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City Beat: Beverly Lofts project nets 25-year tax break

Council also mulls change to SPD crash response policy

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Springfield City Council approved a half-million-dollar tax break for a new apartment building near the intersection of Cherry Street and Kimbrough Avenue at its meeting Nov. 29.

Beverly Lofts is the latest project by developer Jason Murray, owner of Springfield Loft Apartments LLC.

The tax break applies to the second phase of the Beverly Lofts development, which began with the conversion of a three-story building into 22 apartment units. Federal historic preservation tax credits were used to renovate the Beverly Building at 529 E. Cherry St.

The next phase calls for construction of a residential apartment building beside the first. Structures at 519 and 525 E. Cherry St. were demolished during Phase 1 development in anticipation of Phase 2. The new building will include up to 28 apartments.

Murray, who specializes in renovating loft spaces, owns several downtown residential properties, such as the Union Biscuit Warehouse and Stove Works Lofts.

For the new-build phase of Beverly Lofts, council OK’d a 25-year property tax abatement. Through the plan, the Beverly Lofts Redevelopment Corp., which applied for the abatement, will pay no property taxes for the first decade and will pay 50% for the next 15 years. The total savings for developers is $506,200, roughly $20,248 per year.

The project targets an area that has been identified as blighted. City Economic Development Director Sarah Kerner told council the project would not advance without the tax incentive, and that, plus the anticipation of a measurable public benefit, qualified it for the abatement.

Council originally approved the redevelopment plan for the site in 2017, and the first phase was completed in 2018.

In an explanation of the bill by Senior City Planner Matt Schaefer, he said the affected taxing jurisdictions are estimated to collect $221,213 of additional property tax revenue over the next 25 years if the work occurs.

The development plan passes what the city’s Economic Development Incentives Policy Manual calls the “but for” test, meaning the project could not move forward but for the abatement.

Crash reports
An ordinance proposed by Councilperson Craig Hosmer, due for a council vote on Dec. 13, would require the Springfield Police Department’s traffic division to respond to all reported traffic accidents on public streets or property.

SPD Chief Paul Williams figures about 1,000 fender-benders per year are handled by drivers without police involvement, a practice that saves well over 1,000 hours of officer response time.

Hosmer told council that, in August 2014, the SPD went from investigating all motor vehicle accidents to investigating only those with serious physical injuries or immovable motor vehicles.

Hosmer said in the last 10 years, officers have gone from writing about 29,000 tickets per year to writing 17,000, and many of those previous tickets were written after motor vehicle accidents, where drugs, alcohol or excessive vehicle speed were a factor. This year, the city has had 27 motor vehicle fatalities, he noted – more than ever before in Springfield.

“When citizens call the Springfield Police Department and report a motor vehicle accident, it’s my belief that a police officer should show up,” Hosmer said. “Someone should respond on behalf of the city of Springfield.”

Williams disagreed. “Adding another unnecessary process to simply facilitate the exchange of information between two citizens who are agreeable and can do that is a move in the wrong direction,” he said.

Williams said specific conditions must be in place for drivers to handle an accident on their own. There must be no injuries and no evidence of impairment. Damage must be only to vehicles, all vehicles must be operational, and drivers involved must have a valid driver’s license and valid insurance.

“If someone says no, I actually want an officer to come, we still go,” Williams said.

In his introduction to the council bill, Hosmer acknowledged that police officer staffing levels are low, with 51 current vacancies and six forthcoming retirements. “I understand that there is a lack of resources right now, but in my opinion, we have an obligation to our constituents to make sure they’re responded to when they call for police officers to report to a motor vehicle accident,” Hosmer said.

Other action items

  • Council unanimously approved the issuance of Special Obligation Refunding Bonds of up to $16 million to refund sewer system improvements bonds from 2012. The move is anticipated to save the city $2 million.
  • The city will apply for up to $500,000 in grant funds from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to conduct brownfield hazardous petroleum assessments and cleanup planning citywide. Olivia Huff, senior city planner, explained the three-year grant would cover center city, Renew Jordan Creek, the Grant Avenue Parkway and the area of Trafficway from National to Glenstone Avenue.
  • Council heard first readings of two bills regarding 11.5 acres in the area of South Zimmer Avenue/Farm Road 129 and South West Bypass. One measure would annex the property into the city and the other would rezone it from the county’s general commercial district to the city’s general retail designation. The move is at the request of Bibi Investments and Development LLC. No description of the proposed development was provided to council. In July, that developer announced separate plans to build a 41,000-square-foot office complex at the southwest corner of James River Freeway and National Avenue, to be completed in early 2023.

Council will vote Dec. 13.

  • Conditional use permits were requested for a car wash at 211 W. Battlefield Road as well as a body and fender repair and paint shop at 1825 W. Kingsley St. A vote on each is scheduled Dec. 13.
  • A shared-cost agreement for the purchase of aerial imagery was introduced to council. The agreement would be between the city, City Utilities of Springfield Inc., Christian and Greene counties, the cities of Nixa, Ozark and Republic, and the Ozarks Transportation Organization. The total cost would be $286,927, with Springfield contributing $18,820.

The imagery produced by Pictometry International Corp. would cover 1,283 square miles, and a representative of the company noted images provided in previous years were used during that night’s meeting to illustrate areas affected by various council bills.

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