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Dardenne Prairie officials seek input on land usage, Uptown District

What kind of community do Dardenne Prairie residents want?

Do they want planning that encourages development of a downtown area – a place to walk dogs, listen to the birds, and stop by the ice cream parlor? Do they want more soybean and corn fields and less asphalt, or less farm living and more retail stores nearby? Do they fear buying a nice house in which to raise their family only to have the property owner next door “put a Burger Chef there,” as Mayor David Zucker asked at the city’s June 17 Board of Aldermen meeting.

Questions like those are expected to be the focus of a community-wide discussion on the future of commercial and residential development within the city.

Alderman Kevin Klingerman (Ward 1) announced at the meeting that the city will review its comprehensive plan in general – and its “Uptown Zoning District” in particular – in coming months.

The city’s comprehensive plan serves as a guide for future land use, spells out possible zoning consideration and concerns, and sets policy on issues such as housing, parks, flood-prone areas and other issues. Within Dardenne Prairie’s plan is the Uptown District, which includes portions of the city along Interstate 64, Hwy. 364 and Feise Road.

The city’s planning and zoning commission plans to hold a public hearing at 7 p.m. on July 8  concerning a possible moratorium on all development proposals in the Uptown District. The board is expected to act on the moratorium at their July 15 meeting, which could be in effect until the review is finished.

Zucker said city officials are expected to spend the next year gathering input from citizens, property owners, business owners, developers, real estate professionals and other authorities to help the city’s planning and zoning commission and its board update its  comprehensive plan. That update will include considering any changes to the city’s zoning classifications and building codes.

The Uptown District, adopted in 2007, attempts to provide the town with a civic “core” – a kind of mixed-use downtown area that Dardenne Prairie historically has lacked. The town was first incorporated in 1981, and voters approved its incorporation as a fourth-class city in April 2001. The closest thing to a town center remains the area along Hanley Road that includes Immaculate Conception Church and city hall.

The Uptown District includes four sectors at the intersection of Post Road and Hwy. N, a “technology employment campus” adjacent to I-64, a “live-work” center along Feise Road, and a mixed use “community center” that includes a shopping center with national retailers.

The plan, which was developed with help from consulting firm Duany Plater-Zyberk, would offer a mix of parks, businesses and housing within walking and bicycling distance, in contrast to low density subdivisions.

“Changing national trends also indicate that there is a growing market for traditional neighborhood development and pedestrian-oriented town center design,” text from the plan states.

Dardenne Prairie’s uptown promised an “attractive alternative.” The problem is that this alternative hasn’t been attractive enough, Zucker and board members contend. Construction has begun on the St. Williams Apartments on Hanley Road and the Town Square Apartments but little else, Zucker said. He added that while the economy hasn’t been encouraging, development is occurring in St. Peters, O’Fallon and Lake Saint  Louis, “but it’s not been here.”

The city has to decide what it wants as an alternative, if any, Zucker said.

“If not this, then what?” he asked.

The challenge of coming up with a successful alternative is why Zucker expects the process to take a while. In fact, the review may not be finished before the city’s next election in April 2016, he said.

Some Dardenne Prairie residents have clashed with city officials over development proposals they fear may encroach on local subdivisions, particularly a 175-acre tract owned by the Cora Bopp Limited Partnership and an apartment complex proposal.

Former mayor Pam Fogarty has said that the new board will have to struggle with the issue of finding adequate revenue to fund city services – something that new development can provide, especially in the form of sales tax. And, Zucker has acknowledged that future revenue is a major concern.

“If we don’t get more sales tax, then property tax rates may go through the roof,” Zucker said.

Residents and officials will have to weigh quality of life issues along with how is the city going to pay its bills and meet demands for services in a community that has grown from 4,384 residents in 1990 to an estimated more than 12,000 population now.

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