By a 5-4 vote last night, Springfield City Council rejected the appointment of developer Andrew Doolittle to serve on the city’s Planning & Zoning Commission.
Doolittle’s service in the volunteer position was opposed by council members Heather Hardinger, Craig Hosmer, Monica Horton, Abe McGull and Mike Schilling. Voting in favor of his appointment were Andrew Lear, Mayor Ken McClure, Richard Ollis and Matthew Simpson.
Originally, the matter was to have been included in the consent agenda, which is reserved for items upon which council has unanimous agreement and therefore require no discussion. The consent agenda is a part of council’s business that is approved at the start of the meeting, just after roll call and approval of minutes.
Councilperson Hosmer requested that Doolittle’s appointment be removed from the consent agenda. Doolittle is one of the developers of the Loose Goose coffee shop, bar and recreational venue planned for the city’s marquee Grant Avenue Parkway project.
“I was requested by constituents to pull Mr. Doolittle’s name off the consent calendar for appointment or confirmation to the Planning & Zoning board,” Hosmer said. “I certainly have no objection to him personally, but I do think that if constituents want things to be voted on by council, they should be voted on by council, not done by consent.”
The vote followed, and after it, McClure simply announced, “Confirmation fails.”
Reached at his office this morning, Doolittle reserved his comment to a single statement.
“I think my only comment is just that I respect council’s decision, and I’ll be looking for other opportunities to serve Springfield,” he said.
When pressed to elaborate on the question of whether the vote reflected animus against developers, Doolittle said he had nothing else to add but appreciation for the opportunity to comment.
Doolittle is a partner in GDL Enterprises LLC, which is constructing the $1 million Loose Goose development following council’s approval of rezoning for the project on Aug. 22. The Loose Goose is the first new commercial development OK’d for the $26 million parkway district, but for it to proceed, it required a change to the special zoning status developed especially for the parkway.
Council’s change of status for the 1.5-acre parcel in the 1000 block of South Grant Avenue to planned development allows a drive-thru for the business’ coffee shop as well as package liquor sales, both excluded under the zoning requirements for the district.
Horton, who voted against both the Loose Goose zoning change and Doolittle’s commission appointment, said in an interview this morning that the developer’s membership would have caused an ethical dilemma.
“Certainly, folks can recuse themselves from votes, but then we’re also looking at the potential for explicit bias in service on Planning & Zoning,” she said. “I think that we’re in a climate right now where the public trust is certainly in need of repair. Having a developer on that commission only can cast a cloud of suspicion on government, rather than trust.”
In reflecting upon the Loose Goose issue and Doolittle’s appointment, Horton said she was committed to taking time to study the issues that come before council. Horton is a member of council’s Public Involvement Committee, which unanimously approved Doolittle’s appointment at its Aug. 23 meeting. The other committee members are Schilling (chair), McGull and Simpson.
“In the future, I’m going to look into receiving applications from the city clerk much further in advance,” Horton said, noting with more time, she would have been able to see the ethical dilemma more clearly and consider other applicants.
“We know that overall there’s such a great need for citizens to stand up and be involved on city commissions and boards,” she said. “That is another factor that kind of played into that sense of urgency.”
Council approved the Loose Goose zoning change the day before Doolittle was recommended to serve on the commission.
Resident Linda Simkins, who publishes on the government watchdog Facebook page Springfield/Greene County Start Local, in a recent post on Doolittle’s proposed appointment cited City Ethics, a nonprofit that provides assistance to cities and counties on ethical issues.
“When a developer sits on a zoning board, it is a sign of a poor ethics environment, whose leaders have not spoken out against so severe a conflict,” the organization’s model code on conflict of interest states.
Simkins added Planning & Zoning Commission members vote on issues that could directly impact a developer’s financial interests or those of the developer’s associates.
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