Sunnen Station Phase II to Add Apartments, Another Car Dealership in Maplewood

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Let’s start with the good news. The Sunnen Station development appears nearer to achieving its mixed-use aspirations, and nearer to offering some semblance of transit-oriented design. A plan approved by the City of Maplewood would introduce a total of 232 apartments with 58 1BR and 174 2BR units with monthly rents from $1,000 to $1,600. And it’s possible more residential, including a retirement community, could be coming.

But the current state of the site is awful. It is truly difficult to conceive of a worse land use plan adjacent to a light rail transit line: a car dealership. And if the irony of transit-oriented design in St. Louis weren’t yet dead, we now learn via 40 South News that a second car dealership is planned for the Sunnen Station site. Of course, these are oriented to take advantage of high-traffic Hanley, a major north-south county thoroughfare.

This week, Maplewood’s Design & Review Board will consider the demolition of an existing building at 3000 S. Hanley Road, and design approval of a new Porsche dealership on the site. Maplewood will also consider 100% abatement for the first 10 years, and 50% for the next five years on all of the 21-acre Phase II.

{3000 S. Hanley Road would be replaced by a new Porsche dealership}

We’ve panned the Sunnen Station development more than once on nextSTL. The short of it is that the MetroLink Blue Line Sunnen Station opened in 2006 (the Maplewood Station sits a short distance to the north). Since then, dozens of adjacent homes and apartments were demolished, clearing the site. Today, nine years later, only a 4.8-acre Mini car dealership with 420 parking spaces has been built on the 30-acre the site.

Sunnen Station development - TOD St. Louis{a 2012 master plan for Sunnen Station – Mini car dealership at right}

Mini car dealership at Sunnen Station - St. Louis, MO{a view of the Mini dealership from the light rail station}

Mini car dealership at Sunnen Station - St. Louis, MO{a view of the light rail station from the Mini dealership}

Development on this scale is difficult to pull off. In a perfect world, Maplewood would have re-zoned the land within a short walk of MetroLink Station to require more dense development. In fact, this should really be a requirement of any municipality for any future rail expansion. It’s a short, if unpleasant, walk to downtown Maplewood from the site. With a little foresight, Sunnen Station could have been a new Maplewood neighborhood.

It would appear that the mantle of urbanizing inner ring suburb will remain up for grabs in St. Louis. Sadly, Maplewood has done nothing to connect its walkable downtown to transit. The city has allowed the major intersection near its high school to become more dangerous, and at the same time leaving behind a vacant gas station. Oh, and its budget may take a hit from losing the big box retail wars with neighboring municipalities.

Sunnen Station - Richmond Heights, MO

Sunnen Station proposal - St. Louis, MO

Sunnen Station proposal - St. Louis, MO

Sunnen Station proposal - St. Louis, MO

Sunnen Station proposal - St. Louis, MO

Sunnen Corporation, at the north end of the development site (7910 Manchester Roard, owns the development site and completed clearance of existing homes after aggregating the site through purchases. Cozad Commercial Real Estate is the site developer. The site plan has been through several revisions, with an early vision showing more density, including hotel development.

So far, the market has tended toward the suburban-form car dealership fronting Hanley Road. Just to the north in Richmond Heights a neighborhood was recently demolished to build a big box Menard’s home improvement center, which will sit between a Lowe’s and Home Depot. To the south, MoDOT keeps threatening to build a highway, the “South County Connector“, that will bring more pass-through traffic.

Still, perhaps development of Sunnen Station is just getting started. A successful residential project could spur more, and if Maplewood can get on board with connecting its neighborhoods, the potential exists for something good. From 40 South News:

Phase II is planned to include market rate apartments and senior citizen residential complexes, retail such as restaurants, quick service food establishments, and gasoline stations/convenience stores, new car dealerships, and office and service uses.

