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City Beat: Council hears downtown redevelopment plan for student housing

Parking concerns are raised by council and residents

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Springfield City Council on Oct. 21 held a first reading on a redevelopment plan that includes tax abatements for a $50 million downtown student housing project.

Los Angeles-based College Town International LLC is seeking a 15-year abatement, said Springfield Director of Economic Development Sarah Kerner, who addressed council about the request. She said the developer seeks a 100% abatement on new improvements during the first 10 years, while freezing the value of the land, and an abatement for 50% of the total assessed value of the property in the final five years.

Springfield Business Journal was first to report last month on College Town International’s plans for a five-story, over 190-unit student housing development at the site of the former Arbor motel at 505 St. Louis St. Dan Weinstein, managing partner of College Town International, previously told SBJ the abatement status is key to the company’s Springfield plans.

Under Chapter 353 of state statute, College Town International’s application to the city includes a blight report, redevelopment plan, and a tax impact and but-for analysis, Kerner said.

“This is similar but not identical to Chapter 99s, which you see quite more frequently,” she said.

Steve Papa, co-developer on the project, told council renters would sign 12-month leases. The units would range from $840 for a one-bedroom unit to $2,560 for a four-bedroom unit, said Spencer Fane LLP partner Shawn Whitney, who is legal counsel for the developer. Kansas City-based architectural firm The Hollis & Miller Group Inc. is collaborating with H Design Group LLC on the look of the complex.

Officials said a 171-space parking garage would be constructed on the lower level of the building. But the ratio of parking for the 526 beds in the complex was a concern by some at the council meeting.

Councilman Abe McGull said parking already is limited downtown.

Tim Roth, president of the Greater Springfield Apartment and Housing Association, also spoke to the parking matter.

“If we look at passing this without knowing for sure where this parking is coming from … it’s a mistake,” he told council.

The association represents about 10,000 multifamily units in Springfield, said Roth, who also is a partner and director of student housing for The Vecino Group LLC. Contradicting a claim by College Town International representatives that Springfield’s apartment market was at 100% occupancy, Roth said a 2,700-unit survey showed an 84% occupancy rate among apartments in town.

Currently, center city zoning does not require parking for new developments, said Springfield Planning and Development Director Mary Lilly Smith. College Town International’s original design did not include parking, but at the recommendation of city staff, the developers are attempting to provide one space per bed in the complex.

“We’ve been meeting with private as well as industrial people in the area,” Papa said of off-site parking potential. “Recently, we have completed an agreement with a group that will provide the additional 450 parking spaces we need.”

Whitney could not be reached for details.

Council is scheduled to vote on the plan Nov. 4.

Loan laws
Council again moved to table the original bill and a substitute bill regarding regulations for short-term loan businesses. Both bills were tabled with a 5-4 vote until Feb. 10, 2020.

“We have looked at options, which are limited in what we can do as a city versus what can be done at the state level,” said Councilwoman Phyllis Ferguson.

Council is considering a short-term rental code to establish a permit for each payday loan business in operation and enforce an annual $5,000 business license. Those found noncompliant would face penalties or fines, jail time or both.

The bill and its substitute were last tabled on June 17, following a public hearing on April 22.

In the meantime, city officials agreed to form a task force to review what measures the city can take. Janet Dankert, president and CEO of the Community Partnership of the Ozarks, was tabbed to lead the task force, which City Manager Jason Gage is organizing.

City spokeswoman Cora Scott said invitations were sent to a multidisciplinary group, which is expected to convene within a few weeks.

According to the nonprofit Consumer Federation of America, Missouri’s 1,950% maximum annual percentage rate is the highest nationwide for a 14-day $100 loan. The next closest max interest rate is 780%, in Louisiana and Wyoming.

“We’re in a city that already has a 25% poverty rate, and the use of this kind of borrowing exacerbates this kind of situation of economic instability,” said Councilman Mike Schilling, adding the current landscape has created a “license for larceny” of so-called predatory lending.

According to the CFA, five states have no interest rate limits, while 16 states, and the District of Columbia, do not allow payday loans.

Galloway Redevelopment Area
Following a 270-day administrative delay regarding rezoning requests in Galloway Village and community meetings to set guidelines for future development, council approved the Galloway Redevelopment Area by a 7-2 vote.

The city staff recommendations focus on public safety, natural environment protection, image enhancement, and history and character of the area.

One member of the public told council they opposed the recommendations because they are too broad.

“If there were recommendations that were put together that had specific design guidelines … I would feel far more comfortable with those,” said Britton Jobe, a local attorney and member of the Planning and Zoning Commission.

He said the current recommendations are a step back from council’s previous vote to blight the Galloway Village commercial area and they discourage mixed-use and medium density developments.

“We’re now having to face the fact we’re going to put restrictions on that area as a result of the success that the Galloway Village has had,” Jobe told council.

The other public speaker, Marcie Kirkup, president of the Galloway Village Neighborhood Association, said the group preferred an overarching conventional overlay district instead of the approved CODs on a parcel-by-parcel basis.

“We fully support and embrace development of reasonable density and reasonable scale that is compatible with our predominantly single-family neighborhood,” Kirkup said, further giving support of the new guidelines. “The recommendations provide a framework by which we can all begin to develop some shared equitable expectations as a community moving forward.”

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