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City Beat: Council mulls repurposing of Boyd School

Apartments and retail space are proposed for Midtown development

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A plan to convert the vacant Boyd Elementary School into a mixed-use apartment building drew 10 members of the public with comments at the April 3 Springfield City Council meeting, with most in support.

Developer Matt Blevins of the Boyd School Redevelopment Corp. proposed a 17-unit apartment building with 3,500 square feet at ground level to be reserved for a commercial tenant. Restore SGF, the city’s organization dedicated to rehabbing older homes, is interested in the space.

Council considered a resolution to rezone the 1.5-acre North Washington Avenue property to planned development from single-family residential. The resolution stated the building could hold a maximum of 24 dwelling units.

Councilmember Monica Horton offered an amendment to restrict the building to a maximum of 20 apartments, and it was unanimously approved.

Addressing council, Blevins said his partners love the history, architecture and people of the Midtown neighborhood, where the school is located.

“I applaud the neighbors for how much they not only care about their homes, but for the neighborhood, and it is truly refreshing to see their commitment to their neighbors and the district as a whole,” he said.

He noted he met with neighborhood residents on four occasions to be forthcoming about plans and to get their feedback.

“After each iteration of our meetings, we took their comments into consideration and made modifications that we could to the project,” he said.

Most residents spoke in favor of the adaptive reuse of the school as a way to preserve the historic building. As Dee Ogilvy noted, if it is not redeveloped, it is at risk of experiencing demolition by neglect.

Some expressed concern that alcohol could be sold at the building. Nearby resident Nathan Davis said before he purchased his home, it had been a fraternity house that hosted noisy keg parties, and he wants to preserve the character of the neighborhood by keeping alcohol out of it.

Blevins noted that the development group has committed to prohibiting uses such as bars, taprooms, nightclubs and dispensaries, while limiting hours of operation to be in keeping with a neighborhood setting.

Council will vote on the measure April 17.

MoDOT rethinks medians
Council passed a resolution asking the Missouri Department of Transportation to suspend its plans to add medians along the East Sunshine Street corridor, while supporting other aspects of MoDOT’s plans to improve the route.

Council voted 7-1, with Councilmember Monica Horton voting no and Andrew Lear recusing himself.

The medians would limit drivers’ ability to make left turns from Sunshine Street with the goal to improve safety on the heavily trafficked route.

Members of the East Sunshine Street business community, led by Thomas Fowler, president of State Bank of Southwest Missouri, 3310 E. Sunshine St., have expressed their objection to medians because they believe they will prevent customer access. Fowler has rallied more than 80 businesses to communicate their objection to medians to MoDOT.

MoDOT Director Patrick McKenna told council the department has put the project on hold until 2024 at the earliest so it can gather more information and talk to businesspeople before proceeding with the work.

MoDOT’s plan calls for improvements along Sunshine from Glenstone Avenue to Farm Road 199, east of U.S. Highway 65. Work was to have consisted of signal, sidewalk accessibility and intersection upgrades with resurfacing and pavement markings. The work was originally estimated at $8 million but was reevaluated by MoDOT to cost $11 million.

“We come to the table with statements of problems, things that need to be solved,” McKenna said.

“We set our engineers on course to solve those problems and to bring recommended solutions forward. Those solutions don’t always match what the community would like to have happen, and I think we have hit one of those areas here.”

The medians comprise only about 1% of the project’s price, McKenna said, but the access control they provide is a significant component to the safety improvements of the plan.

“The median access control, by our estimates, look to be 30%-35% of the safety benefit itself,” he said. “The singular bang for the buck in safety dollars comes from that median access.”

MoDOT figures show 728 crashes occurred in the corridor in the five-year period of 2016-20, and those are only the crashes that were reported, McKenna said.

Horton noted five people died in motor vehicle accidents during the period, and 12 people had disabling injuries from accidents on the corridor. She added that 74% of the crashes occurred because of left turns.

“With good access management, the medians and the reductions of access points, according to the engineering consultants hired by MoDOT, will reduce crashes by 39%,” she said, noting the safety aspect was why she supported the original plan.

McKenna said there may be other options to consider, such as striping, which may modify the behavior of some motorists.

Several business representatives spoke to council. Tiffany Nichols of State Bank of Southwest Missouri said traffic is already problematic at certain times of day, and medians are likely to push traffic onto side streets.

Ryan Murray of R.B. Murray Co. talked about the real estate impact, noting that site selection is influenced by location, size and access.

Other speakers represented Starbucks on East Sunshine, Hamra Enterprises and Murney Associates, Realtors, as well as a neighborhood north of Sunshine. All were opposed to medians.

Other action items

  • A public hearing was held on marijuana regulations in the city. The proposed rules would impose a fine for public use of marijuana products and for generating an odor that enters a public space from a private one. Drivers would be restricted from consuming marijuana while operating a vehicle, and passengers would be restricted from smoking it.

The rules would allow possession in schools for qualified patients, and qualifying patients who are incarcerated would be permitted to have marijuana in jail or prison. Additionally, regulations applying to drug paraphernalia would not apply to marijuana devices and supplies.

Council will vote on the city code proposals on April 17.

  • Two zoning measures were remanded to the Planning & Zoning Commission because of errors by the Planning and Development staff. Susan Istenes, director of that department, apologized to council and to developers for the mistake and promised to do better.

Councilmember Matthew Simpson expressed concern about the mistakes.

“This is the second meeting in a row we’ve had these issues requiring remanding or retabling,” he said. “In addition to developers, everybody involved in this process kind of depends on the process occurring as it’s laid out to occur.”

Istenes said cross-training and procedural changes led to the mistakes, but a plan is in place for staff to avoid future mistakes. The errors are expected to delay projects by four to six weeks.

The zoning measures affected a 9.5-acre rezoning request near 2200 N. Belcrest Ave. to highway commercial from heavy manufacturing for a proposed automotive retail facility and for a 22.4-acre site near 3400 W. Sunshine St. to city highway commercial from county general commercial to construct a retail center.

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