A divided Springfield City Council remanded a rezoning measure for a proposed commercial development at the corner of Sunshine Street and National Avenue back to the city’s Planning & Zoning Commission at its May 22 meeting.
In a separate measure, council rejected a resolution for a 210-day moratorium on development of property abutting the corner. That measure was proposed by Councilmember Craig Hosmer on Jan. 23, at which time council referred the proposal to its Plans and Policies Committee. That committee did not take it up in the four months since, so Hosmer requested that it be placed back before council.
The vote to remand the zoning measure to P&Z passed by a vote of 5-3, with members Monica Horton, Hosmer and Brandon Jenson voting against it. Matthew Simpson recused himself, though he did not recuse himself from the vote on an administrative delay. Simpson told Springfield Business Journal one of the applicant properties is a partner with one of his relatives in a separate business, and he recused himself to avoid any potential appearance of conflict.
Prior to the meeting, developer BK&M LLC requested that the rezoning issue be remanded to P&Z because of three changes to its plans: a lower overall height of the development, the addition of a masonry wall and the addition of evergreen trees.
Jenson maintained that public opinion on the rezoning should be heard.
“I am not opposed to remanding this issue back to the Planning & Zoning Commission, but I am opposed to remanding it back to the Planning & Zoning Commission before allowing the public hearing to proceed,” Jenson said.
Jenson said the motion to remand would be more appropriate after a public hearing, and he urged his fellow council members to vote down the remand motion so they could hear public input.
Councilmember Abe McGull, who offered the motion to remand, made a case for the rights of property owners to due process, while noting that Planning & Zoning consideration is part of that process.
“That’s our system for how people develop land,” he said.
McGull cautioned against inaction, noting something “not-so-tasteful” for the community could move in.
“There are certain federal programs that say that a city cannot deny certain developments. So, hey, either we follow the process, or we may end up with something that we don’t want,” he said.
Hosmer countered that a public hearing before council is the process.
“Planning & Zoning has looked at the proposal and they voted against it 1-7,” he said. “They’ve rejected it, sent it to City Council, and City Council’s – our – job is to take it up.”
Hosmer compared the situation with the recent council decision to allow a 7 Brew Coffee to proceed a block west on Sunshine Street.
“They rejected 7 Brew several times, and we just kept sending it back until P&Z did something else and we passed it,” Hosmer said. “We’ve got to either be advocates for neighborhoods or we’re advocates for developers, but it seems like we’re all one-sided.”
He added, “This deal was done before it ever came up to council tonight.”
Prior to the vote to remand, Hosmer’s motion for a 210-day administrative delay was voted down 5-4, with members Hosmer, Heather Hardinger, Jenson and Horton supporting the pause.
When Hosmer proposed the moratorium, council sent it to a committee whose chair, outgoing Councilmember Richard Ollis, refused to hold the committee’s March meeting and stated that the new members of council should be the ones to decide upon the issue.
The moratorium would have prevented new applications for demolition or construction in the area. According to City Attorney Rhonda Lewsader, the moratorium would have allowed city staff time to reach out to neighbors for feedback on a plan for the corridor and then bring a report back to council.
Hosmer pointed out similar moratoriums had been used recently in the Galloway, Phelps Grove and Rountree neighborhoods and for the Grant Avenue Parkway project.
Jenson said the city’s comprehensive plan does not include a subarea plan for the Sunshine/National corridor. He noted developers are losing time and money because council has not provided guidance for what is possible at the corridor.
Councilmember Derek Lee said he was opposed to a moratorium because the city’s strategic plan already offers clear direction.
“I’ve been a part of so many zoning cases in the city of Springfield and other communities, and I would say the guidance that we have is as good as it gets,” he said.
Eleven members of the public, many of them residents of the University Heights neighborhood where the development is proposed, spoke up in favor of the moratorium before council voted it down. Some speakers referenced a current court case brought by neighborhood residents against BK&M to ask a court to uphold deed restrictions that disallow commercial development in the century-old neighborhood.
Marijuana tax proposed
Council unanimously voted to put a 3% recreational marijuana sales tax on the ballot in the Aug. 8 election.
Taxation of recreational weed is a move that was adopted by many cities and counties in the April 4 election, among them Christian, Dade, Lawrence, Polk and Webster counties and the cities of Monett, Mount Vernon and Ozark.
Funds will go toward public safety, mental health, substance abuse and housing initiatives.
Councilmember Horton said council should make housing and shelter one of its top priorities when it begins to look into the budget process for fiscal 2025.
City Manager Jason Gage estimated revenue from the tax at over $1.3 million per year.
“We really don’t have a lot to extrapolate from,” he said. “I think you could potentially see it be two to three times that amount.”
Other action items
Additionally, council accepted state ARPA Water Infrastructure Community Grant Program funds in the amount of $289,000 for construction of a Jordan Creek Regional Detention Basin. The project will increase stormwater detention storage volume to mitigate peak flows of Jordan Creek through downtown Springfield.
Council also OK’d the annexation and rezoning of 1 acre of property in the 3700 block of East Cherry Street into the city for a new multifamily residential development; 9.45 acres in the 2200 block of North Belcrest Avenue to highway commercial from heavy manufacturing to make way for a consumer vehicle retailer with associated maintenance; and less than an acre at 718 W. Division St. to residential townhouse from single-family residential.
Council also granted a short-term rental Type 2 permit for a house at 947 E. Sunshine St.
The congregation at Crossway Baptist Church is building a children’s wing at the west end of the church, and beginning in 2024, it will be home to a Christian academy.