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Envision Chesterfield: Planning Commission approves comprehensive plan

Comprehensive plan proposes preservation of city’s character, creation of new city center

By CATHY LENNY with KATE UPTERGROVE

Chesterfield’s long-awaited comprehensive plan – Envision Chesterfield – was given unanimous approval by the city’s Planning Commission on Sept. 30.

The comprehensive plan was last updated in 2009. By definition, a comprehensive plan communicates a community’s goals and objectives, provides a blueprint for future land use, and serves as the basis for zoning, subdivision and land use codes. Specifically, Envision Chesterfield “seeks to establish a fresh vision that preserves the character of the city while addressing growth in a way that improves upon and protects the high quality of life for all residents,” according to plan documentation.

In January 2019, the city’s Planning Department began gathering information from residents and other stakeholders through numerous meetings, open houses and workshops.

“What did we hear from people that influenced this plan? asked Justin Wyse, Chesterfield’s director of planning at the Sept. 30 meeting. “We heard ‘We love all things green, we love our green space, it’s part of the identity of the city of Chesterfield.’ We heard discussions about connectivity, particularly walking and biking, and driving that connectivity.”

Planning Commission chair Merrell Hansen said that a resounding message from those meetings was the residents’ “deep desire” to keep Chesterfield’s suburban residential neighborhoods as they are. Further, she added, “There is a huge outpouring for a city center, a downtown where people will gather. With few exceptions, residents spoke passionately about the need for a place to come after work or on weekends or for special events.”

One of the ways in which the planning commission gathered ideas for Chesterfield’s future was through its eight-day Planapalooza event, held March 27-April 3, 2019. The program allowed residents to share their vision for the city’s urban core, roughly the same area that Louis S. Sachs envisioned as the city’s “downtown” even before Chesterfield’s incorporation.

Sachs, who passed away in 2011, is credited with the development of Chesterfield Village and with providing financial support for the development of the YMCA, the Jewish Community Center, STAGES St. Louis, Faust Park, the Samuel C. Sachs branch of St. Louis County Library and more. His vision for Chesterfield mirrors much of what Hansen said the commission heard from residents during Envision Chesterfield events.

The late Louis Sachs with a model of his original vision for Downtown Chesterfield. [Source: Sachs Properties]

The document

The long-range policy document that resulted from and is known as Envision Chesterfield is divided into seven chapters. The first four include the Introduction, Planning Process, About Chesterfield and A New Way Forward, which deals with emerging trends such as location choices, online shopping, aging-in-place, open space as an amenity and healthy living.

“Residents responded enthusiastically to pictures with imagery that embraced a new city center and downtown, busy with businesses, shops, restaurants and places to live,” Hansen said. “We also heard that residents want ‘green spaces.’ Chesterfield residents love our parks, our landscaping and trees; we want green around us.”

The document’s fifth chapter is devoted to Chesterfield’s vision – its guiding principles, land use plan, character areas and concept areas.

Land use map with proposed city center represented by the blue and purple coded areas. (Source: Envision Chesterfield)

Those character areas are divided into open space, suburban character and city center (former urban core) that includes the downtown area.

“This is where we see a lot of change, a lot of distinction,” Wyse said. “It’s the highest density in the city. It’s a mix of uses with office, retail, residential – all of those in their highest density form. Essentially, it’s replacing what the mall was 50 years ago.”

Projects already underway at the intersection of Interstate 64 and Chesterfield Parkway West will help to establish some of the characteristics and amenities of the city center/downtown area.

On Aug. 17, the Wildhorse Village development proposal was unanimously approved by the Chesterfield City Council. The development consists of 99.6 acres located west and southwest of the intersection of Interstate 64 and Chesterfield Parkway West and features a blend of office, retail, residential and parking facilities. Chesterfield Lake (the lake by the YMCA) is the focal point of the proposed development. Additional amenities include a lakefront park with a picnic lawn, a pocket park, a stepped amphitheater, a boathouse and walking trails and connections to Central Park and the Riparian Trail.

Wildhorse Village
Wildhorse Village public amenities exhibit (Source: Pearl Capital Management)

Nearly 11 acres of the site are currently being developed with The Pearl at Wild Horse Creek, a mixed-use development, and a 128-room AC Hotel.

Other visions for Chesterfield’s future as detailed in the long-range plan include a revitalized historic district along Old Chesterfield Road and it encourages residents to consider creative use of the area’s resources by illustrating a waterfront marina on the Missouri River.

