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Ready or not, I-55 corridor growth promises to change Edwardsville area in a big way

Belleville News-Democrat logoBelleville News-Democrat 10/21/2020 By Teri Maddox, Belleville News-Democrat

A 2006 plan for how to develop nearly 5,000 acres of land along Interstate 55 in Madison County is inching closer to reality, changing the face of Edwardsville and promising to impact neighboring communities.

Developers are in various stages of building, planning or exploring a patchwork of projects in or near the “I-55 Corridor District,” which includes the interstate’s Illinois 143 interchange. Some are residential. Others are commercial, recreational or industrial.

“There’s a lot of interest in Edwardsville,” said Sean Goding, president of Pangea Development Co. in Mascoutah and St. Louis.

“It’s a really good market. It’s multifaceted. You’ve got a good population base, a good income level, a high education level. It’s a very community-based city. It was rated a Top 10 place for families to live (by Family Circle magazine in 2010). The county seat helps a lot, too.”

Pangea is one of two companies developing parcels totaling 244 acres west of Interstate 55. Plans call for hotels, offices, retail stores, restaurants, gas stations, warehouses and light manufacturing.

Goding envisions the Illinois 143 interchange as a busy destination place, where people from throughout the region can sleep, eat, shop, work, gas up and attend soccer and baseball tournaments at nearby Plummer Family Park, which opened this summer.

“The sports park is going to be a huge draw as an anchor for that interchange,” Goding said. “The city is expecting 300,000 people there next summer. The park is booked through August already.”

Some maps even show the possibility of a second Interstate 55 interchange at Goshen Road in Edwardsville someday.

Development of the entire I-55 Corridor District could take decades. If that happens, it would increase the size of Edwardsville from 20.4 to 23.6 square miles and Glen Carbon from 10.3 to 14.6 square miles.

Expansion in the district and other areas also is expected to boost population.

“The city’s 2010 comprehensive plan estimates that total build-out (in Edwardsville) will be 36,000 by the year 2035,” said Walt Williams, economic/community development director. “Right now, we’re sitting at 26,600.”

Some residents love the prospect of economic growth and increased access to services and amenities. Others hate the idea that their small, safe college town surrounded by farmland and natural areas could become the next West St. Louis County.

Troy, Hamel and Maryville aren’t part of the corridor district, but major development at their doorsteps could help business and create jobs or hurt business and worsen traffic, depending on your point of view.

Of course, the elephant in the room is the COVID-19 pandemic. No one knows what will be its long-term effect on the American economy.

Planning for future growth

Edwardsville has experienced gradual but continuous population growth since the late 1800s, according to U.S. Census Bureau figures, with a particularly high jump from 14,579 in 1990 to 21,491 in 2000, largely due to the annexation of Southern Illinois University Edwardsville.

In 2003, the city joined forces with Madison County and the village of Glen Carbon to create a land-use plan to guide anticipated development in the area along Interstate 55, east of the two municipalities.

They approved the I-55 Corridor Transportation and Growth Management Plan in 2006 and spent the next decade coming up with massive codes for zoning, density, architecture, infrastructure, signs, lighting, green space, streets and parking.

“(The codes are) very in-depth and very detailed as far as what would be allowed, down to the type of brick pavers almost,” said Chris Doucleff, administrator for Madison County Planning and Development Department.

The I-55 Corridor District is roughly bounded by Edwardsville and Glen Carbon limits to the west, Interstate 270 to the south, Staunton Road to the east and just north of Illinois 143 to the north.

The county’s color-coded map shows sections designated for mixed-use commercial, general neighborhood, neighborhood residential and rural residential. There’s also a “town center” for each municipality.

“The general purpose of (the plan) was to control the development, to make it more of a planned area instead of just haphazard growth with a mix and mash of different types of properties,” Doucleff said. “Everything is sort of compatible.”

