private commercial developers in the country.

“There seems to be heightened alertness on the part of the public when you need to tear anything down, even if it has to be torn down,” Nunn said. “The Internet has really created a whole new venue for people who are misinformed to communicate on a large scale. It’s very mean spirited, and they don’t have to do it face to face or face rebuttal.”

You want a face to face rebuttal? Name the time and place and I will be there. Shall we have that face to face meeting in the massive wasteland THF calls Maplewood Commons? Or we could debate the value of the development THF placed in the flood zone in the Chesterfield Valley? Talk about “mean spirited” — these developments are absolutely horrid in every possible category. Would I have stopped those projects dead in their tracks if I could have? Yes!

[Update 2/16/2007 @ 11:35am — I just left a voice message for Ms. Nunn inviting her and her developer friends to a face to face discussion on development practices. If she accepts, I will arrange for a meeting room at St. Louis University where the public can be invited.]

Trust me Ms. Nunn, I am not at all “misinformed” on development. It is the likes of you and others that are clearly misinformed about good design, sustainable development and anything remotely resembling a true walkable community. The interesting thing is most of you are all members of organizations such as the ULI (Urban Land Institute). You must get the monthly manazine and simply toss it in your lobby. I’ve got a suggestion — open it up and actually read the articles. Attend the workshops, not just sponsor them. Once you’ve managed that perhaps actually buying some of the books published by them and the APA (American Planning Assocaition). Same goes for Ms. Brown and the others at the Business Journal — who knows you might actually learn why that big ugly parking garage next to your office is not a good thing for the long term future of St. Louis.

Of course, these developers are not in it for the long haul. Sure, they may retain all their “projects” but that is all they are to them. They boil it down to so many leasable square feet and how much it cost to build. When it gets old they either sell it or return to the local government and hold out their hand for more tax money to retrofit the now-obsolete project.

Myself and others are not anti-commercial development as this article attempts to paint us. I happen to be very pro-development, but not any development just for the sake of development. Unlike these wealthy developers who are complaining about being challenged on their projects, some of us actually know the difference between good and bad design. We know what makes an area sustainable in the long term which is a different goal than short term profits. But the whole issue of good vs. bad development is not agreed upon by everyone so it is time to have that civilized discussion about what constitutes good design for our community.

This is where the developers and people like Mayor Slay’s staff (Barb Giesman & Jeff Rainford) go running. For decades development has happened in a vacuum, with little oversight into the process. Today, in 2007, the situation is different. People, believe it or not, actually care about their physical environment. Yes, we live in a city or suburb for a reason. I did not move to a city consisting of gridded urban streets to have it change into low density sprawl like Ballwin. If I would have wanted that I would have moved there. So we are standing up for what we want, the choice is yours. Either sit down at the table now and lets work through some good zoning for the city (tossing aside our 60-year old auto-centric codes) or be prepared to see an escalation in the level of opposition at every turn.

Jeff Rainford, the Mayor’s Chief of Staff:

We simply have to stand up to the very small number of people who are fighting progress for their own financial or political gain.

Boy, that is rich! Who is seeking financial or political gain here? The funny thing is any population gains the city might be seeing are from people who want to actually live in a city, not the city re-made into some bad suburb. Once again, politicians define “progress” as so many millions of dollars being spent. A wonderful dense urban neighborhood could be built at Pruitt-Igoe but if a medical waste facility were to cost another $10 million they’d probably consider that more progress and go that direction. We need people at the top that actually have a clue. After all, good urban design is not rocket science, even a caveman could do it.

We, the Citizens Against Vulgar Environments (CAVE), need to stand up against a very small number of small-minded people who are, through their prehistoric development practices and political positions, holding back the true potential of the City of St. Louis and the St. Louis Region.