The area has been blighted by the city — designated Chapter 353 — a state statue to encourage redevelopment of blighted areas by providing real property tax abatement. The developer is requesting 100% abatement for the first 10 years, and 50 percent for the next five years, for each portion of the area as it is developed. The abatement would include the entire 21 acres of Phase II, including a proposed Porsche dealership.

Sunnen MetroLink Station demolition{two of the homes demolished for the Sunnen Station development}

 

Maplewood Sunnen TOD{site plan of built Mini car dealership}

Sunnen TOD{a 2011 plan for Sunnen Station}

___________________________________
*update

According to Doug Miner of 40 South News, the Porsche dealership will look much like the new dealerships in Atlanta. A Maserati/Fiat dealership is expected to be built at the site soon.

Jim Ellis Porsche - Atlanta

Jim Ellis Porsche - Atlanta

Sunnen Station apartments construction photos added 3/22/17. Images by Urban STL member Moorlander:

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  • Chris Meyers

    What happened to the original 2011 plan? Did they just completely abandon it? Mid rise condo buildings, hotels, mid rise office buildings, retail along the street. Now we are stuck with a half ass apartment complex and 2 car dealerships??? Terrible urban planning! They had a golden opportunity to re make that neighborhood and royally screwed the pooch! Smh

  • kjohnson04

    They definitely doubled down on the parking here. The parking would be fine, if the density offset it, but it doesn’t. There is plenty of unused parking in the Sunnen Business Park. Why didn’t they partner with Sunnen and turn some of the unneeded parking into buildings, or at least, green space?

  • Larry Guinn

    I have a Mini Cooper and live in the Central West End. When I need service on the vehicle, I’ll use MetroLink to travel to the Galleria, Clayton, or return home. The one obvious clunker of design for the Mini Cooper dealership is they have a sidewalk around the property, but not one to it. I have to wait for the cars to pass in order to walk down the driveway, across the lawn, then to the door. It’s annoying when suburban design gets plopped into a pedestrian route, and it happens far too often.

    • kjohnson04

      It’s the unofficial mantra of St. Louis County; “pedestrian discouragement.”

  • Andy

    Building a ped bridge over Big Bend would be a good step to connecting downtown to the metro. Maplewood has a good downtown but not a great downtown. One strip of shops facing a sea of parking does not scream “vibrant.” If a local developer could convince Brixmor, the REIT that owns the Shop N Save development to add ~16k SF street facing retail on top of the 60 parking spaces current in that space (That are really just The Post parking anyway) as illustrated below, I think Maplewood would begin to rival streets like The Loop or areas of the CWE. From my understanding, rents are high enough in some of these small shops to merit new construction.

    @alexihnen:disqus – You have a rather good grasp on this type of stuff. Do you think this is feasible?

    • Alex Ihnen

      It’s a great idea. I’ve been discussing something that could be easier to implement: having three-season retail facing Manchester here with cargo boxes or other high-quality semi-permanent shops.

      • Andy

        That’s brilliant. It would be great to see re-purposed shipping containers in a prominent, highly visible space. Empire Cafe on Cherokee hopefully gets the ball rolling on more possibilities like it in the metro area.

    • Chicagoan

      Or, just nuke that development and re-build the north side of the street to mirror the south side.

      Not realistic, I know.

      It’s really a Shop-N-Save?

      UGH.

      • Andy

        Haters gonna hate. I love my Shop N Save. Haha

        I wonder what was in this location before this development got built. At one point did a bunch of small shops get bulldozed to make way for for a supermarket and giant parking lot? County info shows 1998 date of construction.

        • Andy

          I answered my own question. Looks like a warehouse in or furniture store in 1990. 1971 show some small shops and 1958 shows small shops all the way from Margarette to down past Schlafly. That makes me sick. http://www.historicaerials.com/

          • Chicagoan

            Wow, that’s a great website. Just checked out my current neighborhood. Pretty much intact, but a few wretched urban renewal developments near-by.
            That was a regrettable era.

        • Alex Ihnen

          Before that it was a K-Mart (before that, storefronts similar to the rest of downtown Maplewood):

          • Andy

            Interesting bizjournal read about the site. Shows great examples or munis (City vs. Maplewood) canabilzing each other. More evidence for Better Together’s cause.

