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Dardenne Prairie looks toward future growth, easier access, better brand

On March 6, Dardenne Prairie Mayor David Zucker and Economic Development Coordinator Doug Potts hosted the year’s first Business Roundtable. Meeting in the Board of Aldermen chambers, Zucker unveiled the city’s Comprehensive Plan and Vision for 2019 and beyond.

Technology Drive corridor [John Tremmel photo]

Per the plan, the city will refocus its efforts on growing business in the Town Square area and along the Technology Drive corridor roughly between Post Road and Route 364. The top priority is to create direct access to those areas by adding new I-64 and Route 364 exit and entrance ramps, while preserving Technology Drive as a two-way street. The second priority is to create a better brand and easier identification of Dardenne Prairie amenities along Route N. The third priority is to better publicize city businesses to residents.

Updating the comprehensive plan

Last year, the Planning & Zoning Commission [P&Z] launched a thorough review of the city’s Comprehensive Plan, which was last updated in 2008 under the city’s previous administration. During the review process, all underlying assumptions were reassessed, taking into account changes and developments observed in St. Charles County and the greater St. Louis metro area. The first major item reviewed was the Uptown Zoning District. The district was created with the vision of mixed-use development similar to New Town and Streets of St. Charles. However, the only new developments in the Uptown Zoning District since its inception are St. William Senior Apartments and City Hall.

[John Tremmel photo]

Before embarking on a plan revision, the board of aldermen adopted changes to the city’s Urban Zoning District after concluding the “new urban development” concept is not well suited for Dardenne Prairie. As a result, P&Z has begun the process of rezoning the previous Uptown Zoning District to either commercial or residential, with existing structures grandfathered.

Under the refocused comprehensive plan, P&Z now will focus its attention on the Town Square area and the Technology Drive corridor, which have been identified as the most suitable areas in Dardenne Prairie for new and expanded retail and service businesses, which in turn will generate new jobs and tax revenue.

Other development trends such as senior villas and mixed-use retail and residential communities will be studied for longer-term consideration.

Creating easier access to businesses

According to Zucker, it is too difficult to enter Dardenne Prairie from either Interstate 64 or Route 364. No direct exits exist from those roads for motorists to enter the city’s main business areas. Essentially, drivers must exit in O’Fallon or Lake Saint Louis, then work their way along outer roads to get to Dardenne Prairie.

Working in cooperation with the city of O’Fallon, Dardenne Prairie participated in an engineering concept study for new exit and entrance ramps for I-64. The ones for Dardenne Prairie would be roughly halfway between Winghaven Boulevard and Route 364, connecting those new ramps to Technology Drive via a new roundabout. According to city officials, the  roundabout would retain Technology Drive as a two-way street and would provide easy access to new businesses developed along the Technology Drive corridor.

The study, which was jointly funded by the two cities, is nearing completion. It will be used as a base for a more detailed engineering study, required to support applications for federal, state and county funds to build the ramps and roundabout.

Using funds from the St. Charles County Road Board, Dardenne Prairie also is hiring an engineering firm to study the concept of building an interchange on Route 364 near Technology Drive. The intent is to provide drivers with easy access to and from Route 364 eastbound and westbound to the Town Square Shopping Center area and businesses along Technology Drive.

Along with the I-64 outer road project, the Route 364 interchange ranks as the city’s highest priority.

At the Roundtable, Zucker asked those assembled if they knew where 7805 Hwy. N is located.

No one knew. So Zucker revealed that it is the Marcus Theater in the Town Square Shopping Center, one of the city’s major attractions.

He said it is difficult to know where any business’ address is on Hwy. N, because it runs across all of St. Charles County. To that end, Zucker said Potts has suggested “re-branding” the stretch of Hwy. N that crosses through Dardenne Prairie. One suggestion for the rebranding is Town Square Boulevard, which is easily identifiable as within a certain area of Dardenne Prairie. Zucker said the city will work with businesses and residents who currently have a Hwy. N address to find the most effective new name for the road.

