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Expert advises Dardenne Prairie on what may be needed in its revised comprehensive plan

Changes in development trends and the rise of Amazon are having an impact on how communities throughout the country and in St. Charles County will look in a few years.

This is what a local property broker told the Dardenne Prairie Board of Aldermen at its March 7 meeting. Dardenne Prairie is in the midst of revising the city’s comprehensive plan that will serve as a roadmap for future development and city officials are seeking input on development trends.

Debbie Haley, of Haley Properties, which deals in commercial and residential real estate in the county, provided input that suggests that previous assumptions about home development and local businesses are changing largely with the rise of the internet.

“Everyone knows that retail has changed, Amazon has taken over a lot of ordering”, Haley said. “That’s caused a lot of retail owners to think about what type of tenants they want.  They’ve become concerned about any tenant that sells a product or anything that can be bought online.

“They’re getting concerned about taking on those tenants, worried about what to do about some tenant finish or build out in their shopping centers and whether it’s worth it to expand or refinish retail space. If they [tenants] are not successful, they [retail owners] probably have to rip that all out.”

Haley said her company is “looking for service providers or something that can’t be purchased on the internet – chiropractor’s space or foot surgery and office spaces.”

“It’s starting to change the type of tenants coming into our shopping centers. Now, do they need the long, ‘bowling alley’ space that had been a major design for stores for years and years?” she asked.

Tenants are looking at what will draw shoppers, particularly new, young shoppers to commercial spaces, Haley said. They are asking her what to do with their properties. Her research suggests that tomorrow’s retail stores will become “living, breathing, physical portals for brands or product experiences” and that Amazon has become “the new Sears catalog.”

For the upcoming generation of shoppers, “it’s all about their experience and social environment, who their friends are, where they are going,” Haley said. “It’s not only about retail and shopping, that’s spilling over into where they want to live and what they want their community to look like.”

Having input from experts is important for the city because aldermen and Mayor David Zucker have questioned the previous direction of the city’s last comprehensive plan, saying it discouraged commercial and residential development. The Urban Zoning District, adopted in 2007, sought to encourage the development of a civic core, a mixed-use area that was seen as a downtown and included small retail stores, apartments and condominiums on small lots.

Before embarking on a plan revision, the board adopted changes to the city’s Urban Zoning District that were included in the current comprehensive plan. City officials have said a new plan was needed to guide what they see as continued growth within the city.

Among the questions being considered in the new plan are lot sizes and density of new residential developments and how to encourage commercial and retail development to provide needed sales tax revenue to the city. Haley said the old models are changing. She said some housing developers are looking to do “something different” to encourage buyers, sometimes that something is akin to the New Town development in St. Charles that tries to replicate a small town experience.

For those county municipalities that still require a certain percentage of property to be set aside for commercial or retail development, Haley said the contraction of retail in the last few years is making things difficult. They may not be able to find a commercial or retail client to fill the space.

A better answer for cities may be turning back to encouraging some form of residential development in order to collect some tax revenue rather than none. Much of the area zoned commercial in the county now may not be zoned correctly, Haley said.

She added that obtaining a different zoning to allow some residential development, such as apartments and condominiums, remains difficult.

Meanwhile, the city’s planning and zoning commission is expected to continue working on the comprehensive plan. A public discussion in June will gather input and a draft of the plan is scheduled for review in July followed by a public hearing in August. The commission may adopt the plan in August with the approval of a resolution.

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