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City Beat: Building moratorium placed on Rountree

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Springfield City Council approved a resolution June 26 to delay the acceptance and processing of applications for rezoning and lot combinations in the Rountree neighborhood for 270 days.

The nine-month development moratorium will allow city staff to gather input from Rountree residents and report to council proposed changes to the Rountree Area Neighborhood Plan and Rountree Urban Conservation District, Planning and Development Director Mary Lilly Smith said.

While the neighborhood plan has been amended several times since it was created in 1985, Smith said city staff members never have taken a comprehensive look at it. Two years ago, the Rountree Neighborhood Association asked the city for a more serious review. Some residents feel developments have occurred in Rountree without respect to the aesthetics of the historic neighborhood.

Dozens of Rountree residents were present at the meeting, and 13 speakers voiced their opinions, most in favor of the moratorium.

“We want to preserve this singular, precious thing that we have,” said Katie Kring, who owns a small bakery, B + B Boulangerie, in the Rountree neighborhood. “Places like that aren’t springing into being anymore.”

Kring acknowledged her property is poorly located and has ventilation issues.

“It’s not just a shoebox, it’s a really hard to find shoebox,” she said, noting customers often ask if she thinks about moving. “I always tell them no, because my business is in Rountree, and Rountree is a special place.”

Kelly Byrne, however, a developer and co-owner of real estate company, asked council to table the resolution instead. Byrne’s firm, which he co-owns with Springfield native and professional basketball player Anthony Tolliver, has drawn up plans for Pickwick District, a proposed mixed-use project next to the old Spanish Mission building at the northwest corner of Cherry Street and Pickwick Avenue.

“I only found out Thursday with any certainty that this was actually coming to a vote here on Monday,” Byrne said. “We have been working for six to nine months on this development. This is a tough spot to put an investor in. It’s very frustrating.”

Byrne, who also once lived in Rountree, said he and his team worked through four meetings and a planned development process with the neighborhood association’s board to create a $5 million mixed-use development with lofts above retail.

The proposal requires rezoning the area to a planned development from the current residential high-density zoning. A rezoning application for the project was pending at the time of the meeting.

“Its current zoning would only allow me to do apartments, which was expressed to me that would not be wanted by the neighborhood,” Byrne added.

After the moratorium passed 5-1, with Councilman Craig Fishel opposed, Byrne said he’s unsure what he’ll do. He was under contract with STAT Properties LLC to purchase five parcels – between 1405-1425 E. Cherry St. and 527 S. Pickwick Ave. – wrapping around The Josh Mitchell Art Gallery.

Byrne said he has experience working on student housing developments near Missouri State University, and he’s currently working on a senior community project in Nixa, called Black Rock.

After the moratorium passed 5-1, with Councilman Craig Fishel opposed, Byrne said he’s unsure what he’ll do with the property, which

“(The zoning) doesn’t give us a lot of flexibility,” he said. “We’ll have to think and look at it to see if there’s anything else we can do.”

Addressing Byrne’s concerns, Laurel Bryant, chairwoman of the Rountree Neighborhood Association, said residents had been “exceedingly open and fair” during meetings with developers.

Mike Brothers, secretary of the board, spoke in favor of the resolution.

“This is about process and not projects,” he said.

Councilwoman Kristi Fulnecky agreed at the meeting the neighborhood deserved time to reflect, but the length of the moratorium seemed aggressive.

“I can see the need for the delay, but nine months just seems like a long time,” she said.

Councilman Richard Ollis agreed but reiterated the importance of a plan for the neighborhood.

“The neighborhood has been asking for this plan, and I think that’s relevant to the situation,” Ollis said, suggesting Byrne not give up working with the neighborhood on his Pickwick District plan. “I think it could be a really neat project for the area.”

Byrne later said he was most upset that more property owners did not know of the situation beforehand. Since the bill was presented as a resolution, not an ordinance, it did not have a first reading at the previous council meeting. According to city documents, a resolution is defined as a formal expression of opinion or intention by council.

“It certainly doesn’t seem right to me that, overnight, their properties’ uses can be restricted for a period of nine months,” Byrne said.

Councilman Craig Hosmer abstained from voting as a Rountree resident, and members Phyllis Ferguson and Jan Fisk were absent. The moratorium is scheduled to last through March, and city staff members plan to deliver its Rountree report in December.

In other action
Council members voted to renew a contract with the Springfield Convention and Visitors Bureau for a $3.6 million budget, including $1.9 million toward promoting travel and tourism in Springfield.

Also discussed were two grants related to the Springfield-Greene County Health Department’s annual budget.

The first, passed unanimously, would renew a $79,000 state Department of Health and Senior Services grant to support the Healthy Eating and Active Living in Local Communities Program. The 3-year-old program is credited with creating community gardens and resurfacing children’s playgrounds.

The other would provide a $30,000 infrastructure grant from the Missouri Foundation for Health. The bill is scheduled for a vote at the July 10 council meeting.

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