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BYE BYE BLIGHT: Roza Homes' plans for the redevelopment of two East Cherry Street properties were approved 5-3. Two six-unit buildings are on the way.
Rendering provided by BUTLER, ROSENBURY & PARTNERS INC.
BYE BYE BLIGHT: Roza Homes' plans for the redevelopment of two East Cherry Street properties were approved 5-3. Two six-unit buildings are on the way.

City Beat: Council 'reluctantly' approves Rountree redevelopment

Councilman Richard Ollis calls for the creation of a "workable" blight program

Posted online

Springfield City Council on Aug. 21 approved plans and a blight report for a multifamily project in the Rountree neighborhood, where a separate development moratorium currently is in place.

Introduced at council’s Aug. 7 meeting, the project proposal called for demolition of two residences at 1325 and 1329 E. Cherry St. and the construction of two six-unit buildings. Following that meeting, Butler, Rosenbury & Partners Inc. architect Geoffrey Butler, who represented Brandon Dickman’s Roza Homes LLC, shared a letter the developer penned to council members. According to the letter, the project would have a $301,252 tax abatement over 10 years.

“This is truly a case where the project will not be built but for the tax abatement,” the letter reads. “If it isn’t built, the property will stay underdeveloped for the foreseeable future.”

But council members Richard Ollis and Kristi Fulnecky expressed concerns about the potential overuse of blight and abatements.

“I’m conflicted on this,” Ollis said. “I will say it’s going to remove dilapidated homes in the area, and the developer is proposing a very nice project. I’ll support it, reluctantly, but really feel strongly that we ought to work with staff to come up with a workable [blight] program.”

Concerned about excessive blighted areas in the city, Fulnecky voted against Roza Homes’ proposal, along with councilmen Mike Schilling and Craig Fishel.

“I think there could be potential to overuse them when you declare a whole area blighted,” Fulnecky said. “You could make the argument that you could have whole sections of neighborhoods [blighted].”

Fulnecky said the city should more closely examine the cost-benefit analysis of redevelopment projects.

“I just think that we use this too much,” she added.

Built in 1905 and 1920, both of the old houses have sagging patios, rotting window frames and outdated gas heating systems, and they’re likely to contain lead-based paint.

The $2.4 redevelopment project was approved 5-3, with Councilman Craig Hosmer absent.

Roza Homes is sidestepping the Rountree neighborhood development moratorium because it does not require a lot combination or rezoning.

Other developers, such as Kelly Byrne of SayUCan.com, have been put in a tougher place.

Byrne proposed a $5 million mixed-use development with lofts above retail space at 1405-1425 E. Cherry St. and 527 S. Pickwick Ave. Byrne was under contract to buy the properties, before council turned down his proposal, which required a rezoning.

The moratorium is scheduled to end in December with the presentation of a neighborhood plan to council in March.

Council members Aug. 21 also approved an amendment to a redevelopment plan submitted by Beverly Lofts Corp.

The redevelopment project at the corner of Cherry Street and Kimbrough Avenue, originally approved in April, needed changes after developer Jason Murray sought to revise floor plans in order to receive state and federal historic preservation tax credits.

The amendment passed 7-1, with Fishel in opposition. Now, Murray is approved to develop 50 units, up from 41 originally approved.

Million-dollar filters
Council considered a first-reading bill to accept a $2.28 million bid by Crossland Heavy Contractors Inc. for a filter retrofit project at the Southwest Wastewater Treatment Plant. The plant treats roughly 35 million gallons of wastewater per day, utilizing four traveling bridge sand filters before the treated flow is disinfected and discharged into Wilson’s Creek, according to council documents. The project would replace two filters, and a later second phase would replace the others. “The existing sand filters are approaching the end of their useful life,” said Errin Kemper, assistant director of environmental Services.

City officials seek to change to cloth media filters from the traditional sand filters.

“With these cloth media filters, you don’t have to back wash them nearly as often,” Kemper said. “They have a traveling bridge that keeps them clean, and so without that backwash that allows a whole lot more capacity through the filter itself.”

Kemper said the work is identified in the department’s long-term financial model and it’s outlined in the city’s approved Overflow Control Plan with the state.

The bill, up for a vote Sept. 5, seeks a $2.5 million budget adjustment in the Environmental Services Department by appropriating fund balance reserves from the Clean Water Enterprise Fund.

Talking taxes
Council members also convened Aug. 22 to consider continuation of the city’s level property tax and a bill to put a measure on the Nov. 7 ballot.

The city has levied the property tax of 27 cents per $100 of assessed value for years and voters in 1999, 2001 and 2004 renewed the rate with over 75 percent approval, according to a city news release.

Melissa Haase, the city’s assistant director of public information, said the tax rate was last voted on in 2004, and it’s been at or near maximum bonding capacity for several years.

“It’s not set to sunset until the bond payments are paid off,” she said.

The measure would ask voters whether to continue the current level of property tax. A public hearing for the bill will be held at noon Aug. 29 in council chambers on the third floor of Historic City Hall.

“This is not a tax increase,” City Manager Greg Burris said at the meeting. “This would simply be a renewal.”

The property tax has generated about $8.5 million annually, with an estimated 2 percent growth a year.

Burris identified the tax as a city revenue source to supplement decreasing sales taxes.

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