Proving they care about their city and Creve Coeur Park, area residents packed the  Planning Commission meeting tonight to standing room only.  The commission voted to "approve with conditions" the Maryland Pointe plan to put big-box retail and office space in the Missouri River floodplain, next to Creve Coeur Park.  That's the bad news, but there is some good news, too.

First, the vote was not unanimous.  Commissioner Mark Madden voted against the resolution and received a standing ovation for it. 

Second, we applaud the conditions put forth by the city.  They set the bar for the developer very high in such categories as transportation, site design and stormwater management. 'If you're going to build there, you're going to make it state of the art' is the message.

The sustained voices of residents have made a big difference already in the quality of the ideas that will be proposed in the next step, the preliminary development plan.  There is no time estimate of when the developer will return with the plan.  But in the meantime, there is more work to be done to make sure we don't face similar disastrous proposals in the future.

Showing up and working together, we can continue to make Maryland Heights a better place to live. 

There is some confusion about what happened at the last Planning Commission meeting.  The commission was expected to vote up or down on Maryland Pointe, but they found a middle road.  They asked the city's planning staff to develop a third option by coming up with a list of conditions the developers would have to meet if the commission voted to "approve the proposal with conditions."

At the Oct. 25 meeting, the Planning Commission WILL vote one of three ways:
1. Denial 
2. Approval
3. Approval with conditions

Public pressure IS having an impact on the process!  Show up on Oct. 25 and urge the commission to deny the Maryland Pointe proposal.  It is easy to ignore people you can't see.  We need to make sure they see a packed house of concerned citizens.
The planning commission was visibly uncomfortable last night as they were clearly being pressured to vote in favor of the Maryland Pointe project. City Planner Wayne Oldroyd stood at the podium basically telling them they could not deny the plan and should “approve it with conditions.” When members of the commission (kudos to Commissioner Mark Madden) repeatedly asked to get more information about economic viability before they voted, Oldroyd repeatedly told them they couldn’t have that at this point-- even though he told them otherwise two weeks ago. 

After more than 30 minutes of mind-numbing “discussion” by the planning staff, the commission caved in a 7 – 0 vote to approve the plan with conditions. We’ve seen this situation time and time again; a planning commission or city council member is unsure of how to vote or they aren’t happy with the way a plan is laid out, yet they vote “yes” anyway. This is just plain wrong. 

Sadly, this produces a process in which:
  1. Everyone involved in the project hopes that if they drag it on long enough, the public will lose interest and go away.
  2. If you can’t or won’t kill something at the first step in the process, it basically snowballs into a done deal.
The planning commission was told last night that the developer and the city had already put so much time and money into this project that it should be passed through to the next stage. But just because a decision was made 15 years ago by private landowners to rebuild the levee, speculating that the value of their land would increase, it doesn’t mean the rest of us need to blindly accept every plan for development that comes along. Yes, the landowners have every right to sell their land to whomever they like, but that doesn’t give the buyer the right to do anything they want with that land.

The comprehensive plan the city is following is outdated -- by the city planner’s own admission at the Sept. 27 meeting -- and includes very little input from anyone except a handful of developers, builders and landowners. Most of the large landowners don’t even live in Maryland Heights anymore, yet they still give large amounts of money in campaign donations to the Mayor and at least half of the City Council. Clearly we need to protect ourselves.

The residents of Maryland Heights and everyone who loves Creve Coeur Park and the area surrounding it need to stand together; now is the time to show up and be counted. Call, write or email your City Council representative and the Mayor. Get your neighbors to sign the petition against the development being planned. Most of all SHOW UP for the public meetings. The 50-60 people who showed up to the last two meetings are not enough. The weight of your presence and the power of your stare are necessary to show the Planning Commission and the City Council that we are not going away.  It’s easy to ignore people you can’t see.

The direction of development in Maryland Heights will be largely determined on Tuesday, October 11, when the Maryland Heights Planning Commission votes on the Maryland Pointe proposal to put 191 acres of big-box retail and fast food joints next to Creve Coeur Park.  They have three options:

1.  Deny the conceptual development plan
2.  Approve the conceptual development plan
3.  Approve the conceptual development plan with conditions

The first option is really the only acceptable one.  If the CONCEPT is wrong, no amount of dressing up with conditions, market studies, etc., will make it any better.  Do we want big-box retail next to Creve Coeur Park?  NO we do not.  Deny this concept and let's move on to creating the kind of community we DO want.
Within a 15-mile radius of Maryland Heights are more than 500 vacant properties. Do we really need more?
The following is a full reprint of remarks made by resident Robyn Merschen at the August 23 public hearing on the Maryland Pointe development proposed next to Creve Coeur Park.

