YOUR BUSINESS AUTHORITY
An attempt by Springfield City Councilmember Craig Hosmer to pump the brakes on development along the Sunshine Street and National Avenue corridors was quashed by a 6-3 vote that sent the matter to committee.
More than three dozen city residents were at last night’s meeting to listen and offer input on the proposed resolution, but Councilmember Abe McGull’s motion to refer the proposal to the municipal governing body’s Plans and Policies Committee – chaired by Richard Ollis – eliminated an opportunity for discussion, to the anger of the crowd.
As Mayor Ken McClure moved on to the next, unrelated item of business, city residents got up from their seats and shouted comments at council over the voice of the city clerk, who already was reading the title of the next piece of legislation.
“So, we don’t get to speak?” one person shouted. “You have a whole room full of people here,” another said, while a third could be heard to argue, “This is several neighborhoods.”
McClure replied that the matter had been referred to committee before moving back to the new business at hand.
“Thanks for listening,” another voice called in an apparent sarcastic tone.
Hosmer had proposed a 210-day administrative delay to allow council to seek input from area residents, property owners, developers and other stakeholders regarding corridor plans and for staff to present a report to the Planning & Zoning Commission and council.
The delay would have paused the processing of applications for demolition, construction, replatting of property, conditional use permits and rezoning during the study period, with an appeals process permitted. The same instrument was used previously by council with contested projects in Phelps Grove, Rountree and Galloway Village neighborhoods and along the Grant Avenue Parkway.
City staff recommended the resolution be denied in an explanation of the council bill.
Susan Istenes, director of Planning and Development, wrote that the city’s comprehensive plan, Forward SGF, is focused on updating city codes, and suggested it would be impossible to conduct a corridor study simultaneously.
“Right now, staff priorities are urgently geared towards implementing the Forward SGF comprehensive plan by preparing to update the land development codes,” she wrote. “Any shift in priorities to conduct a corridor plan will reallocate already limited staff resources and delay the code update, leaving the city without critical updates and the inability to implement the plan.”
Hosmer put on the overhead projector an earlier draft of the explanation of the bill in which Istenes supported his resolution. She had noted that while Forward SGF addresses a wide range of issues, it does not address planning at the parcel level.
“Redevelopment undertaken at this juncture could be inconsistent with a holistic vision and concept for these two transitional corridors. This administrative delay will allow staff to conduct the necessary public engagement over the course of the next few months which will inform the future design of the corridor,” Istenes wrote in the earlier draft, dated Jan. 17. The document was revised Jan. 20. No reason was given for the change.
City Manager Jason Gage told council the city’s transition from conventional zoning to a land-use plan means its codes do not match up well, creating a community-wide question.
“My position the whole time has been that we need to do whatever we can to accelerate the process of getting our codes for the whole community in place,” he said.
Hosmer asked if Gage had met with any developers interested in building along the corridor, and Gage acknowledged he had met with the developers of a 7 Brew Coffee shop at Sunshine Street and Jefferson Avenue two or three times and BK&M LLC, the developers of a proposed mixed-use development on Sunshine and National, about a concern not specifically related to development. He said he had not met with the whole neighborhood.
“There’s a reason that neighbors in this community feel like they’re getting the short end of the stick – because the developer has your ear,” Hosmer said. “The developers have the ear of council and neighbors don’t, and I think they’re getting tired of it.”
He added that even the Missouri Court of Appeals, in a 2022 decision permitting a city-wide referendum on development in Galloway Village, said there was a “cancerous anomaly” in the way the city deals with neighborhoods.
“A cancerous anomaly,” he repeated. “And people complain about neighbors fighting for their neighborhoods. If we don’t have neighbors fighting for their neighborhoods, what are we going to have? If people don’t care about their neighborhoods in this city, God help us.”
Hosmer said that by sending the proposal to committee, council was “deep-sixing” it – essentially, jettisoning the measure to die.
“Go ahead and do it, but this is bad policy. It smells, and it’s something we shouldn’t do,” he said.
Ollis called Hosmer’s characterization of council and staff not listening to neighbors inaccurate and offensive. As a member of the board of Restore SGF, an organization focused on rebuilding historic neighborhoods, he said people have an immediate need.
“Their difficulty is houses are literally rotting around them. Crime has overtaken their neighborhoods,” he said. “I’d just like to give a little perspective about what we are talking about here tonight.”
Other council members also weighed in on the issue. Mike Schilling said the 7 Brew Coffee and BK&M developments foreshadow the wolf at the door. He added that the areas in question are vulnerable, and study needs to happen in an expeditious way.
“Do we want it torn down and just another ‘Glenstonifiction’ of Sunshine?” he asked, referring to the possibility of excessive commercial development of neighborhoods along the Sunshine and National corridors. “Not in my opinion.”
McGull, who made the motion to send the measure down to committee for more study, expressed concern about the legality of the resolution.
“I’m a little bit uncomfortable with the idea of the timing, because these types of actions can bring about litigation for the city,” he said. “If I was someone on the other side of this issue, it just looks really bad from the city standpoint, and it puts us at risk.”
Andrew Lear objected to Hosmer’s characterization of council and city staff as being unwilling to communicate with people on all sides of an issue.
“I know that we have made errors as a staff and as a council in terms of communication, and I regret those,” he said.
Lear also spoke in favor of following the Forward SGF plan.
“I recognize there is an urgent, important issue on that corridor that we need to address, but I think we do it in the framework that we’ve already got,” he said. Council is not currently considering any legislation regarding development in the corridors, though the BK&M zoning change proposal for the University Heights neighborhood is slated to be heard by the Planning & Zoning Commission on Feb. 9.
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