Chapter 6 outlines the city’s defining goals and implementation strategies. In regard to goals, it specifically focuses on:

  • Supporting desired development and redevelopment.
  • Strengthening neighborhoods and housing choices.
  • Providing quality parks and recreation services.
  • Solidifying a long-range transportation plan.
  • Increasing community resiliency.

The comprehensive plan is available for review at chesterfield.mo.us/comprehensive-plan.html.

Public opinions

During the planning commission’s public hearing on Sept. 30, Tim Lowe, vice president of leasing and development at The Staenberg Group, spoke in favor of the comprehensive plan. The Staenberg Group recently purchased Chesterfield Mall.

Ironically, Lowe noted that the failure of Chesterfield Mall provided an opportunity to create Downtown Chesterfield.

“In order for Downtown Chesterfield to be feasible and sustainable, the comprehensive plan vision must allow for a high-density, mixed-use development,” Lowe said. “Both multi-story office and high-density residential are critical key components to their success.”

Chris Fox, president of Gershman Commercial Real Estate, which acquired land previously owned by Sachs Properties around the intersection of Interstate 64 and Clarkson Road, also spoke in favor of the plan.

The company acquired 18 properties around the mall site, just under 850,000 square feet of space, according to Fox. “In the aggregate, our firm currently manages about 1.1 million square feet of office space within Chesterfield and houses over 200 tenants,” Fox said. “To say we’re pretty invested in the success of Chesterfield is a bit of an understatement.

“The Envision plan, as outlined, takes the vision started by Louis Sachs and makes it current with how we see people in their desire to live, work and play in a mixed-use setting.”

But not everyone was thrilled with the new plan.

Ray Bosenbecker, of Citizens for Developing Downtown Chesterfield, said that while the group supports the majority of the plan, they want to ensure that the density ratio within the city remains at 63% for single-family housing and 37% for multi-family.

City council member Mike Moore (Ward 3) questioned Bosenbecker’s calculations and suggested that the ratio of single-family homes in Chesterfield was closer to 76%, given new developments such as the villas at Amberleigh.

On behalf of his group, Bosenbecker also asked for an increase in the amount of open space required for future mixed-residential character areas, specifying that, in their opinion, developments like the Aventura and Watermark luxury apartments in the city’s proposed downtown area are too dense.

Other requests from the citizens’ group included adding language that promotes the preservation of green and open space, changing the language of the downtown character area from high-density residential to a mixture of residential types, and eliminating micro-units and tiny homes from the type of housing allowed.

As it stands the Envision Chesterfield plan, under the goal of “Increase Community Resiliency,” provides strategies for creating an interconnected network of green space, leveraging existing city, county, state and federal resources to advance conservation objectives, support healthy living by enabling “active transportation such as walking and biking, and promoting tree preservation.

The tiny homes referred to by the Citizens for Developing Downtown Chesterfield group are one of six housing options that the plan suggests the city might need to consider as homeowners, including current community members who want to age-in-place, seek out options other than Chesterfield’s current single-family and apartment offerings. According to the plan, those options “would be subject to additional public review.”

Citizens for Developing Downtown Chesterfield organizer Kelli Unnerstall, expressed concern that “the development pattern that exists in Chesterfield today will lead to the number of apartments nearly doubling in 10 years.”

A number of multi-housing units are completed, are in development or are proposed for Downtown Chesterfield, including Watermark, Aventura, Pearl, Wildhorse Village and those within the redeveloped Chesterfield Mall area.

Next steps

“I think we have a document today that we can all be proud of,” said Steve Wuennenberg, vice chair of the planning commission. “I personally don’t see any need to make any changes to it; I think it’s been crafted very well. I’m perfectly happy where we are today.”

Commissioner John Marino echoed that sentiment. “We’re all going to do what’s best for Chesterfield. I take that responsibility seriously,” he said.

Hansen noted that the commission was especially grateful to the Chesterfield residents who participated in the Envision Chesterfield planning process.

“This is a wonderful time for Chesterfield and the planning commission wishes to enthusiastically thank the residents who gave their time and ideas these past, almost two years,” Hansen said.  “This document is theirs!” 

Since the comprehensive plan includes no zoning, ordinances or codes, the city council will be key in implementing the document’s goals in conjunction with future development. 

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