            My favorite line: “(The developer) has secured a second tenant, Video Update, a video rental outlet”

            http://www.bizjournals.com/stlouis/stories/1997/01/27/focus1.html

          • Tim E

            Nice find on the old biz journal article. I do agree with the comments in article that the St. Louis Marketplace location would have been better suited or should be retained for its light industrial use and believe for the most part that is what most of the space is being used as.

    • Joe s

      This is something I have imagined but was not sure if it could actually ever take place because of the depth of the stores. The shop n save is used often and a good asset to have in the community, especially given the density of the housing immediately to the north of it. However, the parking lot is rarely filled. About the only time it is filled is if there is a special event occurring in Maplewood. Any reason you aren’t extending the building along Manchester to Sutton?

      There has definitely been a transitioning occurring along Manchester over the last few years. Slowly and maybe not always for the better, but changes have occurred and rent price has played a part. Stores that are not committed to staying are transitioning out and eventually rent will stabilize. I would guess that because of this, there still isn’t a demand for new buildings with new store fronts opening up occasionally.

      In general though I am still optimistic something like this will eventually happen. Just inside the city line is the renovation of a larger space (The Majorette) which hopefully continues more renovation of the buildings inside the city line.

      • Andy

        Retailer’s are a bit funny about outparcel retail blocking the view of the main SS behind. I think they may want to retain some street visibility and add some better signage at the corner. I’m all for more shop space; just don’t want to hope for too much. (Also, I put the rendering above together in about 5 minutes and couldn’t visualize a good way to move traffic and retain with the grade of the land off Sutton with a building at the corner.)

  • Joe s

    There was a walkability workshop/audit held at Maplewood City hall today run by Walkable and liveable cities institute (WALC). Only an hour was dedicated to going around the city. I am curious how readers of NextStl feel about this? Does it show a positive change? Or does this emphasize how big of a struggle it is in StL if we have to bring in an organization to tell city officials what many already know?

    • Alex Ihnen

      I think it’s good to have WALC invited in to Maplewood, but honestly, I don’t think a walk audit is required to see that there’s no sidewalk from the MetroLink station to downtown, for example. There’s a risk of waiting and waiting, ignoring local input, inviting in experts, then conducting a study, then seeking a grant, then developing a plan, then… It should not be too much to expect for an historic suburb to take some common sense steps to ensure residents and visitors have options other than driving.

  • Tim E

    I honestly think the only chance of salvaging the Cross County line is double down and extend it down to I-55 the Des Peres River greenway proposed alignment so the city would have a shot at TOD development on its side of the greenway. Sending it alongside the BNSF railway ROW would be mean even more failure.
    .
    My wishful thinking is for Home Deport as well as Dierbergs next to the Brentwood metrolink would close with all the big box/grocery competition. At least you would have an avenue for multi unit residential redevelopment of some large plots in and around metrolink. The other wishful thought, that Boulevards II and III as originally envisioned could rise from the ashes. That would at least salvage what should have been a great mixed use dense development between Brentwood Ave and I-170 anchored by the University Tower with good access to the Richmond Heights metrolink station.

    • Alex Ihnen

      I think the problem with extended the line further is that trip time becomes prohibitively long. From Des Peres to Clayton? Maybe. But no one’s going to take it from there to downtown. It would be a 45min+ ride. Even to CWE/BJC would be long.

      It’s too bad there’s no retail plan for this area. If one thing is to blame, it’s the face the are sits in three municipalities: Maplewood, Brentwood, Richmond Heights. They’re competing with one-another for tax revenue.