Good Evening,

Several months ago I stood before you and asked “Where are all of you taking all of us?”  After what I have seen in the past few days I must ask it again, but with much greater emphasis.

On your screens you will be viewing just under 100 pictures of the over 500 pictures we snapped as my husband Ed and I ventured through Chesterfield, Creve Coeur, St. Ann, Bridgeton, Earth City, and Maryland Heights.  In a little under 5 hours; with-in a 15 mile radius mostly covering major roads, what we discovered was profound.  I want you to know - these pictures represent a very very small sampling of the real MUCH larger picture.  We could not stop and snap a picture of ALL the hundreds & hundreds of “For Lease or For Sale” signs we saw.

I am sharing these pictures with you this evening because I want you to not only hear what I am saying I want you to SEE what I am saying.

I know if I came before this commission and asked your permission to add an addition to my house and you discovered there were issues & challenges with parts of my foundation, your collective answers would be a resounding no, and with sound reasoning.  You would instruct me to take care of what I already have and come back later.  Please keep this sound reasoning in mind as I continue.

I’ve been told Maryland Heights and the region needs the Howard Bend area developed for economic growth.  I say NO we don’t.  This city does NOT need an addition!  We have some issues & challenges with our foundation and we need to take care of that first.

I know change is inevitable, but only purposeful change maintains economic sustainability.  And, after seeing what is going on in the Westport Planning Area, other areas of the city and the region, what is obviously needed  - is an aggressive approach to Economic Redevelopment and Revitalization for the existing Maryland Heights; the Maryland Heights that already has tens of thousands of available square feet sitting empty; available for retail & commercial use and ripe for Redevelopment.

However, Maryland Pointe has a plan for an addition to our city.  I don’t understand why.  What can an addition give us that we don’t already have?  Space?  Retail space?  Office, warehousing, light manufacturing space?  A gathering place and water features?  Thank you, but no.  We already have ALL of the above and so does our neighboring cities!  We especially do not need one more thing drawing resources and revenues from already existing businesses.  Thank you again, but no.  We need purposeful change! 

I understand the Westport Planning Area has its challenges, as does Dorsett Road and Dorsett/Mckelvey.  But, those challenges provide us with amazing opportunities!  Opportunities for change & revitalization!  And, these challenges provide opportunities for creativity!!  And, as for space, we have PLENTY!

Stop typecasting the Westport Planning Area in the same role!  The area is more than the Plaza and should be more than just warehouses, light manufacturing, flex & office spaces.  The Westport area is not the step child of MH.  It is what put MH on the map!  Its regional location is fantastic!  Create & develop a vision for the area; map its districts.  Think outside of the box!  The Westport area, the Dorsett and Dorsett/McKelvey areas have tons of acreage!

Use sound reasoning!  Guide development into Revitalization & Redevelopment.  Retail & commercial businesses can and do work adjacent to each other.  Open it up.  Give it variety.  We have over 40,000 people entering our city each week day and around 26,000 residents.  If we all want an Ikea, we already have the space.  If we all want shops, dining, entertainment, movies, we already have the space for that, too.  Form a city core along Dorsett Road using this building and the beautiful Ranken Jordan facility as corner stones.  Dorsett Road already has many great access roads to the interior of the Westport area!  Make the area east of 270 into one big happening destination!  Let’s flourish and grow, not just grow!  Sprawl does not work!

And, as for gathering places and water features – I don’t believe any developer can trump what already exists in Creve Coeur Park.  It has more than enough space for people to gather and its water feature . . . uh, that pretty much speaks for itself! 

Tonight I am asking this Commission to refuse to alter the Comprehensive Plan for the Howard Bend Planning Area to accommodate the Maryland Pointe proposal.  Vote no!  Make a statement.  Show who really and truly is putting the long term welfare of MH first; who honestly cares about MH residents and businesses.  Let it be known with all future developers . . . Revitalization & Redevelopment is our firm direction, priority and commitment to the future.  Make it clear: development for a developer’s profit is not what MH does.

At the October 11 Planning Commission meeting, the commissioners will vote to approve or deny the Maryland Pointe development.  Or, they might ask the developers to "prove it" -- do a market study to prove if this floodplain retail development next to Creve Coeur Park is economically viable. 

Show up to this meeting to urge the commmission to VOTE NO on Maryland Pointe.  No matter how you slice it, this is the wrong concept for development next to Creve Coeur Park.

7 p.m. Tuesday, October 11
Maryland Heights Government Center
11911 Dorsett Road

Help pack the house!