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City Beat: Council weighs cluster housing development

Residents worry development will change the nature of their neighborhood

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Planners of a residential cluster development and 17 residents of the neighborhood where it is proposed were deeply at odds at the March 21 meeting of Springfield City Council. 

At issue was a request for council to approve a 22-lot residential subdivision at 4423 S. Reed Ave., just south of James River Freeway and less than a mile west of U.S. Highway 65. Called the Reed Avenue Cottages, the applicant for the project is the Katy A. St. George Revocable Trust. 

The subdivision, situated between the Old Ivy subdivision and the Nature Center, would be housed on 4.7 acres of land.  

At the Feb. 10 meeting of the Planning and Zoning Commission, Riley Shantz, a member of the Reed Avenue Cottages development team, said the plan was to build upscale patio homes sized at 1,500-1,600 square feet with two-car garages. 

Shantz said the project would have a density of 5.6 units per acre, and that cluster grouping preserves nature while providing a unique housing plan, according to the minutes of the meeting. On March 10, the commission voted 5-2 to approve the preliminary plat. 

Susan Istenes, the city’s director of planning and development, told council its role was to authorize her to accept the dedication of easements to the city. 

Mayor Ken McClure sought clarification that council’s role in the matter was merely administrative, rather than legislative. City Attorney Rhonda Lewsader said city code states once the Planning and Zoning Commission approves city plats, if they comply with applicable ordinances, council’s role is to authorize the easements. 

Councilperson Andrew Lear said that effectively council’s hands are tied since Planning and Zoning accepted the plat. He noted if council were to deny the matter, the developers could take an appeal to court, and opponents of the development have the same right.

The first speaker before council disagreed with Lear’s assessment that council has no say in the matter. Patrick Platter, an attorney with Neale & Newman LLP, said he was representing the Old Ivy Homeowners Association. 

“Unfortunately, we do not have a mutual assent concerning the interpretation of your role tonight,” he said. “The cluster development presently before you has been used once in 20 years, according to a senior planner from the city of Springfield.” 

Platter said council was not just reviewing a cluster subdivision; by city code, they are reviewing a major subdivision. He said if there was a problem with ambiguity, it is because the code is so seldom used. 

“This is the legal equivalent to experimental surgery by a surgeon who doesn’t normally do the surgery, who doesn’t have a plan once he starts the surgery,” Platter said. “That’s what you’re doing. Please review it, and remand it to the commission for it to do its proper job, which it did not do before.” 

Residents of the neighborhood had a range of concerns, from whether roads can accommodate traffic, including emergency vehicles, to the clear-cutting of 3 acres of forest. 

Resident Daniel Losco said the proposed backyards are 10 feet deep, and the houses will be only 5 feet apart. According to Losco, the project is high-density housing, not low-density housing, as described. 

Identifying himself to council as a business owner, Jim Meadows, a partner with Kutak Rock LLP, brought up several factors in favor of the development, including lack of housing stock in the city, economic development benefits from the project and environmental sustainability from encouraging more people to live on available land. 

Meadows added that the project encourages developers to take risks, and a code not having been used frequently is not a reason to turn down a project. 

Karen Baker, a resident of Old Ivy, said the Planning and Zoning Commission failed to perform due diligence. She said 118 signatures were obtained opposing the development, and at least 50 emails of opposition were sent to the commission. Neighbors’ objections were ignored while developers’ claims were not questioned, she said. 

“This development and the tsunami of future development will dominate and destroy this lovely neighborhood,” she said. 

Nearby resident Shanda Moore called the project a wolf in sheep’s clothing. 

“This project simply shoves as many units as possible on the portion of the property that is financially feasible to be developed,” she said.

She added, “All of the required work is not done on this project. Send it back to Planning and Zoning.” 

There are other cluster housing developments in the city, according to Istenes, who offered the examples of Lauderdale Park, south of Republic Road on South Farm Road 141; Paragon Court, in the area of Lost Hill Park; and Fassnight Meadows, a community for people ages 55 and up along Fassnight Creek, near its crossing at South Fort Avenue.

Council is slated to vote on the easements at its April 4 meeting. 

Jail property annexed
Council voted to annex the 25 acres housing the new Greene County Jail and Sheriff’s Office at 5100 W. State Highway EE, including 1.5 acres of right of way for North Haseltine Road.

The jail is expected to open in April or May.

Prior to the unanimous annexation vote, Istenes said county officials had indicated they did not wish to rezone the property, which raised a question from Councilperson Richard Ollis.

“It does beg the question of someone wanting the services of the city but yet does not want the zoning that we would appropriately have within the city,” he said, though he added he was not opposed to the measure.

Kevin Barnes, Greene County’s director of resource management, told council the annexation was requested primarily so the jail would have city fire service.

Barnes said the county is not opposed to changing the zoning.

Barnes said the county has extended City Utilities gas and water lines and rebuilt Haseltine Road.

He noted 70% of the jail’s inmates have been arrested inside Springfield city limits.

Councilperson Matthew Simpson said the city should look into initiating rezoning. He said the decision should be based on what’s best for the property, regardless of the owner.

 Other action items:

  • Council voted to accept $5 million in state funds on behalf of the Ozark Empire Fair. The money will be used to build a new arena.
  • The city will apply for two grants through the U.S. Department of Labor for the Department of Workforce Development, one for $3 million to establish apprenticeships and the other for $6 million to be a hub within the grant program, according to Workforce Development Director Sally Payne.
  • The Springfield-Greene County Health Department had two grants approved from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A $1.4 million grant will expand epidemiology and laboratory capacity for detection of diseases, and a $575,000 grant will address local public health disparities.


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