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New report helps Dardenne Prairie examine its growth potential

An evaluation of the development potential for portions of Dardenne Prairie is presenting some mixed signals as city officials examine possible changes to the city’s comprehensive plan.

A report by PGAV Planners of St. Louis suggests there are opportunities for retail development in the city, but Dardenne Prairie may have to tweak its zoning to attract developers. At the same time, the report notes that the city faces competition from nearby cities and the outlet malls along Interstate 64 in Chesterfield, as well as challenges from a limited market for new office space.

“There is definitely an opportunity for certain retailers in this market,” said Andrew Struckhoff, associate director for PGAV. “But there doesn’t appear to be an opportunity for speculative office space.”

The city hired PGAV as part of an ongoing examination of the city’s comprehensive plan, which serves as a guide for future land use, spells out possible zoning in specific portions of the city and sets policy on issues such as housing, parks, flood-prone areas and other issues.

Within the plan is the city’s “Uptown Zoning District,” which includes areas along I-64, Route 364 and Feise Road. The district, adopted in 2007, is an attempt to provide the city with a civic core – a kind of mixed-use area that includes creating a downtown area.

Last year, Mayor David Zucker and the city’s aldermen said they would review the plan, even suggesting a moratorium on new development in the district while they did so. The district to date has not sparked new commercial development that would provide needed sales tax revenue  – a major source of revenue for Dardenne Prairie – to the city.

“That was kind of a clue from the universe that maybe we ought to take a hard look at the zoning classification and building code associated with it,” Zucker told the city’s Board of Aldermen at a work session on Jan. 6 during which the PGAV’s report was discussed. “Understanding that it wasn’t working was the easy part of that task. Figuring out where to go from here was the challenge and we all recognized that we needed some expertise.”

PGAV’s report suggests there is a potential for Dardenne Prairie to support neighborhood-scale development such as grocery stores, small shops such as florists and bakeries, hardware stores and restaurants within a one-mile radius of the intersection of Feise and Bryan roads. The report suggests that there is a “retail gap” or unmet retail need of nearly $60 million in this area.

The report also suggests that while there is more competition from existing retailers, there still is unmet retail demand in areas within a three- and five-mile radius of Feise and Bryan roads. But St. Charles County is not among the most active markets in the region for developing office space, particularly for developers who build speculative developments designed to attract tenants, the report adds.

Continuing population and housing growth in the county may affect retail and commercial office development. John W. Brancaglione, vice president for PGAV, told the aldermen that housing activity may continue to rise. However, he added: “At the same time, no one is expecting that kind of high-energy, hot housing market we saw before the recession.”

He said the city may have to adjust its comprehensive plan to allow more flexibility to attract “ground floor retailers,” smaller businesses or office space to the downtown area because pure town center developments have failed in the St. Louis region.

Development activity may not occur without the draw of larger retail development in areas to the north, particularly a 175-acre tract known as the Bopp property, Brancaglione said. He added that areas along I-64 may not attract retail development. Again, housing activity may be the key, Brancaglione said.

“It’s all driven by rooftops,” Brancaglione said. “As housing develops, that causes these folks on the retail side of the equation to take a whole another look at the territory.”

Brancaglione said the city should consider a multi-family component in their planning. Younger workers in companies driving the economy have a different perspective on their own housing.

“These folks don’t want a house, they want a really nice apartment,” he said.

The PGAV report also found that:

• Sales of retailers in the city, particularly larger stores, are down in the last 12 months. Average retail rents per square foot in the county are below the national average.

• Nearby retail developments in Lake Saint Louis are struggling, particularly at The Meadows at Lake Saint Louis shopping center, with high vacancy rates.

• Wentzville’s growing retail development has pulled sales from the Dardenne and O’Fallon areas.

• The outlet malls in Chesterfield, particularly the Premium Outlets facility, is impacting retail sales in the county. Premium Outlets is moving ahead with plans to add another 70,000 square feet of space.

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