      • Tim E

        Yes, agree it doesn’t make sense for a downtown commute but as you noted it does make sense for transit access to jobs in Clayton, like an expanding Centene presence and to the growing central corridor. Also, BJC/Wash U medical campus might be a stretch or extent of a reasonable commute but it does give direct transit access to another growing job node. The extra 10-15 minutes on metrolink might worth it if you don’t have to do a transfer or rely on infrequent bus service.
        .
        Not the best transit option available but I think it is one way you can get some reasonable, cost effective, federally supported, doable expansion of metrolink for South County/City. In addition, by extending an existing line a few more miles on RoW property for the most part already owned by the county and city should make it much more feasible from a real estate acquisition standpoint. Especially in a greenway corridor where relocating utility infrastructure should be a lot less and therefore a significant cost savings.
        .
        I guess my last point is Denver, Salt Lake, etc. are not looking at there systems and basing it solely on whether it will benefit downtown. Because of that they are building systems incrementally and believe with much better regional cohesion. I think some of that mentality needs to be injected and thought of. To me, extending cross county supports transit into Clayton as well as provide an alternative to the south county connector road project, a plus for county, and yet might offer better access to central corridor & possibility of city development if you go down the greenway, a plus for the city.

        • Alex Ihnen

          I definitely see your point. If possible, I think a more compact transit system is better for the region. FWIW – here are the transit systems in American cities shown at the same scale:

          • Chicagoan

            That map doesn’t include Chicago’s Metra commuter rail

          • jhoff1257

            The chart said it only included commuter rail systems if they connected two downtown areas of comparable size.

          • Adam

            Also, this map is a few years old as Denver’s light rail has now surpassed St. Louis’ in length.

          • Chicagoan

            The scale on this seems kind of off, though it’s supposed to be on point.

          • JZ71

            Urban mass transit isn’t just light rail (or streetcars). “Good” urban mass transit SYSTEMS integrate multiple modes, including everything from small buses to BRT to rail-based options. The challenge St. Louis faces, with TOD, is that the demographic that would support TOD isn’t the demographic that Metro does a good job of targeting or serving. Unless you work downtown or at the BJC/Wash U medical complex, public transit rarely offers a good commuting option (and choice commuters are key to any TOD’s success). So we’re stuck with the chicken-or-egg conundrum that somebody needs to take a big leap (to change entrenched local perceptions and attitudes) before anything will actually change. Just because its good urban design isn’t enough, the numbers need to “work”, as well.

      • IU2

        I’m sort of surprised that the walkability of anything in that area would be considered I have always thought that big bend marked the end of walkable st. louis. By which I mean the part of St. Louis that isn’t designed to be antithetical to pedestrians. That whole area has been warehouses and industrial parks my entire life. And while Big Box retail has been grafted on to the area, creeping outward from the original Brentwood Target, the way it’s been done, in individual developments not connected to one another….well it just never occurred to me that the area ever intended to have pedestrian traffic. Or that the residents of the area had any interest in being pedestrians. That is all a long way of saying, it’s a great place for a city car. I own a Mini and most of my life revolves around that stretch of maplewood/brentwood/richmond heights I go in that wal-mart almost everyday, it’s very centrally located not just 64 and 44 as was mentioned elsewhere but also 170 and River Depres Parkway. But that all pre supposes driving. If the metrolink were driven through to 55 it would also need to link up 55/70 to the line either downtown or better yet at umsl/hanley. That would make the metro link truly useful to those living outside of the central corridor. to get to and from downtown on a daily basis. ( A line going north to south down 170 would also be useful. ) Anyway, I was just surprised to see this post, The westend of maplewood is so firmly embedded in ex-urbia it never even occurred to me people were trying to walk places or wanted to walk places there.

        P.S. I do like that little neighborhood behind the wal-mart, i’m surprised they’re building a another walmart so close it, the one in maplewood has become the default location for everyone living south of 70 and east of 270. I would have thought maybe they’d build a wal-mart further east into the city rather than in shrewsbury. I also can’t believe anyone would pay $1000 a month where the mini dealer is. But what do I know, people live in the highlands, apparently they’re building more and that site seems equally dislocated.