Most of the district’s 4,843 acres are unincorporated Madison County, but officials expect land to be annexed by municipalities as it gets developed so buildings can connect to water and sewer systems.

Under a boundary agreement, 2,068 acres would be annexed into Edwardsville and 2,775 acres into Glen Carbon, according to Emily Fultz, Edwardsville city planner.

Edwardsville just completed a nearly $1.8 million project to extend a sewer main and build a lift station in the vicinity of Governor’s Parkway, Goshen Road and Ridge View Road, said Eric Williams, public works director.

“I’m not going to say we’ve got 100% covered,” he said. “A lot of it has been based on inquiries or plans by developers. Some of the backbone infrastructure is in place, but the final connection points would be up to the developer to make.”

Some projects in the district could be eligible for local and state financial incentives, such as sales-tax exemptions and property-tax abatements, as part of Edwardsville’s Gateway Commerce Center Enterprise Zone.

Corridor development codes encourage trees, open space, pedestrian and bike paths and a “downtown feel” in commercial areas, according to Fultz and Eric Williams.

“It wouldn’t be just a totally auto-centric area,” Eric Williams said.

Annexations on both sides

The I-55 Corridor District isn’t the only part of Edwardsville that’s growing. Developers have been building subdivisions, apartment complexes, office parks and strip malls in all directions, particularly along and between Illinois 157 and Illinois 159.

The city annexed more than 3,000 acres of farmland to the west along Interstate 255 for a warehouse and logistics hub (Gateway Commerce Center and Lakeview Commerce Center) with tenants ranging from Amazon to World Wide Technology, Hershey to Proctor & Gamble.

“There’s also assembly going on there,” Gateway developer Mike Towerman said last year.

The city expects to break ground next spring on TheCENTER, a donation-funded facility with an ice rink, teen center and indoor track near Edwardsville High School, off Illinois 157.

One of the first clues to the future of the sleepy Interstate 55 and Illinois 143 interchange came in 2001, when Hortica insurance company built its national headquarters on the southeast quadrant. It was later joined by Scott Credit Union and Prairie Farms Dairy.

The Edwardsville YMCA’s 116,000-square-foot Meyer Center opened on Goshen Road in 2005, followed by more subdivisions, schools and churches off Goshen and Governor’s Parkway, a relatively new east-west connector from Illinois 157 nearly to Interstate 55.

In 2018, Anderson Healthcare, the system that operates Anderson Hospital in Maryville, announced that it would convert 15 acres of farmland across from the YMCA into a Goshen Campus.

The hospital’s plan includes an 18,000-square-foot surgery center, pediatric clinic and specialty clinic that recently opened; a nearly 50,000-square-foot acute rehabilitation institute now under construction; and a 50,000-square-foot medical office building.

“The reason that we are so interested in building this (campus) is we want to have a larger presence in the Edwardsville-Glen Carbon market,” Anderson President and CEO Keith Page said last year.

Another key milestone was this summer’s opening of Phase 1 of Edwardsville’s Plummer Family Park off Goshen Road, just west of Interstate 55. It will host soccer, baseball, softball, lacrosse, flag football and pickle ball on 83 acres.

“That’s going to have a huge impact in bringing restaurants and other leisurely-type venues,” Walt Williams said.

Interchange in transition

Pangea was the initial developer of the 244 acres west of Interstate 55, including 149 acres north and 95 acres south of Illinois 143.

Pangea still owns the 149 acres, which it’s now marketing to potential buyers under the name “The Pointe.” Goding said he expects 100 acres to be used as headquarters for an online car-sales company and the rest for offices, warehouses and light manufacturing.

“The city of Edwardsville is marvelous to work with,” he said. “They’re very conservative, but they’re pro-development, which we like. It’s a thought-out, well-planned process.”

The 149 acres haven’t yet been annexed by the city. Goding estimates it will take two to three years for a four-way stop to be built at Illinois 143 and Blackburn Road for better access to The Pointe.

