Springfield City Council voted last night to request that a developer voluntarily hold a new neighborhood meeting to hear concerns from residents near a proposed housing development.
The move came about when Councilmember Monica Horton, who represents the Doling Park neighborhood where the development is proposed, raised concerns about whether residents had been given adequate opportunity to express their views about the project at 739 W. Talmage St. That is where Mike Stalzer proposed to transform the Dr. Harry E. Vickery Fieldhouse, a pole building owned by Baptist Temple of Springfield, into a 33-unit apartment building, with 22 detached single-family dwellings to be constructed on four acres beside it.
Council was to have voted on rezoning the property to planned development from multifamily residential last night when Horton spoke up.
A neighborhood meeting is a required part of the rezoning process, and it must be held at least 21 days before a hearing by the city’s Planning & Zoning Commission, who then passes the matter on to council with their recommendation.
However, the neighborhood meeting for this project was held on Dec. 22, a day with windchill temperatures so dangerous that the city took the step of opening its Expo Center to protect residents from deadly cold. Horton contended that the dangerous weather did not allow residents to attend the meeting and express their views, and for this reason, they needed another chance.
Three residents spoke at the Feb. 6 council meeting to express concerns about traffic, interference with Watkins Elementary School, effects on property values and stormwater retention. Stalzer addressed several of these concerns in his remarks to council at the time.
Horton yesterday suggested the matter be remanded to P&Z and that the project timeline be reset to include a new neighborhood meeting. Council briefly tabled the matter during the meeting so that City Attorney Rhonda Lewsader could have time to review city code to determine if neighborhood meeting redo is allowed.
When the issue came up again for discussion, Horton reiterated her suggestion to reset the clock with a new neighborhood meeting.
Lewsader said there is no procedure for doing that.
“What you are talking about doing are adding steps that are not in the city zoning ordinance presently, and therefore I’m concerned that there’s not authority in the code for what you’re proposing to do,” she said.
Councilmember Andrew Lear said he was sympathetic to what Horton was trying to accomplish.
“My concern is if we set a precedent for this one, that the next time one comes along, we set ourselves a trap of having to do that,” he said.
He said, however, that setting another neighborhood meeting would be a commonsense action.
He also pointed out that neighborhood residents had opportunities to make themselves heard at the P&Z meeting following the neighborhood meeting – Mayor Ken McClure noted three residents spoke up there – as well as at the council meeting.
City Manager Jason Gage offered a conciliatory suggestion, which was for council to table its vote and encourage the developer to host another neighborhood meeting and bring the results back for council determination prior to its vote. At that point, council could take its next step – an up or down vote, or a decision to remand to P&Z – with the new information in mind.
Horton said she thought that would work.
“The process isn’t just to check boxes; we really want it to be a meaningful experience,” she said, adding that 60 residents showed up at the last council meeting to hear the council discussion and the input of their neighbors.
She added that Gage’s suggestion is one she would be comfortable with.
McClure made a motion to table the matter until March 20, when it will be eligible for a vote, and Horton seconded it. The measure passed unanimously.
Stalzer noted at the Feb. 6 council meeting that city staff conducted a traffic study saying no road improvements would be needed for the development, and he added that his plans called for stormwater retention to have 120% more capacity than required.
He also said that he reduced the new development from 42 townhomes to 22 single-family dwellings, a number that allows the project to fit within the property’s current zoning requirements.
If council votes to rezone the property, he said he would exercise his option to buy the property from Baptist Temple and proceed with the development.
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