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City Beat: Council approves $109M in capital improvements

The city also greenlights efforts to widen Interstate 44 through Springfield

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Springfield City Council unanimously adopted the city’s 2020 capital improvements program at the Feb. 24 council meeting, outlining 137 possible projects for the city to begin this year that total roughly $109 million in proposed funding.

The program spells out a strategy for planning and funding the construction, maintenance and replacement for city infrastructure and public facilities for the next six years, said Randall Whitman, a principal planner with the city. It’s also a resource to be transparent with the public, he said.

“There’s no other mechanism we have for the public to say, ‘If you’re wondering if the projects in your area are in the queue … take a look here,’” Whitman said.

The initiatives outlined in the 156-page document involve construction of streets, parks and stormwater infrastructure, as well as improvements to airport, police and fire facilities. The 2020 CIP projects are located on city-owned property and cost at least $100,000 apiece, according to the bill documents.

“Not all the projects and programs included in the CIP are guaranteed,” Whitman told council. “The CIP represents our best intentions, but any number of circumstances can prevent some of these projects from moving forward.”

Among the proposed initiatives for 2020 is the Grant Avenue Parkway, for which the city was awarded $21 million in federal grant funding last year. Roughly $5.2 million in city matching funds are required to create a greenway trail system and numerous transportation improvements along a 3.3-mile stretch of Grant Avenue from Sunshine Street north to Walnut Street.

Other projects recommended this year are infrastructure improvements of the Jefferson Avenue Footbridge; multiple city parking lot enhancements; and the construction of two new fire stations in west Springfield. The 2020 CIP also lists 164 initiatives that are recommended for 2021-25 with a price tag of nearly $426.5 million.

I-44 grant
Council members unanimously green-lighted efforts to potentially expand Interstate 44.

The approved resolution declares intent of the city to support a Missouri Department of Transportation application for a grant to widen I-44 to six lanes between U.S. Highway 160 and U.S. Highway 65, as well as the intent to commit $2 million in city funds to the project.

“It’s become very congested,” said Springfield Public Works Director Dan Smith. “This should be a significant capacity and safety improvement.”

The nearly $70 million project also would replace six bridges and install a box culvert near Doling Park to provide trailway accessibility. Smith said the grant request, through the 2020 Infrastructure for Rebuilding America federal program, will be for roughly $40 million.

If the southwest district of MoDOT is awarded the grant, Smith said the formal commitment of $2 million in funding would come back to council for approval. The funding would comprise $1.6 million in Federal Surface Transportation Block Grant money and $400,000 from the 1/8-Cent Transportation Sales Tax Cost Share Program, he said.

Workable plan
A proposal to continue distributing funding to taxing jurisdictions through the city’s workable program for property tax abatements failed 6-3.

The proposal, which was previously heard at the Feb. 10 meeting, would remove the program’s two-year sunset and allow the city to permanently distribute payments in lieu of taxes to taxing jurisdictions. The program was intended to incentivize development in blighted areas. Once it sunsets March 26, neither the taxing jurisdictions nor the city will receive money from the development tax abatements.

Council members have voiced concern the program wasn’t working as intended and should be altered to better incentivize development. Only one project has qualified to benefit from the taxing districts, but it has yet to incur taxes, according to past Springfield Business Journal reporting.

Councilman Richard Ollis, who was an initial co-sponsor of the program, suggested council return to the concept as the city identifies community goals in the Forward SGF comprehensive planning process rather than attempt to amend it before the sunset expires.

“Altering an existing program that we have and continuing to monkey around with it really creates confusion, complexity and reduces the ability for us to use incentives effectively,” he said.

Cosmetology services
State-defined cosmetology services now qualify as a home occupation in Springfield. According to city documents, a cosmetologist is defined as an esthetician, hair stylist or manicurist.

Prior to the 7-2 passage of the council bill, the city code language was specific to hair stylists.

The ordinance limits one chair and one customer to be allowed in a single-family home at a time during the hours of 7 a.m.-7 p.m. No more than 20% of the total floor area of the housing unit and garage can be devoted to the home occupation, and a garage can’t be used for the business if it eliminates required parking.

City Planning and Development Director Mary Lilly Smith said the state also requires home cosmetologists to have a separate entrance at their property for customers.

Councilmen Craig Hosmer and Abe McGull voted against the measure. McGull said allowing more businesses to work out of homes can create problems in neighborhoods.

“We have plenty of office space and commercial space available for businesses throughout this city. I think it infringes on the character of single-family dwellings,” McGull said. “I think that is … the beginning to the end of our neighborhood concept – when we start having businesses operating within our neighborhoods.”

Councilman Andrew Lear, who supported the bill, noted several other jobs qualify as home occupations, such as attorneys, accountants and day care providers.

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