Pangea sold the 95-acre parcel south of Illinois 143 to Highland-based Plocher Construction and the Edwardsville law firm Byron, Carlson, Petri & Kalb, which are partnering on a mixed-use development called “Park North,” formerly known as “Pin Oak Plaza.”

The partners are working with the city to get a new road built connecting Illinois 143, Park North and Plummer Family Park, according to attorney Chris Byron.

“We’re getting close to completion of (Plocher’s 26-acre Parkway project on Illinois 157), and as it gets closer to completion, we’re going to start focusing on the development out on 143 and 55,” he said. “COVID has slowed some of our progress, but as COVID goes away, we hope to accelerate those plans and move forward.”

Most of the 95 acres have been annexed by the city of Edwardsville. A 2021 groundbreaking is planned.

Byron said developers have entered into a franchise agreement to build a Hilton Garden Inn at Park North, and they’re in talks with a company that may bring a golf-themed entertainment venue to the site.

“The vision is to create a new city center on the far end of town to provide amenities closer to the interstate — retail, commercial, office and entertainment,” he said.

The city of Edwardsville also is poised to annex three acres on the northeast quadrant of the Interstate 55 and Illinois 143 interchange, across from Scott Credit Union. Midwest Petroleum Co. is planning a $3.5 million expansion of its existing gas station at the site.

Walt Williams said construction permits in Edwardsville are down from the past two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which also caused a potential tenant for one of two vacant warehouses recently built along Interstate 255 to reverse course.

Plans for a new Providence Presbyterian Church off Illinois 143 east of Edwardsville also are on hold, according to secretary Heather Tabor. Church leaders had hoped to break ground last February.

“Everything is at a standstill,” Tabor said.

Walt Williams said he expects the economy to get back on track and predicts the announcement later this month of another major development being planned in Edwardsville.

“COVID-19 has slowed things down ... but there are some things ready to come forward when the time is right,” he said.

Environmental concerns

Not all Edwardsville and Glen Carbon residents are thrilled by the I-55 Corridor District vision. They point to increased traffic, noise and crime and the loss of natural beauty, wildlife and sense of community as common byproducts of suburban sprawl.

Announcements of the Pangea and Plocher projects have prompted people to contact Rachel Tompkins, chairwoman of Edwardsville’s Cool Cities Initiative Advisory Committee, which advises the city and educates residents on reducing greenhouse-gas emissions and other environmental issues.

“Many of us are concerned about green space, and not the mowed type,” Tompkins said. “We’re interested in preserving some wild areas or semi-wild areas, natural features and wildlife habitat.

“And I can add another concern: With COVID, (the country is) losing retail stores at a brisk pace from what I understand. There are malls going under. I wonder if this is really the climate for more retail space. You certainly don’t want to build it if existing retail space isn’t fully occupied.”

Tompkins said other development in recent years has destroyed features that make Edwardsville a “charming” community, including woods, hills, ravines and prairies interspersed with neighborhoods and commercial areas. Farmland also has disappeared.

Tompkins urges cautious, “smart” growth that leaves pockets of nature and focuses on “building up instead of building out.”

“Downtowns die when you put all the shopping areas out of town,” she said.

Similar points were made by Sheila Voss, a conservation and sustainability consultant, board chairwoman for Watershed Nature Center in Edwardsville and steering committee member for Bring Your Own Glen-Ed, a group working to reduce single-use shopping bags.

Voss refers to Madison County’s natural features as “assets” that set it apart from overdeveloped suburbs west of St. Louis and that residents want public officials to protect.

Landscaped parks and bike trails can provide green space, she said, but they’re not the same.

“The phrase ‘undeveloped land’ kind of a annoys me because it assumes that any land not developed has no value, and of course we know that’s not true,” Voss said. “We know that woodlands, grasslands, rivers, lakes and streams have tremendous value in terms of all the ecosystem services they’re providing for us.”