  • ScottF

    “imminent domain”? That’s one of my all-time favorite typos 🙂

  • Chicagoan

    Just looking at Google Maps…
    What’s the point of even having a train station right here?
    It’s all buildings surrounds by moats of surface parking. There just seems to be no need for this station.
    Do a lot of Maplewood residents commute into downtown StL using Metrolink?

    • Luftmentsch

      The station made great sense when there were 100+ residents within close proximity, not to mention workers at Sunnen Corp. and workers/shoppers at the Deer Creek Mall. I still use that station to get to work in Webster Groves, coming from the city, but I take my bike on the train. If you work in downtown Clayton, it would be an 8-10 minute trip from Sunnen. All in all, Maplewood’s destruction of the existing neighborhood and transit paths is a disgrace. It’s transit DIS-oriented development at its worst.

      • Tim E

        Great point, Sunnen bought up everything in sight of the station, took everything down, put together a decent vision and then promptly has done the opposite in time. Nor can I understand the basis of the apartments being proposed as it relates to the site. Couldn’t they at least do something along the lines of the Hanley Station development with its combination of a hotel, residential, and some retail built just up the road but at a terrible location in regards to accessing transit..
        .
        Which gets me to Shrewsbury leadership which spent all of its times on the big box kick and squat on pursing any thoughts of mixed use and new/dense housing from the station over to the sea of parking that surrounds the Shop-n-Save. That whole are between the BNSF railroad tracks and the greenway is within a 5 minute or less walk to the station should be a gold mine to rebuild and pump some life into the community.

    • Joe s

      I would be interested in seeing data on how many Maplewood residents use
      the metro to go downtown. I would speculate that many citizens here in
      Maplewood like having public transit available, but find it is just more
      convenient to drive. The metro station is on the Western border of the city
      and the densest residential is on the Eastern side about 1 mile down
      Manchester. While this is not a terribly far walk, it just can’t
      compete. Maplewood has access to both 40 and 44 within a few minutes and
      even during heavier use times there are few slow downs in this stretch
      so it takes only 15 minutes to be downtown. So by the time I walk to the
      station, I could almost be at my location via car.

      • Chicagoan

        I’m always willing to take public transit, even if it’s going to be a little longer. Now, there’s always a point where I’ll take an Uber instead (I don’t have a car), but it’s always my first choice.

        The best part about public transit (Well, when it’s good, anyway) is the freedom it gives you. There’s something peaceful about taking the train to dinner or drinks with friends and not having to worry about if the meter is going to expire where you parked your car. Or, if that spot you wedged into really is free parking.

        I love the peace of mind of it all. When I need a ride home, I’ll get one. It shows up every couple of minutes.

    • Never has been much reason for the station other than potential for development. It is and always has been the least used station in the system with only around 200 boardings per weekday.

    • kjohnson04

      I don’t know if Metro ranks the stations by ridership, but I ‘d wager Sunnen is at the bottom, or near the bottom. It’s perked up a little since the Deer Creek Center redevelopment, but it’s really low.

  • 7yhnmju8

    They weren’t even kind enough to keep the pedestrian access from the southern-most point of the Mini dealership to the Metro station. The old Laclede Station road was a nice diagonal from Deer Creek to the stop. Now one must go north past the stop and back down on Sunnen Drive instead. They ignored several emails from me about this. As someone who lived in Richmond Heights and now nearby in Webster, what has happened with Maplewood and Richmond Heights over the last decade or so is sad. I could do without the bright lights of those two car dealerships, too.

    • Luftmentsch

      Actually the workers in the Deer Creek mall stores have carved their own little path from the south end of the dealership parking lot, down a nasty steep slope to the sidewalk. It’s amazing (and depressing) to watch just how many people use that rather dangerous path.

      • 7yhnmju8

        Yeah, I’ve seen it. It proves what I was telling them years ago – people walk there and aren’t going to want to go several hundred yards and several minutes out of the way. It’s not like they needed to put an elevator there, just a friggin’ normal cut-through sidewalk.

