2021 Memorial Day Parade in downtown Union

While a recommended Highway 47 bypass that differed from the planned Union Expressway raised some eyebrows, other recommendations in a draft comprehensive plan for the city of Union could be just as gamechanging.

The plan, announced at a June 14 public workshop by consultant H3 Studio, of St. Louis, calls for Union to eventually double in size through annexation. More immediately, it asks the city to be more proactive in downtown redevelopment.

Comprehensive plans are required for cities in Missouri that have planning and zoning commissions. H3 was hired by the city in December 2020 and paid $50,000. The larger goals in the plan were similar to what was approved in 2012, but downtown is mentioned in the top two goals, “Community Character and Placemaking,” which calls for the city to, “Preserve and enhance Union’s physical character and environment through land development that encourages revitalization of Downtown; supports industrial and business growth; and preserves the natural landscape, topography, natural drainage patterns, vegetative cover, and scenic viewsheds.”

The names of the other general goals were more straightforward: “Downtown Revitalization;” “Business Stability and Economic Development;” “Housing and Neighborhood Stabilization and Development;” “Parks, Open Space and Community Health;” “Transportation and Accessibility;” and “Community Infrastructure and Services.”

To assist with downtown, H3’s report recommends the city create a new downtown mixed use neighborhood zoning category.

This would help address an issue former Alderman Vicki Jo Hooper raised at the meeting.

“Downtown is clearly important, but there’s only so much you can do with downtown because there is immediate residential right around downtown,” she said. “Good for us, but it kind of makes you landlocked on what you can accomplish downtown.”

The new designation also would reduce the minimum downtown lot size to 4,500 square feet from 7,500 square feet, reduce the minimum lot width to 35 feet and the minimum distance from the front of a building to the street to 15 feet. Tim Breihan, principal at H3 said this would reduce the number of existing downtown buildings that do not comply with the city’s regulations.

Breihan also showed photos of restaurants and offices in former houses in places like Springfield, Kirkwood and Florissant. He said the mixed use neighborhood zoning category would allow for more such businesses in Union.

Union does face challenges because its workforce is largely industrial, government and education workers, which does not lend itself to daytime restaurant and retail use, Breihan said.

A second new zoning category, mixed-use innovation campus district, also was recommended. Breihan said it can include both traditional light industrial and manufacturing facilities, as well as more high-tech and advanced industrial uses, like agriculture technology, information technology, education and health care.

“It’s designed to provide a flexibility where it still supports growth of more traditional industrial businesses, but it also opens up the possibility to attract emerging or nontraditional businesses that can help to diversify the economy,” Breihan said. “We see this as a major potential opportunity for businesses that Union could attract.”

H3 also encourages Union to get more involved with regional economic development organizations and expand its participation in the Missouri Main Street Connection and achieve associate community classification, with a goal of eventually becoming an Accredited Main Street.

The report also suggests that Union create a downtown organization, like Downtown Washington Inc., with its own executive director. It adds that the city should actively recruit and incubate downtown businesses with the goal of “maintaining Union’s small-town feel.”

Assistant City Administrator James Schmieder said he hopes that 80 to 90 percent of residents will say the city has made positive developments on downtown in 10 years. “Instead of that 50 or 60, and we look across the street and it’s clearly a goal,” he said, referring to a dilapidated lot across from City Hall.

The city also should work with East Central College to expand and update the Workforce Development Program to help train adults and address local employers’ evolving needs, according to the report. That would help Union keep talented employees.

The city also is advised to create an advanced manufacturing innovation center and expand transit and digital access to better connect with St. Louis.

The plan also seeks for Union to double its land size through annexation over the next 30 years, expanding in all directions to even out its borders, particularly toward Interstate 44. The plan calls for the city to be split evenly between residential and business use.

The plan suggests Union put in a 542-acre park along the Bourbeuse River, with low impact uses like hiking, biking, equestrian and off-highway vehicle trails, as well as a seasonal campground. It would be connected to the rest of the city by a new bicycle and pedestrian trail network. It could be operated in partnership with Franklin County and the Missouri Department of Conservation, according to the recommendation.

The river is now considered a major divide between the east and west sides of Union.

Along with the Bourbeuse River, additional greenways were suggested to go along Flat Creek on the west side of town, Birch Creek on the east side and connecting Veterans Memorial Park to the Bourbeuse River park.

The plan also suggests a “rail trail” on the Central Midland Railway branch line, as well as numerous on-street paths, including on Highways 50 and 47, as well as on Old Route 66. The plan seeks for every Union resident to live within a quarter mile, or a five-minute walk, of a bike and pedestrian path.

None of the plan has been adopted. The plan will still have a public hearing before being considered by the Board of Aldermen.

“This 10-year plan, I hope, takes more of a precedence or has more importance than it has in the past 10,” said Dustin Bailey, a member of the city’s Board of Adjustment.