Houses proposed for Town and Country strip mall too dense for ‘country’ character, officials say (2024)

Nassim Benchaabane

Houses proposed for Town and Country strip mall too dense for ‘country’ character, officials say (1)

TOWN AND COUNTRY — Aldermen here are considering a plan to turn an old shopping plaza into dozens of houses and a restaurant. But the city’s advisory planning board says the density of the housing would spoil the suburb’s “country” character.

McBride Homes is currently proposing a 68 single-family homes around three streets anchored by a restaurant and public greenspace in place of the near-vacant Woods Mill Center, a 11.6-acre dilapidated strip mall southwest of Interstate 64 and Highway 141.

If approved, the new neighborhood would be the highest density residential development in the affluent west St. Louis County suburb of about 11,500 people, known for its mansions built on lots of 1 acre or more, with wide-open green spaces and white picket fences.

The city’s Planning and Zoning Commission doesn’t want to set that precedent. The commission voted 6-3 in April not to recommend aldermen approve the project because of its density.

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“Town and Country prides itself on being a welcoming, peaceful residential community with open space,” Commissioner Fred Meyland-Smith, a former longtime alderman, said in a recent interview. The homes would be too close together, he said.

“If my neighbor looks out the window, he can tell not only what I’m eating but whether or not I put salt and pepper on it,” he said. “I would welcome residential use, but the density that’s been proposed is totally, totally out of character with the rest of our municipality.”

Houses proposed for Town and Country strip mall too dense for ‘country’ character, officials say (2)

The commission’s recommendation that aldermen reject the plan means it is now required to get a supermajority of 6 out of 8 aldermen to vote in favor of the project for it to pass.

Aldermen were scheduled to vote on the project Monday. But McBride requested a delay to modify its proposal and resubmit it to the city. It will be the third time McBride has reduced the development’s density or added more green space in response to concerns from city officials.

A spokeswoman for the developer declined comment.

The city has long sought to redevelop the half-vacant Woods Mill Center and made it a priority in its 2020 comprehensive plan. The strip mall, with its brown brick-and-wood veneer, was originally built in 1977, hasn’t been renovated for years and accounts for just 1% of the suburb’s total retail sales. Long-term tenants previously told the Post-Dispatch they anticipated the property would be redeveloped eventually.

In August, Maryville University dropped a plan to turn Woods Mill into a 3,000-seat E-sports and event venue, with retail space and a dormitory for students because of overwhelming opposition from dozens of residents and concerns from city officials that it would worsen traffic.

The shopping center is across the interstate from the Maryville campus, and officials hoped the new center would have raised Maryville’s status in the multibillion-dollar competitive video gaming industry and generated millions in revenue for the college and city. But Town and County residents, many of whom lived near the plaza, said it would increase traffic, noise, crowds and draw in transient occupants.

But most residents at public hearings on McBride’s proposal said they support it.

Sharon Rothmel, a trustee of a subdivision just south of the strip mall, said the new homes would match the aesthetic of their neighborhood, wouldn’t add noise or light pollution, and would bring in new residents “invested” in the suburb.

“It’s good for both the city and for nearby residents,” Rothmel told aldermen during a public hearing May 13.

McBride is under contract to purchase the strip mall from Gershman Commercial Real Estate. Tom Stern, chairman emeritus of Gershman, told aldermen the strip mall took a major hit when Highway 141 was realigned and has never recovered.

He criticized the Planning and Zoning Commission vote, adding that city officials previously rejected apartments and a senior living complex proposed for the site but told Gershman that they would support a residential use, Stern said.

“I urge the board to approve the site plan as no other use of the site seems possible,” he said.

McBride’s original proposal called for 80 homes and 42% of the site reserved for greenspace. Its current proposal — which is under new revisions — calls for 68 homes and 48% of green space. The developer also added two public art installations, widened lots, added parking and restricted the height for four lots closest to existing homes.

The houses would be between two and three stories tall with two-car detached garages accessed by shared alleys. The typical lot would be about 2,805 square feet in size. McBride expects to sell each house at a starting price of $600,000.

The restaurant, on a lot of about 2 acres, would include a patio of 600 square feet and 98 parking spaces.

Jeannie Aumiller, a representative of McBride, has told officials in public meetings that the Woods Mill center won’t attract the type of luxury homes on large lots present in other areas of Town and Country because of the site’s location next to highways and neighboring office complexes.

But McBride’s proposal, she said, would serve as a “transitional buffer site” between the roads and commercial lots around it and the city’s existing single-family residential neighborhoods. The strip mall, she said, doesn’t currently have green space. Construction would take about three years to complete, she said.

The Town and Country Board of Aldermen is expected to consider the development at 7 p.m. June 24 in the city’s government center at 1011 Municipal Center Drive.

Houses proposed for Town and Country strip mall too dense for ‘country’ character, officials say (3)

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Houses proposed for Town and Country strip mall too dense for ‘country’ character, officials say (2024)
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