An offer has been made on property targeted for mixed-use development in the University Heights neighborhood.
Yesterday, Mark and Courtney Fletcher sent a letter to Bryan Fisher, the Neale & Newman LLP attorney representing development firm BK&M LLC, and in it they offered to pay $625,000 for four residential lots that form the heart of the development area.
The offer is for properties at 1739, 1745 and 1755 S. National Ave. and 1141 E. Sunshine St., where a wraparound mixed-use multifamily and commercial building dubbed The Heights was proposed by BK&M. The building was originally proposed to comprise up to six stories and 90,000 square feet of development to take advantage of the city’s second-busiest intersection, but plans have since been scaled back to a two- to three-story design.
The Fletchers are a husband-and-wife pair and University Heights residents who have opposed the development since it was proposed. At the heart of their objection is restrictive covenant language in all neighborhood deeds disallowing commercial development and setting forth other requirements for University Heights properties, including specific building materials. The Fletchers intervened to join a lawsuit brought by 12 other residents to halt the development effort. That litigation is ongoing.
Asked via text whether he had any interest in the offer on the property, Ralph Duda of BK&M replied simply: “Offer?”
After learning more details about the $625,000 offer sent to the BK&M attorney by the Fletchers, Duda texted, “Yeah, we are not selling the property. Thx.”
Interviewed this morning, Mark Fletcher said he and Courtney were always interested in owning the houses they made an offer on, particularly the house located just north of the now-empty corner lot. They looked at it 25 years ago, but they were unable to obtain a driveway easement to University Street.
Lack of a driveway easement and overvaluation of the corner area as a commercial structure have hurt the property, Fletcher said.
He noted the deed restrictions that are at the heart of the neighborhood lawsuit also provide a setback requirement along National Avenue, with houses to be placed at least 75 feet from the road. The requirement is 30 feet elsewhere in the neighborhood.
“It creates such a grand view of those houses and makes them look so beautiful and majestic,” he said. “That’s what makes them all so valuable.”
Fletcher said his University Heights neighbors are afraid of what BK&M might build on the corner. While the developers say they have abandoned their plans for a much taller structure, Fletcher claims nothing will restrict them from building it anyway.
Now a real estate agent’s sign is up on the property where a white house used to stand, and it offers build-to-suit for potential tenants.
“I took it more as kind of like a strip mall concept now,” Fletcher said. “It says build-to-suit, so I assume it’s going to be a couple of separate commercial buildings based on whoever [Duda] could induce to come there.”
Fletcher said he is confident courts will uphold the deed restrictions on the property, maintaining the property for residential use and thus making the developers’ plans a nonissue.
Fletcher noted the corner house that was torn down at one time had a sale price of $650,000 on its own, and the next two houses to the north also were priced at what he called “outrageous commercial prices” for residential property.
“He needs to realize, when he ripped down that white house, he really degraded the value of what he holds,” Fletcher said of Duda. “He gambled. One of the reasons my wife and I made the offer is we’re hoping he starts to see the handwriting on the wall.”
To achieve the desired rezoning, the developer would have to survive a lawsuit, a neighborhood protest petition that would require a supermajority vote by Springfield City Council and, if that passes, a citywide referendum, as occurred with a proposed Galloway Village development.
“There absolutely would be a referendum petition filed, and I’m confident we would have those signatures in a matter of days,” he said. “The people of Springfield value neighborhoods like ours. I don’t think they want to see development just for development’s sake.”
When told Duda already had expressed his unwillingness to sell, Fletcher said he would persist.
“We need to push forward, and eventually we’ll win, like with the judge overturning his motion to dismiss,” he said, referring to Greene County Presiding Judge Michael Cordonnier’s decision in favor of University Heights plaintiffs in late March. “That just makes it clearer to his investors, they’re not going to win.”
A portion of the letter written by the Fletchers to BK&M’s attorney reads as follows:
“Amongst other actions, your client destroyed the iconic white house at 1755 S. National Ave., leaving behind a festering sore of a vacant lot replete with large ‘For Lease’ signs which violate the City Code for a residential area. … Your client has threatened the peace, security and investment of every resident of our neighborhood with its outlandish plans to build a monstrous commercial development in a neighborhood protected by deed restrictions. University Heights will forever remain a single-family residential neighborhood, despite your client’s efforts to bully, intimidate and buy its way clear of the desires and lawful property rights of those of us who have enjoyed our subdivision for decades.”
Reached via email this morning for a response on behalf of his client, Fisher said, “To be frank, it is unclear to me why a purported real estate offer is newsworthy, but regardless, we have no comment.”
Ariake Sushi and Robata opened; Great Southern Bancorp Inc. (Nasdaq: GSBC) opened its newest branch in Springfield; and a longtime employee with City Utilities of Springfield went into business for himself with the launch of Van Every Drafting & Design LLC.