Springfield City Council on July 27 unanimously approved a 180-day administrative delay of demolition, new construction, replatting and rezoning along the Grant Avenue Parkway.
City Planning and Development Director Mary Lilly Smith said the extra time will be used to gather public input on the project and prepare improvement recommendations for council.
The Grant Avenue Parkway project is designed to create a greenway trail system and transportation improvements along a 3.3-mile stretch of Grant Avenue from Sunshine Street to Walnut Street – connecting downtown with Wonders of Wildlife National Museum & Aquarium. The city was awarded $21 million in federal grant funding last year for the project, and roughly $5.2 million in city matching funds are required.
The public engagement process is scheduled to kick off Aug. 18 with a virtual session livestreamed on the city’s website and Facebook page, said Cora Scott, the city’s director of public information and civic engagement.
Virtual neighborhood engagement meetings will follow in late August for the West Central and Fassnight neighborhoods. Scott said city staff members also are developing a public engagement session at Parkview High School with a drive-thru format. Additionally, staff is working to form advisory committees, conduct citywide surveying and contract a project consultant, she said.
The Grant Avenue Parkway must be complete by 2026, according to the grant provisions.
City staff presented an ordinance to council that reaffirms the city’s ability to condemn authority on negotiations of property for the Hunt Branch Trunk sewer project. It comes in light of an easement acquisition that’s necessary to extend sewer access to the U.S. Highway 60 corridor in southeast Springfield.
Errin Kemper, city director of environmental services, said proposed developments are waiting to start construction until the sewer infrastructure can be extended.
Kemper said the city has reached rights-of-way agreements with eight of the 11 tracts in the project area. The property owner of the remaining three tracts, Bryant Farms of Greene County LLC, has not agreed on a deal with the city, Kemper said.
“We have had several meetings with the property owners and their attorney, but regrettably, we have been unable to come to an agreement on the value of these easements,” he said.
The parties appear to be far apart in negotiations. The city has offered $19,000 for the easements, Kemper said, but the property owner is requesting $383,000.
City documents cite Mark Bryant and Wanda Bryant as the property owners, who could not be reached for comment by press time. The couple own 177 acres off East Mary Road in Rogersville, just southeast of Springfield, according to Greene County assessor records.
Christiaan Horton, the Bryants’ attorney, told Springfield Business Journal the couple has concerns about how the easements will impact the farm’s surface and ground water used for cattle operations.
“The sewer line will basically run through the heart of this family farm that’s been there for many years,” said Horton of Carnahan, Evans, Cantwell & Brown PC. “We don’t want any impact to our water source.”
Horton said it’s uncertain if the city will settle with the property owners, and they’re preparing for condemnation.
“If council authorizes the pursuit of condemnation,” Kemper said at the meeting, “we will continue to work with the property owner to avoid condemnation if at all possible.”
Three people spoke in favor of the ordinance – all representatives of a senior living facility planned near Highland Springs Country Club dubbed Springhouse Village South. The developer, Foster Senior Living, also is constructing the $27 million Springhouse Village East off U.S. Highway 65 and Chestnut Expressway, according to past SBJ reporting.
Zach Fischer, Foster Senior Living’s director of development, said the $36 million proposed project is designed with 100 beds for assisted living and memory care services, and 45 independent living homes.
Eddie Tims, project architect, said obtaining the sewer connection is a major hurdle for the project.
“Nobody likes condemnation … but this seems to be holding up a lot of possible economic growth to Springfield, as well as for Rogersville,” said Tims, of Eddie Tims Architect PC.
Council also heard a request to rezone roughly 5 acres at 3146 S. Golden Ave. to an office district from general manufacturing.
OIP LLC, or Ozarks Investment Properties, owns the land and is leasing the church building on the property to Gloria Deo Academy Inc., said Wendy Wright, development director at the private school. Gloria Deo Academy intends to open the private school in August at the Golden Avenue site, where The Catalyst Church also meets.
The private school cannot operate on the property under the current zoning, according to city documents.
The Golden Avenue site is also home to The Catalyst Church, which subleases the auditorium from Gloria Deo Academy, said Pastor Tim Wertz.
Joy Davis, head of the school, said nearly 520 students so far are signed up to attend the private Christian school this fall, which follows a classical education curriculum for K-12. The school also will continue to operate a campus at River Stone Fellowship in Nixa. Before entering a lease-to-purchase agreement for the Golden Avenue space, Davis said Gloria Deo students were meeting at three churches in the Springfield area, which would be consolidated between the Nixa and southwest Springfield sites.
“This is giving us an opportunity to have our own place and not be at the mercy of other people,” she said.
Council is expected to vote Aug. 10 on the rezoning request.
Other action items:
Council approved three community improvement district requests for nearly $15.6 million in public improvements across 144 acres.
The CIDs are planned at Glenstone Avenue and Kearney Street, along South West Bypass and at the site of The Ridge at Ward Branch development near The Library Center on South Campbell Avenue. Property owners within the proposed CID boundaries will next vote on imposing a sales and use tax of up to 1% to fund the public improvements.
Council also approved several measures for public improvements in the Commercial Street area, including a bid of nearly $523,000 from Hunter Chase & Associates Inc. for alleyway and parking lot improvements along Jefferson Avenue at Commercial Street.
Council also authorized the city to use $66,000 of the Commercial Street Tax Increment Financing Special Allocation Fund for the improvements and approved the acceptance of a donated piece of mosaic artwork from the Commercial Club of Springfield. The mosaic, valued at $15,000, will be used in sidewalk construction.
Builders predict costs will remain elevated well into 2021.
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