        • Luftmentsch

          Yes, and imagine if the stores in Deer Creek mall had been rebuilt with entrances on both sides and a path straight up to the Metrolink.

        • kjohnson04

          Ha. We’re expecting local government to use common sense. Never going to happen. Count me as one of the users of that path. It shaves a good few minutes walk to Deer Creek.

      • Alex Ihnen

        I’ve done it with a double stroller. Not fun.

  • Adam

    “…quick service food establishments, and gasoline stations/convenience stores, new car dealerships…”

    St. Louis has no idea what transit oriented development even means. I wonder if anyone on Maplewood’s design and review board has ever set foot outside of the St. Louis region.

    • Chicagoan

      There seems to be some TOD-movement in the city, though, right?

      TOD is all the rage in Chicago right now. There’s a TOD ordiance, recently expanded, that developers are making great use of. Unfortunately, some developers are still building the classic “Glass Box”, with evenly distributed balconies, first-floor retail, three floors of parking, and a rooftop space, which we’re all getting kind of sick of right now.

      Thankfully, that kind of design just isn’t as desired as before, so developers are trending towards modern tastes, which is TOD.

      Is there any sort of ordinance, giving developers an incentive do design TOD developments?

      • No, St. Louis does not do transit oriented development. Lip service is paid, yes, but the strategy-outcome process is lacking (or missing entirely). You may see a TOD district get approved in STL City Council, but its intent is never really focused on a better transit-oriented district; instead, it’s just another taxing tool to piggyback existing CIDs (St. Louis’s equivalent, somewhat, to Chicago’s SSAs).

        • Luftmentsch

          It would be nice if Citizens for Modest Transit, instead of sucking up to the powers-that-be, would call out the many businesses and government entities that have turned their back on public transit.

        • Tim E

          I would beg to differ in some respects. The problem is that the city doesn’t have the market demand to see TOD everywhere or see it the way it can be supported in other places large metro areas.
          .
          But you do see the density near the Forest Park Station with more apartments on Pershing proposed and in time more proposals as the Loop Trolley comes online. The same for the BJC/Euclid station where you literally got the Orion/Whole Foods, Koman’s N. Euclid proposal and Lindell development all within walking distance of metrolink and believe in time you will see the same for the new Boyle/CORTEX station. Downtown is seeing the Arcade come online and matter of time for Chemical building. In other words, density is coming back to the central corridor and very much within reasonable walking distances to metrolink stations. Yes, it is not outright TOD but it is very much a better situation.
          .
          The city is going forward and making progress in my mind with density slowly but surely being built near transit. What I think needs to happen next is for the city find ways to support build and support better & more frequent N-S bus/and or streetcars service with or without Metro/Bi-State development.

        • john

          True but the bigger problem is that MetroLink sucks, really sucks.
          The train stations are too close together resulting in more stops/longer commutes, etc. In addition the limited train route is poorly supported by the bus routes which are ridiculous. Having used mass transit (buses + subway + commuter trains) daily for 26 years, StL is 30+ years behind and shows no hope for anything better. This is a car-centric community – even land near stations are large car parking lots, car dealerships, – you’re in StL, don’t expect anything more than lip service. Even Metro supplies FREE parking for auto users but riders have to pay. Then you have MoDOT… don’t get me started.

          • Chicagoan

            It’s not necessarily the worst thing to have a parking lot next to a train station, as long as that station is commuter rail. That station can then accommodate those who do the “park-and-ride” thing, which is pretty popular with downtown workers who are raising a family in the ‘burbs, or whatever.

        • JZ71

          Until some developer takes a leap, does a true TOD, and SUCCEEDS, the fear of the unknown will prevent many projects from getting funded. Sunnen has obviously had a decent vision and competent consultants (as illustrated by their earlier “visions”), but stuff doesn’t get built unless (and until) someone with deep pockets is willing to make it happen – “show me the money!”

        • John

          I’d like to see more exposure on the Emerson Park station in the metro East. Though still small, seems like possibly among the best TOD in the area and in the last place I’d expect to see it.