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Developer Sam Coryell of Coryell Collaborative Group says the high-end Heritage Apartments development is a smart repurposing of a busy corner.
Tawnie Wilson | SBJ
Developer Sam Coryell of Coryell Collaborative Group says the high-end Heritage Apartments development is a smart repurposing of a busy corner.

Zoning poses a challenge in residential housing puzzle

Developers seek opportunities for higher-density structures

Posted online

The majority of residentially zoned parcels in Springfield are restricted to single-family use. Missing from the picture are other housing types, including accessory dwelling units and multiunit buildings within single-family neighborhoods, dubbed the missing middle housing by author Daniel Parolek.

This is a key takeaway of a housing study prepared for the city of Springfield over the course of 2023 by Atlanta-based ADP Urban Planning and Management.

The study found that current residential zoning codes are a major contributor to a lack of housing diversity in the city, both for owners and renters.

Developer Debbie Shantz Hart, who specializes in affordable housing through her companies DHTC Development LLC, Housing Plus LLC and Sustainable Housing Solutions LLC, said homeownership is a difficult hurdle for many in Springfield.

“We have got to find ways to encourage homeownership, but that means it’s not going to be necessarily the same type of homeownership that we have seen in the past – all detached single-family dwellings,” she said. “We have to think about varying our housing stock to make it more attractive for people of all socioeconomic income levels.”

Sam Coryell, president of Coryell Collaborative Group, has focused a lot of his recent energy on the higher end of the socioeconomic spectrum, with the Heritage Apartments set to open in about a month.

Coryell expressed pride in the redevelopment of a corner formerly devoted solely to shopping and dining.

“There’s an example of a nice infill project on a great corner,” he said. “It’s got all infrastructure, plus police, fire, utilities – it just needed to be redeveloped. Springfield has got some real diamonds in the rough out there for that kind of opportunity.”

Apartment.com lists monthly rental rates as $1,025-$3,725.

The housing study showed that 92% of the city’s residential buildings – numbering 43,861 – are single-family detached housing. Multifamily structures – like Coryell’s four-story, 95-unit Heritage Apartments – number only 562. The study summary did not specify the number of units – just the number of buildings.

The city has 1,027 vacant residential lots, according to the study.

Hart said the city has to take a hard look at its zoning code.

“We need to figure out a way that we can do infill development that won’t meet the current zoning codes,” she said.

Those codes apply to all of the city’s heritage neighborhoods, like Rountree or Phelps Grove, and all subdivisions, like Southern Hills, and they spell out requirements like 20-foot setbacks from the road and 7- to 10-foot setbacks on the sides.

Hart said one of her recent projects was for a market-rate patio home development on Reed Avenue with a multifamily building across the street. The six-acre site formerly held a single-family house.

“It was not an easy process,” she said. “We successfully replatted the property and were able to get the density, but that was not without opposition. We have to be able to think about how we go into those areas and create higher-density developments.”

Hart said she completed the cluster subdivision plat but sold the property before developing it.

The patio homes were intended for home buyers, she said.

“There are times in people’s lives when they don’t want a huge yard or a mega-mansion,” she said. “They want a nice place to live in a good location that is close to amenities, and our zoning doesn’t really allow that.”

She recognized Springfield doesn’t have a lot of vacant land within the city, and that makes patio or multifamily homes or downtown town homes appealing options.

“We need to find ways that will allow developers to go in, so long as we meet certain minimum requirements, with the ability to redevelop properties and provide different types of housing stock,” she said. “If we don’t think about that, we’re not going to be able to meet the needs of people who live in our area. We’re all out of land. They’ll have to go to the suburbs.”

Coryell said a complicating factor is uncertainty in the market.

“The same couple that maybe in December 2019 was saying, ‘Hey, we ought to downsize and look at one of those 55-plus communities’ – well, then COVID happens, and now that same couple is saying, ‘No way. We’re safe and secure, and I don’t want to live with a bunch of people,” he said.

Coryell said he is waiting to see how the black swan event of COVID-19 has impacted the marketplace but noted demand for multifamily developments remains high.

“There are opportunities in Springfield right now for infill development,” he said. “Some of our major arteries were developed in the 1960s and ’70s and they’re ready for redevelopment. There are opportunities there to take advantage of existing infrastructure and put a parcel of land to its better use.”

Coryell said he favors a cautious approach.

“One mistake I made early in my career is you don’t want to outpace your population,” he said. “Springfield, while it’s a great city, by population count, it’s not a city that can sustain the kind of growth that we’ve experienced in the multifamily world indefinitely, but if we see opportunities, we certainly take them.”

The housing study forecasts increased need between now and 2040. For owned structures, the study projects a need for 3,782 new single-family detached homes by 2024, and it calculates that 20% more multifamily structures with 20-49 units will be needed to accommodate 29,376 new renters.

“With this economy we’re going into and the interest rates where they are, plus the rapid increase we experienced in interest rates, I’m waiting to see what the climate looks like in 2024 to see how it affects consumer behavior,” Coryell said.

Hart said in other communities, she has seen more of an effort at master planning.

“Master planning means a lot of different things to a lot of different people,” she said. “It doesn’t mean you’re dictating siding color on what you’re building, but that this would be an appropriate area for higher-density housing.”

She said Bentonville, Arkansas, has done a good job of transforming its downtown with all different types of housing next to each other, and Tulsa, Oklahoma, has always made strong investments in housing in its downtown area. She added that she is not a fan of hiring consultants but instead believes that Springfield should look to nearby communities that have figured the problem out and provide a mixture of housing types.

“It works,” she said. “The key is we need to find ways to incentivize that. We need to create a plan, and then we need to incentivize developers to come in and add that density.”

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