Sunnen MetroLink station
The apartment buildings in the background will soon give way to a car dealership and commuter parking lot.

Since it opened in 1993, MetroLink has been lauded for it’s ability to connect so many of the St. Louis area’s great activity generators and centers of employment. As the years have worn on, MetroLink has, also, come under criticism for its inability to generate almost any new transit oriented development near any of its stations. So while news of new development adjacent to the Sunnen MetroLink station is exciting, the details of the proposed project are very disappointing.

Site of proposed development

According to the Post-Dispatch, the City of Maplewood has cleared the way for a Mini Cooper dealership and commuter parking lot to be built adjacent to the Sunnen MetroLink station. Moving from its location in Clayton, Autohaus Mini of St. Louis will build a two-story 22,400 sq-ft building and 420 parking spaces on 5 acres of the site. Another acre will be for an 80-space parking lot for MetroLink commuters. A rainwater detention pond will occupy the rest of the site.

The 9.6-acre site bounded by MetroLink, the Union Pacific railroad tracks, South Hanley Rd, and a proposed extension of Sunnen Dr contains 76 houses and 117 one-bedroom apartments. Only 30 properties are still occupied. Among the homes slated for demolition is a surf blue and maize yellow Lustron home built in 1949. With dozens of the homes, Brentwood and Maplewood have some of the highest concentrations of Lustron’s in the nation.

Plans for the area surrounding the Sunnen station actually began well over a decade ago. An article in the Post-Dispatch from December 12, 1999 had this to say.

A brochure that Maplewood prepared to promote development near the station said the 12.7-acre area could be the site of a hotel with up to 200 rooms, 100,000 square feet of shops and entertainment establishments and 80,000 square feet of office space with 1,200 parking spaces.
Applewood Place Apartments

Almost a decade later in 2008, the St. Louis Business Journal reported on Sunnen’s much bigger ideas for the area, a $500 million development on 77 acres of land it owns between the Sunnen and Maplewood-Manchester MetroLink stations.

Architectural firm HOK has created a preliminary master site plan for Sunnen that includes several phases for up to 600,000 square feet of office space, 340,000 square feet of retail, 1,300 residential units and a 160-room hotel. The project could impact the location of the company’s 486,000-square-foot manufacturing facility at 7910 Manchester Road that employs 540 people, but no decision has been made, company officials said.
“One of the unique features of the site is having MetroLink stations at both ends of the development,” Cozad said. “That really lends itself to a transit-oriented development.”
Preliminary site plan
Preliminary master site plan from 2008.

An HOK article indicates that the development was to occur over 4 phases beginning at the south end near the Sunnen station. The south end(?) was to include retail, residential and office components (the HOK article has issues with cardinal directions).

So while this development is only the first phase of a much larger plan, the site’s potential for transit-oriented development already seems wasted. No new townhouses, condos, or apartments will be built; no new office towers will rise. The near 10-acres of prime transit accessible land will simply be consumed by a car dealership and a sea of parking, the antithesis of transit-oriented development.

The location would seem primed for transit-oriented development. But if this type of development fails to be built adjacent to stations in less affluent parts of the region, if NIMBY’s fight large developments at stops in more wealthy neighborhoods, and if this is the best that can be built between two stations in an affluent though industrialized area of an inner-ring suburb, what hope is there for transit-oriented development in St. Louis?

The larger project may hold hope, but this is a poor start. Let’s hope that the pledge to find the “highest use” of this TOD opportunity becomes reality. As Sunnen President and CEO Matthew Kreider told the Business Journal:

We have strong roots in, and great loyalty to, Maplewood. We want to find the very best and highest use for this property going forward. It is our intent to continue to be responsible stewards of these resources.

Cross-posted at nextSTL.