But a new, easily recognizable street address is only part of the business awareness challenge facing the city.

To introduce new residents to local businesses, Zucker and Potts described a plan tied to the health and occupancy inspections that must be completed for new resident occupancy. Under the plan, new residents will receive brochures and other materials listing and describing Dardenne Prairie businesses at the same time they receive their occupancy permit. To provide a sense of scale, Potts said that in 2018 the city had 247 such inspections, and that number has been steady for the past three years. With new subdivisions on the way, that number likely will increase going forward. The result of this initiative will be many more residents knowing about more businesses each year, Potts said.

Business Roundtable participants were enthusiastic and supportive of these refocused initiatives.

One participant, Alicia Alves, general manager of the JCPenney in Town Square, shared her own rebranding news.

JCPenney in Towne Square [John Tremmel photo]

“I know many people are worried and have asked about our store,” Alves said. “I have good news. Our Town Square store is not closing. We have no plans to go anywhere. Our store is doing quite well.”

As background, Alves explained that JCPenney has a new chief operating officer and has taken a fresh approach to its business model. She said the company has completed a thorough review of all of its stores, and “as many companies do annually, financial decisions were made in order to preserve company operations for the future; that included identifying and closing stores that were not profitable.

“We stopped trying to be Home Depot because that didn’t work. We stopped selling things such as appliances,” she said. “We are refocused on what has made us successful.”

Alves went on to say that today, the Town Square JCPenney store actually contains several things of which many customers might not be aware. Examples include a beauty salon and a Sephora cosmetics store. Additionally, Alves said, “We sell custom windows and we sell mattresses.”

She encouraged those gathered to come into the JCPenney and rediscover all of its offerings, including those along the sides and back of the store.

Celebrating new developments

While much of the Business Roundtable discussion focused on future actions, Zucker also shared news of four local developments already underway or anticipated to be underway soon.

Specifically, he addressed the Cordoba subdivision, the Inverness subdivision, the Sunterra Springs physical rehabilitation facility and five custom homes anticipated along Bates Road.

Payne Family Homes is building the new Cordoba subdivision at the Bryan Road exit off Route 364. The community includes 51 lots and has three display homes open for public inspection.

McKelvey Homes is the lead developer for the new Inverness subdivision, located off Feise Road near the intersection of Feise and Bryan roads. This land is a portion of what was the Bopp property. Last October, the board of aldermen unanimously approved a rezoning, planned unit development, and site plan involving 106.42 acres of the Bopp property, a 176-acre tract that was owned by the Cora Bopp Family Limited Partnership.

Lombardo Homes and Payne Family Homes also are partners in the subdivision that will feature 266 lots on serpentine streets rather than the usual grid format. Inverness has been designed with walking trails and green space built in. Street grading and construction is expected to begin later this spring.

Sunterra Springs of Dardenne Prairie is a 38-bed, short-term physical rehabilitation facility planned for a 5-acre parcel on Route N [north outer road of Route 364], near Monet Drive. In June 2018, city officials cleared the way for the $8.5 million facility near the Canvas Cove subdivision. The property originally sat in unincorporated St. Charles County largely surrounded by the city of Dardenne Prairie with the Canvas Cove subdivision to the north and west of it. The concerns of Canvas Cove residents motivated the city to put an involuntary annexation measure for the property on the November 2017 ballot. Annexing the property would give the city greater control of land use, building height, traffic and other matters that concerned neighboring residents.

Ultimately Dardenne Prairie voters approved an involuntary annexation of the property; however, Sunterra Springs of O’Fallon, the owner of the property, likewise requested a voluntary annexation of the property, which the board accepted. The voluntary annexation spared the city further expenses related to pursuing the involuntary annexation process in circuit court.

Working cooperatively with Canvas Cove residents, the developer and the city, the board of aldermen approved plans for an attractive building with extensive landscaping.

On Bates Road near the intersection of Henning and McCluer roads, Griffey Homes has submitted plans for five upscale custom homes. Planning & Zoning’s first review of those plans is anticipated in April.

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