A divided Springfield City Council last night 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.
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 but did not give a reason. He did not recuse himself from the vote on an administrative delay.
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.
Mayor Ken McClure replied that audience comment during the motion discussion would violate city code. Jenson earlier had stated that the motion to remand would be more appropriate after a public hearing and 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 newly constituted Plans and Policies Committee will deserve a chance to start fresh,” Ollis said in a statement.
The moratorium would have prevented new applications for demolition or construction in the area, though an appeals process would have allowed residents to move forward in the event of an emergency, such as a fallen tree or a house fire. 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.
Moratoriums are a common practice for council, Hosmer pointed out; they have been used recently in the Galloway, Phelps Grove and Rountree neighborhoods and for the Grant Avenue Parkway project.
Councilmember Jenson said the city’s comprehensive plan should be the guide, and the current one 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.
He added that the previous master plan, Vision 20/20, and the current one, Forward SGF, say primary arterial roads are not suited for single-family homes, and that is consistent with every master plan in every community he has dealt with.
Councilmember Hardinger admitted to feeling a conundrum as a proponent of Forward SGF, but she noted neighbors have concerns and the plan lacks clear direction for the corridor.
Hosmer said University Heights is a stable neighborhood, but council has made it unstable. He added University Heights is the kind of neighborhood the city should be trying to replicate instead of destroy.
“Sometimes you’ve got to say no, or you’ve got to say give us a chance to do a plan that makes sense,” he said, adding, “This resolution is not against development; it’s to give us time to make a plan before we do a development and not backwards.”
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.
Surgical tech workers are in high demand, officials say.