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City Beat: Recreational weed raises zoning concerns, questions about crime

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The required distance between recreational marijuana facilities and day cares or churches raised debate at the Jan. 23 Springfield City Council meeting.

The discussion took place in what was otherwise a housekeeping measure to accommodate a change to state law following passage of Missouri Amendment 3 to legalize recreational marijuana usage.

Council learned from local attorney Chip Sheppard that all of Springfield’s 11 medical marijuana dispensaries had applied for comprehensive marijuana dispensary licenses, which will be issued by the state on Feb. 6.

City code can require dispensaries to be located up to 1,000 feet from day cares, schools and churches, the maximum allowed by the state. It currently requires 1,000 feet of distance between schools and dispensaries, but 200 feet is the city’s required minimum distance between dispensaries and churches or day cares. A bill to revise 14 sections of city zoning regulations to bring all aspects of city code into compliance with the Missouri Constitution following the legalization of recreational weed received its first reading at the meeting.

Making a case for keeping the distance requirements that are in place for medical marijuana dispensaries, Councilperson Andrew Lear said changing the code to require a greater distance from churches or day cares would eliminate some businesses that are operating as medical facilities and would otherwise qualify for a recreational license.

Councilperson Craig Hosmer said his recollection was that Springfield Police Chief Paul Williams had said crime is more prevalent around dispensaries.

“I think we should go back to the maximum distance between day cares,” he said. “If these are areas where there is more criminal conduct, why should we have them close to day cares?”

Hosmer followed with a suggestion that was a clear carryover from an earlier debate in the meeting, where one of his proposed resolutions was effectively neutralized by being sent to a council committee (see story on page 8).

“Maybe this is something we should send to committee,” he said. “Something that’s so important, I’d like to refer it to the Finance and Administration Committee.”

He added that his suggestion was a motion for council consideration.

Councilperson Abe McGull was quick to second.

“All major legislation before this body should go to a committee,” McGull said. “I’d like to see us start moving toward working within our committees. … Then we can all feel comfortable about voting on something because it has been vetted by members of this governing body – so that’s why I second his motion.”

Councilperson Heather Hardinger raised an objection, noting the issue was hashed out in 2019, but Hosmer replied that the 2019 debate focused on medical facilities.

“These are not medical facilities. These are recreational facilities,” he said.

Hardinger questioned what the committee referral was supposed to accomplish.

“This is going to have an impact on the city of Springfield on criminal conduct and quality of place,” Hosmer said. “It’s a bad idea, and before we do it, we should fully understand what we are doing.”

Lear noted if the motion were to fail, Chief Williams could brief council members over the next two weeks.

The motion did fail, despite “yes” votes from three members – Hosmer, McGull and, surprisingly, Hardinger. Monica Horton abstained without explanation. The code revisions will be up for a vote at a special meeting of council Jan. 31. Passage would put existing dispensaries on track to get licenses on Feb. 6.

Annexation nixed
Mercy Springfield Communities withdrew its requests to annex 27 acres south of Springfield along U.S. Highway 65 and to rezone it for government and institutional use.

At the Dec. 12 council meeting, council approved a resolution declaring the city’s intent to annex the property, located at 6621 S. Innovation Ave., as a contingency of a land purchase by Mercy.

At the time, spokesperson Sonya Kullmann said the health system had no definitive plans for the parcel but wanted to be able to meet needs of the growing population in that area, which is already served by Mercy Orthopedic Hospital Springfield.

Kullmann told Springfield Business Journal Mercy had decided not to purchase the property.

Competing grant applications
The city will apply for three grants following council action. A $10 million proposal through the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity Grant Program would fund improvements for the Renew Jordan Creek Project.

However, that application is in direct competition with a second proposal by the city to the same program. On Jan. 9, council approved an application for an $8.6 million RAISE Grant to pay for the Jefferson Avenue Footbridge Rehabilitation Project, which would repair a pedestrian bridge across railroad tracks north of the intersection of Jefferson Avenue and Commercial Street.

Kirkland Preston, an engineer for the city, said both projects meet the stated goals of the grant program, and funding is determined based on merit. He verified that it is possible for the city to be awarded both grants.

Two other applications are for a $3.5 million grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for infrastructure improvements to the city’s solid waste management system and $1.5 million from the EPA to expand recycling participation and landfill waste diversion.

Additionally, a $286,000 grant from the U.S Department of Agriculture was accepted to fund improvements to the city’s yard waste recycling center so that it can begin to accept food waste.

Complaint-driven city
A short-term rental Type 2 permit was granted for property at 410 E. Loren St. by an 8-1 vote, with Hosmer opposing the measure.

Property owners must gain council approval when they are not able to get 55% of adjacent property owners to agree to the project. Owner Brett Curry said he tried, but he was not able to reach all of the owners, some of whom live outside of the city.

No protest petitions were submitted by property owners.

Hosmer asked Senior City Planner Daniel Neal how many approved and unapproved short-term rentals there are in the city, and Neal said there are 230 registered rentals and over 400 that are operating without being registered.

Hosmer asked how many unregistered rentals had been investigated or closed, and Neal replied that the number was small.

“We’ve been talking about transitioning from a complaint-driven city to an enforcing city,” he said, asking when the city would begin enforcing its regulations. “It seems like on this issue and a lot of others, we haven’t made that transition, and again, I think it’s high time that we do.”

City Manager Jason Gage said the staff can start planning for enforcement soon. He added that the city needs to obtain software to help with the process. When pressed by Hosmer for a date, Gage said he needed to confer with staff to determine that.

Other action items

  • Council approved two zoning measures: 4121 S. Cox Ave., to commercial service from general retail, and 830 N. Benton Ave., to government and institutional use from general retail. Approval was 9-0 for the first project and 8-0 for the second, with Councilmember Monica Horton recusing herself.

The Cox Avenue property will be leased to a company that rents hospital beds, and the Benton Avenue property belongs to Drury University, which plans to rehabilitate its historic Benton Avenue AME Church.

• Council unanimously approved changing Republic Street to Republic Road from the west 3100 block through the east 3600 block.


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