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City Beat: Council mulls increasing control of certain zoning requests

Planning & Zoning objects to procedural change

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Springfield City Council would gain more flexibility in considering conditional use permits with the adoption of an ordinance that had its first reading at the Jan. 8 meeting.

The measure would allow council to add, modify or remove provisions of a conditional use permit, or CUP. The change was recommended by council’s Plans and Policies Committee and is backed by city staff. CUPs are zoning exceptions that allow landowners to use properties in approved nonconforming ways.

According to an explanation by Senior City Planner Michael Sparlin, city code is interpreted to limit council’s authority to impose conditions that would minimize or avoid potentially adverse effects from a development. Similar changes are permitted with typical zoning measures.

The city’s Planning & Zoning Commission voted unanimously against recommending the change at a meeting Nov. 9.

P&Z’s motion of denial said the city failed to explain why the change was needed. Further, P&Z has put on hold other text amendments out of respect for a new land development code now being developed.

“Allowing for changes and modifications without planning commission input takes away from the public another opportunity to comment and ultimately reduces transparency,” the P&Z denial motion added.

The proposal emerged out of council discussion of a CUP for a 7 Brew development at the intersection of Sunshine Street and Jefferson Avenue.

Councilmember Craig Hosmer said he initially advocated for council’s ability to change CUP language, but he respects P&Z’s position.

“I think we should respect the work that they put in and the dedication I think that our Planning & Zoning Commission has,” he said.

He added the issue addressed by the proposal – of council wanting to change a small portion of a CUP – rises infrequently.

“It seems to me that we should maybe wait on this and have an opportunity for us to maybe meet with Planning & Zoning,” he said. “We certainly don’t want those people on the Planning & Zoning Commission to think that we’re disregarding their work and their ideas on how we should make policy.”

Hosmer also pointed out that the details within a CUP can represent a delicate balance negotiated among competing interests in a project, and because of this, it differs from a straight zoning measure.

Other council members appeared ready to forge ahead despite P&Z objections.

Councilmember Abe McGull said the measure was intended to streamline the process in those instances where a small modification can be made to the CUP without sending the matter back to P&Z and extending a project’s timeline.

McGull also pointed out that City Council members are elected officials, and therefore they are more accountable than council-appointed P&Z commissioners to the electorate.

“Giving the City Council that flexibility and the fact that we are also accountable to the citizens, it kind of makes sense to me that we move forward with this,” he said.

Councilmember Derek Lee, an engineer, said council modifications are permitted for straight zoning cases.

“As somebody who’s actually prepared a number of conditional use permits, they’re much more complicated and much more detail-oriented than straight zoning cases,” he said.

Because of this, there are more opportunities for a minor scrivener’s error, he said, and these can then be corrected by council without the delay of a remand. “I will be wholeheartedly voting in favor of this,” he said.

Council is scheduled to vote on the measure at its Jan. 22 meeting.

Ballot measures
Springfield voters will decide on the mayor’s term of office and a code of ethics for city personnel on the April 2 ballot following council’s approval of two separate measures.

One ballot measure would lengthen the term of city mayors to four years from two while continuing to cap their service at eight consecutive years. The other would revise the city charter’s code of ethics policy for elected officials, appointed officers, board members and employees.

There was disagreement among council about whether to put the extended mayoral term on the ballot. Councilmember Brandon Jenson voted against it, while Councilmember Monica Horton abstained from voting. Mayor Ken McClure recused himself out of what he called an abundance of caution; however, if passed by voters, the first election it would apply to is in 2025, after McClure’s final term is completed.

Horton cautioned that residents of two council zones, 2 and 3, could lose their ability to influence the numeric majority on council because voters from those zones may be less likely to vote in mayoral elections when their zone candidates aren’t on the ballot.

Jenson expressed his opposition.

“Accountability and transparency are key tenets for a functioning democracy, and this proposal serves to reduce the number of accountability checkpoints that citizens have on the most public-facing leader of our city,” he said.

Jenson added that he has heard the argument that less frequent elections would allow the mayor to focus energy on leading the city rather than on reelection.

“Mayor McClure has led the city through some of the most challenging times in modern history while spearheading the adoption of a truly comprehensive plan, and yet was still reelected all four times, so for me, this reasoning doesn’t hold true,” he said.

The decision to put the code of ethics language on the ballot was unanimous. That measure would subject city employees who violate the code to disciplinary action up to and including termination. Current charter language allows only for termination for employees with an ethics violation. Elected officials, appointed officers and board members would still forfeit their position for a violation, as the current code dictates.

City Manager Jason Gage estimated the cost of putting the items on the ballot at $130,000-$140,000.

Other action items

  • Brendan Griesemer, retiring assistant director of Planning and Development, was honored with a resolution recognizing his public service in 27 years with the city. The resolution notes Griesemer’s inclusion in the College of Fellows of the American Institute of Certified Planners – only the fourth Missouri planner to receive this honor.
  • The first reading of a bill that would provide American Rescue Plan Act funds for congregate shelters for homeless people was considered, with funding recommended for the Salvation Army and the Women’s Medical Respite. Funding was not recommended for the only other applicant, the Council of Churches of the Ozarks. The possibility was raised of tapping into remaining city ARPA funds to support all three applicants. A vote will be held Jan. 22.
  • The following rezonings were approved: 5.5 acres at 5298 E. Farm Road 104, to highway commercial from a Greene County suburban residence designation, for a recreational vehicle park by applicant Kurt Wouk; nearly an acre at 2555 N. Neergard Ave. to industrial Commercial from general manufacturing, for a used car sales business by applicant Barbara Lorenz; and 1.7 acres at 1650 S. Ingram Mill Road to commercial service from general retail, for a commercial development by applicant J&M Tillman LLC.
  • Council approved a planned development at 1249 E. Kingsley St., the closed Zio’s restaurant, by East Wichita Development LLC, which plans to build a hotel on the site.
  • Council accepted a federal grant of $240,000, or 80% of the cost of pedestrian and bicycle improvements on Grand Street from Kansas Expressway to National Avenue. The grant is part of a carbon reduction program agreement with the Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission.
  • Olsson Inc. was approved as the consultant for Phase II improvements to the Cooper Park and Sports Complex at a cost of $888,000, to be paid through ARPA funds.

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