Some parts of Madison County have serious stormwater problems, which get worse when land is paved over, said Voss, a former educator with Missouri Botanical Garden in St. Louis.

Protecting wild places

Some Edwardsville residents were disappointed by Plocher’s plans to fill in a large pond on the 95-acre Park North site and eliminate the surrounding woods and meadow that have become something of an unofficial nature preserve.

The pond apparently started as a borrow pit, where dirt was removed to build the Interstate 55 and Illinois 143 interchange in the 1960s.

“The pond is man-made,” Byron said. “It’s not very old. The family who we purchased it from ... One of the family members was instrumental in developing it. But it’s a very shallow pond.”

Byron said Plocher is essentially going to move the pond by creating other “water features” in the development.

Environmentalists argue that retention ponds and decorative pools aren’t the same as wildlife habitat that has been evolving for decades, and once animals are gone, they won’t return.

“That piece of property (off Illinois 143) has become a wild place,” said Joann Condellone, a retired nurse midwife who has walked in the area. “It’s been left on its own for quite a long time, and it’s full of wildlife — birds, waterfowl, frogs, turtles, foxes and other small creatures that live in the woods.

“It seems like an intelligent thing to do would be to try and save some of that for the animals living there. ... It could be really beautiful, a place for education and a way for (developers) to show that they are good citizens who care about the community.”

Condellone said she’s not trying to stop the development, but for the past month, she’s been searching for an agency or organization willing to save some of the wildlife.

So far, that effort has been unsuccessful. Condellone reached out to TreeHouse Wildlife Center in Dow, but its state license only allows staff to rescue injured animals and birds.

When it comes to environmental concerns associated with growth, Fultz and Eric Williams said city staff must balance development plans and community values, and I-55 Corridor District codes make that job easier.

“The purpose of planning is to set a long-term vision,” Fultz said.

Impact on other communities

Madison County and Glen Carbon adopted the same set of I-55 Corridor District codes in 2016 while Edwardsville created its own set. The city recently hired a Chicago firm to review it and help revise it.

“We’re trying to make it a little more user-friendly,” Fultz said, noting developers and city officials have found parts of it “hard to navigate,” particularly those related to architectural requirements. Not all projects fit the mold.

It’s likely that Glen Carbon will also revise its codes at some point, but that hasn’t yet been necessitated by enforcement problems in the portion of the district that would someday be annexed into the village, according to Village Administrator Jamie Bowden.

Several major projects are being planned or constructed in Glen Carbon, but they’re all within current village limits.

“There will be a lot of development in the (corridor district) that will be in the village of Glen Carbon, but we don’t have one in front of the village right now,” Bowden said.

Officials in Troy and Hamel aren’t sure how Edwardsville and Glen Carbon expansion will impact their communities.

Troy is just south of the corridor district’s southern border. City Administrator Doug Partney said the opening of Plummer Family Park, in particular, may have a positive effect.

“(Soccer and baseball tournaments) could increase stays at our hotels,” he said.

Hamel is about 7 miles north of the district’s northern border. Mayor Larry Bloemker said he’s never been able to understand why Madison County didn’t include the village in its planning process.

Bloemker also wonders what financial incentives Edwardsville and Glen Carbon will offer for corridor development and if they will make it more difficult for Hamel to compete and attract new business.

Regarding projects planned at the Illinois 143 interchange, Bloemker said some Hamel residents would like having easier access to retail stores, restaurants and other entertainment opportunities, while others will see development as a threat to their rural way of life.

Hamel had 816 residents in 2010, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Bloemker expects a 20% increase with the next census due to the addition of 50 homes.

“We’ve been careful in the way that we’ve grown,” he said. “We’ve tried to manage it and maintain what (people) like about living in a small town. Especially the people in the unincorporated part, they moved out to the country for a reason, and when it stops being that, they’re going to be unhappy.”

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