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City Beat: Council approves Forward SGF

Meeting includes bills to blight Grant Avenue area and revisit 7 Brew permit

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Forward SGF, the city of Springfield’s comprehensive plan for the next two decades, was approved by City Council at its Nov. 14 meeting.

The plan, designed to guide the city’s growth and development through 2040, first was passed by the city’s Planning & Zoning Commission at a hearing held before the council meeting.

Randall Whitman, the city’s principal planner, told the commission the plan focuses on three areas in particular: community image, community health, and arts, culture and historic preservation.

There are at least 700 recommendations within the plan, Whitman said, and some of the work already is in progress, including proposals for a housing study, a City Utilities-led transit study and a master plan for Lake Springfield.

“There’s a lot of things in motion that the comprehensive plan recommends that we’re already getting started on,” he said.

John Houseal, principal and co-founder of Forward SGF project consultant Houseal Lavigne Associates, who spoke to the P&Z Commission by video link, said the plan includes over 10,000 points of participation from community members, both in person and online. Since much of the planning happened during the COVID-19 pandemic, Houseal called the effort “a remarkable achievement.”

Houseal said a comprehensive plan is really a land use plan, and Forward SGF takes a place-based approach, identifying 10 place types in the city.

Houseal said certain corridors likely would change quite a bit over the next two decades, and the plan identifies catalyst sites that are the most likely to be redeveloped.

Tim Rosenbury, the city’s director of quality of place initiatives, said throughout the community input process, residents spoke of the importance of authenticity, being on brand and having deep connections to the locale.

“Ultimately, what we heard was a call for quality of place,” Rosenbury told the commission.

He said quality of place is a concept that weaves through the entire plan, with a focus on complete neighborhoods and multimodal connections.

“Quality of place is in the end a test,” he said. “To summarize that test, for anything we initiate publicly or privately: How best can this initiative improve how our citizens experience place in our community?”

City Manager Jason Gage said Forward SGF is based on quality input from the community, and he compared its implementation between now and 2040 to a trip on an interstate.

“We may need to change lanes … but we do not want to exit,” he said. “If we can even do half of the things that are in this vision, this place will be transformed and be even better than it ever was.”

Brendan Griesemer, assistant planning and development director for the city, called the process holistic, with over 1,500 community members attending 57 in-person workshops. At the largest event, more than 500 participants packed the ballroom at the University Plaza Hotel & Convention Center.

Blight declaration
Council heard a proposal to declare 265 acres of the Grant Avenue Parkway Redevelopment Area blighted.

The area is bounded by Catalpa Street to the south, Olive Street to the north, Campbell Avenue to the east and Douglas Avenue to the west.

The declaration would allow two tax abatement programs to be used: a Chapter 99 redevelopment plan and a Chapter 353 tax abatement.

Under Chapter 99, the city’s Land Clearance for Redevelopment Authority is permitted to acquire or dispose of land, construct or rehabilitate buildings, perform blight removal activities and acquire property through eminent domain, according to the LCRA website.

Chapter 99 allows real property tax abatement on up to 100% of the assessed value of new construction or rehabilitation for 10 years.

The Missouri Department of Economic Development provides for the Chapter 353 tax abatement to encourage the redevelopment of blighted areas with up to 25 years of real property tax abatement. For the first 10 years, the property is eligible for 100% abatement on improvements and the assessed value of the land is frozen; for the latter 15 years, taxes may be abated a flat 50%, according to the DED.

Adam Jones, senior project manager from St. Louis-based PGAV Planners LLC, which conducted the blight study ordered by council, presented the redevelopment plan that was also under consideration as part of the council bill.

“We wanted the plan to provide objectives that would prevent gentrification and the displacement of residents,” he said. “We don’t believe anybody should be forced out of the neighborhood if they don’t want to be.”

Councilmember Craig Hosmer asked how the plan encourages people not to sell their homes to developers. Jones said they could use a tax abatement to build more equity in their home.

“You realistically believe that a homeowner is going to be able to utilize the Chapter 99 for tax abatement on single-family owner occupied?” Hosmer responded. “Have you seen that happen before?”

Jones said he had, and the program is one of the few available for that purpose. He added that the exteriors of 699 properties were reviewed, and over 93% had a blighting factor.

Council will vote on the blight declaration and development plan Nov. 28.

7 Brew returns
For the third time, council’s agenda included a proposal for a 7 Brew Coffee at the corner of Sunshine Street and Jefferson Avenue. This time, developer Royce Reding of Reding Management LLC and Redec LLC was seeking a conditional-use permit for a drive-thru at the site.

At its meeting July 25, council approved a zoning change to a limited business district from single-family residential for an acre of property in the 400 block of East Sunshine Street, as requested by the developer. However, council denied a conditional-use permit to allow drive-thru service.

The coffee shop was proposed to have three drive-thru lanes with a capacity to serve 25 vehicles.

The developer first approached council April 4 with a proposal to construct the coffee drive-thru, but council remanded it back to P&Z for revisions.

Prior to all three council votes, P&Z recommended denial of the proposed measures. City staff did recommend approval of the conditional-use permit.

This time, the plan includes the addition of outdoor tables, a bike rack and a sidewalk.

Reding reminded council members that they had just approved the Forward SGF plan with its focus on neighborhood hubs, and he noted that his project is a good fit for the plan.

“I don’t know why this project has – from my vantage point – been one that has been such a sticking point,” he said, adding, “I’m asking you to stick with the plan and look at the merits of the project.”

Reding was one of 11 speakers addressing the council bill. Six of these were neighborhood residents who opposed the conditional-use permit because of concerns over traffic, noise and effects on neighborhood character. Three speakers were in favor of the permit, among them Jacob Ruder, executive director of the Springfield Council of Better Business. Also speaking was a representative of CJW Transportation Consultants, who performed the traffic study for the developer.

Council is scheduled to vote on the measure Nov. 28.

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