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Community input sought for land-use code update

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The text of the city of Springfield’s land development code was last revised in 1993, and mapping was updated in 1995.

Forward SGF, the city’s 20-year comprehensive plan adopted in November 2022, calls for an overhaul of the land development code, which determines land use regulations within the city limits.

“It’s going to be a big undertaking,” said Bob Hosmer, planning manager for the city.

City staff will get some help with the heavy lifting from community volunteers. An open house is set for 5:30-7:30 p.m. Jan. 25, at the Springfield Art Museum. City Planning & Development Department staff and consultants from Kansas City-based Multistudio and Asheville, North Carolina-based Urban3 will solicit public input and answer questions at information stations. The city invested $590,828 for the consultants, according to city spokesperson Cora Scott.

According to city officials, the code update is planned for completion this year and will target Chapter 36 of the land development code, which provides zoning code and subdivision regulations. The codes must be reviewed for compatibility with those that regulate the design of streets, stormwater and other infrastructure.

Forward SGF also puts an emphasis on a place type approach to land use. This approach considers how a parcel is used and, importantly, how it connects to the area around it, with attention to providing gradual transitions from one place type to the next.

Randall Whitman, principal planner for the city, has explained it this way: “We don’t look at a parcel anymore. We look at an area, like a neighborhood or district, and ask how does that area function together? What combination of uses are appropriate to go together and be designed together to create a sense of place?”

Whitman said some mixture of uses is typical, even within specified zones. A residential neighborhood obviously contains residential structures, but these may include diverse housing types, plus churches, schools, parks and structures for light commercial use.

The code revision aims to incorporate more of the place type approach but also to correct inconsistencies and repetition in a document that has been pieced together over a long period of time, with nearly three decades passing since its last major revision, according to Whitman.

Community teams
Whitman said the Jan. 25 public event will be preceded by a workshop with place teams, which are four community engagement teams with around 40 participants in each based on four areas of inquiry: neighborhoods, employment centers, destinations and corridors.

The open house to follow will have a series of boards showing different districts and place types in the city.

“There will be opportunities for the public to weigh in on what they like and don’t like and provide some feedback,” he said.

Whitman added that the process is still in its early stages.

“The majority of the time spent by our consultants thus far has been their reconnaissance, their study, their analysis of the city’s geography and existing zoning code, land use patterns, development patterns, the economics of how zoning and development work in Springfield,” he said. “They’re trying to get the lay of the land, and they’re just now beginning to apply that to the practical application of drafting code.”

Public feedback will contribute another data point, according to Whitman.

“They want to get an affirmation that what they’re hearing, what they’re seeing and what they’ve studied on the ground is accurate,” he said.

Consultant input
In a Nov. 14 presentation, also at the Art Museum, consultants Graham Smith of Multistudio and Joe Minicozzi of Urban3 offered an overview of the code update project, with Smith describing it as a deep dive into Forward SGF, the current development code and development patterns in the community.

“Your overriding vision, strategy, is this idea of quality of place,” Smith said. “We’re trying to build that in everything we do and every aspect of the code that’s going to guide development and public investment in the future.”

The code embraces the place type approach to urban planning, a concept that plays a large part in the Forward SGF plan. Some examples of Forward SGF place types include residential neighborhoods (center city or traditional), mixed residential, downtown, mixed use, city corridor, business flex or industrial and logistics.

Place types provide a vision for land use, though they do not replace traditional zoning requirements, according to Whitman. Rather, zoning remains as a regulatory tool.

“It’s really a conversation about to what degree do we use land use and to what degree does our design influence our new regulations?” Whitman said.

In the November meeting, Minicozzi offered a fiscal impact analysis of land use and reminded the audience that both the city and the county are incorporated.

“The city is basically a really big real estate development project,” Minicozzi said.

He introduced the idea that density provides economic efficiency. He noted Springfield takes up 14% of the area of Greene County but produces 64% of its property tax.

He also talked about the importance of the downtown for the economy.

“What you do in the downtown and to help downtown is great for the whole city, but it’s unbelievable for the whole county,” Minicozzi said. “You have to be working together. You all are both a shared corporation.”

Minicozzi noted revising the land use plan is about asking questions and yielding results to maximize community wealth.

Low-hanging fruit
Hosmer said the code revision includes both easy and difficult changes, and some changes are simply a matter of correcting the code so that it matches reality.

“If we’ve got areas in the city that are zoned manufacturing where most of the property is residentially used, something like that might be pretty simple because that is relatively an easy process,” he said. “Everybody wants it. It’s important for the people to be able to get loans and get their houses rebuilt, so something like that would be pretty simple.”

Other areas are more controversial and there is not broad agreement about land use, he said, and those would be best left to discuss for a later date.

“We’ll be looking at the ones that make the most sense and are the easiest, like the low-hanging fruit,” he said.

Another easy revision has to do with planned development and special districts, Whitman said, noting there are more than 350 of them in the city.

“Putting those in a different zoning category and kind of mainstreaming some of that may be part of this proposal,” he said. “That’s going to be a big undertaking all by itself, and it wouldn’t necessarily change what is allowed or the district guidelines. It’s really just kind of a reorganization, putting them in a district where they’re all comparable.”

The result is a more orderly code, he said.

“Some of this is just structural cleanup work and a reorganization of our zoning code,” he said.

Changing the land development code requires review of the Planning & Zoning Commission and approval of City Council, Whitman said, with opportunities for public input at both stages.

Randall said public input is important to the code revision process. In addition to the Jan. 25 open house, he noted Minicozzi would be back 6-8 p.m. Feb. 29 at the Art Museum for another presentation about his company’s fiscal impact analysis and the best way to implement the comprehensive plan.

“It’s fascinating, even if you’re not a nerdy planner,” he said.

Hosmer added that people can keep up with the process on the comprehensive plan website,
ForwardSGF.com.

“Anybody can be part of the process,” he said.

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