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City Beat: Council moves closer to Palace zoning decision

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Ten people spoke passionately before Springfield City Council on July 10, mostly against a rezoning proposal for the former home of the Palace theater in Chesterfield Village.

Dearborn Development Inc.’s requested zone change to a general retail district would allow for the use of churches and welcome a new occupant to the nearly 4 acre site at 2220 W. Chesterfield Blvd. A sale of the property to Life360 Church hinges on the rezoning, but the bill has bounced between the city’s Planning & Zoning Commission and City Council since early May.

After a nearly two-month delay, the first-reading bill drew strong opinions by Chesterfield Village residents.

“The citizens tonight that speak against the rezoning … are not petulant citizens with pitchforks and torches,” said David Nokes, vice president of the Chesterfield Village Homeowners Association and the first of eight speakers in opposition. “We are citizens that have invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in Chesterfield Village and pay annual assessment dues because of the vision created by the city leaders and the developer.”

Supporters in the crowd nodded their heads along to the testimonies.

Two speakers who spoke in favor of the rezoning were representatives of Chesterfield Village developer Dearborn Development. Michael Cully, an attorney at Lowther Johnson Attorneys at Law LLC, argued the neighbors were discriminating against religious institutions.

“The only thing that’s changing is a church,” Cully said, adding that under a general retail district, all of the same uses would be allowed, including a theater. “This is about churches. In fact, I read something where one of the residents had written and said they’re opposed to any church, which I think is discriminatory.”

Councilman Craig Hosmer suggested, if anything, the plans for the Chesterfield Village development were discriminatory by the original planned development zoning that didn’t permit church use.

As Chesterfield Village residents cited tax revenue and liquor license concerns, 15 minutes quickly turned into 30, and then an hour of discussion with council members.

“I am up here with about 2,300 constituents that say ‘vote no’ to the rezoning issue,” Anna Crane said as she held up pages of signatures.

The number of those signing the homeowners association’s “No to Rezone” petition has increased by some 700 signatures in the last few weeks. The village is home to over 200 single-family residences.

Originally scheduled for a public hearing at the May 30 council meeting, the bill was removed from the agenda after a tie vote by the P&Z Commission on May 5.

The issue needed additional time for consideration, and when it returned to P&Z in June, commissioners voted 5-1 in favor of rezoning.

Explaining P&Z’s recommendation, Springfield Planning and Development Director Mary Lilly Smith said theaters and churches have many similarities when disregarding the religious component. Her point elicited laughs from the crowd in council chambers.

“They’re both public assemblies, they both have set meeting times and they both have off-peak traffic generation,” Smith said. “To say that one general assembly use is allowed and another is not – it’s hard for us to justify it from a land-use perspective.”

Chesterfield Village developer Larry Lipscomb told Springfield Business Journal in June he was ready for the battle to be over, so the property does not remain vacant.  

The rezoning bill is scheduled for a vote at the council’s July 24 meeting.

In addition to a list of seven rezoning requests on the meeting agenda, Economic Development Director Sarah Kerner presented three redevelopment plans – two for multifamily buildings and one for office space.

The first called for the redevelopment of a vacant building at 521 Boonville Ave., across from Jordan Valley Innovation Center. Built in 1946, the structure originally was home to the International Harvester tractor sales and mechanic business, and it most recently was leased to a nightclub, according to council documents. The club shut down in 2007.

On a quarter acre, owner U.S. Photonics plans to transform the building into an office.

U.S. Photonics was once a tenant in JVIC before relocating to East Kearney Street, and now looks to return to Springfield’s IDEA Commons, which has its own plans for redevelopment currently underway.

Allen Casey of Casey Architecture represented U.S. Photonics at the meeting. Casey said he was confident the company’s move would result in the creation of additional jobs.  

“They hope it will continue to grow through the years,” Casey said.

Other first-reading bills sought approval of redevelopment plans for the 414 East Bear Boulevard Redevelopment Area as well as Boomertown Lofts Redevelopment Corp.’s apartment proposal on National Avenue, across from Missouri State University’s Cheek Hall.  

The three redevelopment bills are scheduled for votes July 24.

Combatting addiction
Assistant Health Director Katie Towns discussed two first-reading bills that would welcome a Springfield prescription drug monitoring program.

PDMPs are secure databases that track the prescribing and dispensing of prescription drugs, and Missouri is the only state in the nation without one in place.

If approved, St. Louis County would be deemed administrator of Springfield’s program. St. Louis County has acted as a hub for Appriss, a national company that controls PDMP databases in 42 states.

“I would just like to reiterate that this is a tool,” Towns said. “And it is just one tool that we will be using in a comprehensive plan to look at ways that we can reduce opioid abuse and misuse and, subsequently, deaths from these drugs.”

In the fall, Towns and the Springfield-Greene County Health Department plan to conduct a mental health needs assessment.

“This is something that has been brought forth by both health care partners and endorsed by Healthy Living Alliance as a necessary item to truly understand the problem that underlies substance abuse in our community,” Towns said.

Earlier this year, council approved applying for a grant alongside other statewide partners that would fund the implementation of a PDMP.

Councilmembers plan to vote on both bills July 24.

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