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Editorial: Time for a new Valley view

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder – or so the old saying goes.

So, is Topgolf beautiful? Or, as a resident at the Chesterfield Planning Commission meeting on March 26 described it, a hideous monstrosity? Your answer likely depends on your view of it.

Some residents living closest to Topgolf, on the bluffs overlooking the Valley, told the planning commission that the driving range and entertainment venue was the view from their backyards. But there’s an awful lot of real estate between the bluffs and Topgolf, including Chesterfield Commons, the commercial developments that line Chesterfield Airport Road and Interstate 64.

Let’s talk about I-64 for a minute.

Chesterfield Blue Valley developer Dean Wolfe described I-64, in a February 2013 interview, as “the spine of St. Louis.” He said Chesterfield had “the good fortune of having it run through it.” That’s his view of it. But he’s not alone.

I-64 has been, and continues to be, a corridor of progress for Chesterfield, bringing shoppers, diners and tax dollars into the Valley. That’s a good thing.

Topgolf, regardless of whether you think it’s pretty or pretty horrendous, is poised to do the same. And, ultimately, that’s a good thing. As we said, times change.

When the late Nancy Greenwood was Chesterfield’s mayor in those early years after the ‘93 flood, she quite literally called a timeout to set a vision for the Valley. In 2013, Greenwood reflected that one of her administration’s major achievements was the “thoughtful development of the Chesterfield Valley.”

“One of the things I proposed [in 1997] was a six-month moratorium on development so that we could just stop and take a breath,” Greenwood said. Out of that “breath,” the city’s architectural review board was born – reflecting Greenwood’s view of things.

Seventeen years later, former Councilmember Connie Fults found herself defending Greenwood’s vision as she sent developers of St. Louis Premium Outlets back to the drawing board time and again. Fults was outspoken about the original building designs having too little variation in material.

“We have always required a good-looking building and then signage is the jewelry on the building,” Fults said at the time.

But times change.

Today, a request to change the zoning on the three-lot parcel upon which the Hardee’s Iceplex once stood is before the planning commission.Yes, Topgolf sits on one of those lots. To its west, on a 3.67-acre lot could be a future Residence Inn. To its east, on 3.8-acre site could be Missouri’s first vehicle vending machine.

What’s a vehicle vending machine? It’s a vertical used car lot. Here’s how it works. Car shoppers go online to carvana.com where they pick a car, take it for a 360º spin, buy the car from their couch and schedule delivery or plan to pick the car up from a Carvana Vending Machine & Pickup Center. Once at the vending machine, the buyer gets a token that is used to activate a conveyor of sorts that brings the car down from its place in the tower.

Gimmicky? No doubt. More effective than horizontal car lots? Doubtful. Unsightly? That depends on your point of view.

The proposed Carvana Vending Machine is expected to be seven stories tall [75 feet] and internally lit 24/7. The only thing taller in the Valley at present are the poles at – you guessed it, Topgolf.

But is a little height in the Valley a bad thing? Or simply a sign of changing times?

Carvana is not the only entity seeking a code variance that would let a little more height into the Valley. The St. Louis Family Church, who put down roots in Chesterfield 25 years ago, also went before the planning commission on March 26. The church is looking to build a new worship center with a fly loft of up to 80 feet. Churches frequently have structural elements that soar above the main building. But in the Valley, soaring elements are not the norm. Maybe they should be.

Maybe it’s time to reconsider the vision, to take a timeout and talk about what makes sense in 2018.

It’s been 25 years since the flood of ‘93; 21 years since Greenwood called her timeout. Those things are Chesterfield’s past. Maybe it’s time to redefine its future.

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