An attempt by Springfield City Councilmember Craig Hosmer to pump the brakes on development along Sunshine Street and National Avenue was quashed by a 6-3 vote that sent the matter to committee.
The measure sought to put a 210-day pause on development efforts along the two corridors where developers have sought to make incursions into the neighborhoods through two recent proposals.
More than three dozen city residents attended council’s Jan. 23 meeting to listen and offer input on the proposed resolution.
However, Councilmember Abe McGull’s motion to refer the proposal to the municipal governing body’s Plans and Policies Committee – chaired by Richard Ollis – eliminated an opportunity for discussion, to the anger of the crowd.
As Mayor Ken McClure moved on to the next, unrelated item of business, city residents got up from their seats and shouted comments at council over the voice of the city clerk, who already was reading the title of the next piece of legislation.
“So, we don’t get to speak?” one person shouted. “You have a whole room full of people here,” another said, while a third could be heard to argue, “This is several neighborhoods.”
Council on Jan. 9 approved a conditional use permit to allow three drive-thru lanes to be installed at a 7 Brew Coffee at the intersection of Sunshine Street and Jefferson Avenue after the project was thrice rejected by the Planning & Zoning Commission and once previously rejected by council.
Another development, a mixed-use residential and commercial development called The Heights, has been proposed for the northwest corner of Sunshine and National. Some neighbors are suing developer BK&M in an attempt to halt the project.
A P&Z meeting Feb. 9 will take up a rezoning request from BK&M, making Hosmer’s administrative delay proposal a timely one.
Hosmer is proposing the delay to allow council to seek input from area residents, property owners, developers and other stakeholders regarding corridor plans and for staff to present a report to both P&Z and council.
The delay would pause the processing of applications for demolition, construction, replatting of property, conditional use permits and rezoning during the study period, with an appeals process permitted. The same instrument was used previously by council with contested projects in Phelps Grove, Rountree and Galloway Village neighborhoods and along the Grant Avenue Parkway. Those delays were not vetted by committees, Hosmer noted.
City staff recommended the resolution be denied in an explanation of the council bill.
Susan Istenes, director of Planning and Development, wrote that the city’s comprehensive plan, Forward SGF, is focused on updating city codes, and she suggested it would be impossible to conduct a corridor study simultaneously.
“Right now, staff priorities are urgently geared towards implementing the Forward SGF comprehensive plan by preparing to update the land development codes,” she wrote. “Any shift in priorities to conduct a corridor plan will reallocate already limited staff resources and delay the code update, leaving the city without critical updates and the inability to implement the plan.”
Hosmer put on the overhead projector an earlier draft of the explanation of the bill in which Istenes supported his resolution. She had noted that while Forward SGF addresses a wide range of issues, it does not address planning at the parcel level.
“Redevelopment undertaken at this juncture could be inconsistent with a holistic vision and concept for these two transitional corridors. This administrative delay will allow staff to conduct the necessary public engagement over the course of the next few months which will inform the future design of the corridor,” Istenes wrote in the earlier draft, dated Jan. 17. The document was revised Jan. 20.
No reason was given for the change during the meeting, but reached by email the next day, Istenes said a line indicating the planning staff recommended approval had been included by accident.
“It was never the intent of staff to support this resolution,” she wrote. “In fact, the practice (albeit we discovered has been inconsistent) is that staff does not make a recommendation on council member-generated bills.”
Istenes said after hearing Hosmer’s concerns, the explanation sheet was changed to include only his specific explanation.
“That step separated staff’s comments on the bill from his explanation,” she wrote. “That will be the consistent protocol moving forward.”
Code revisions needed
During the meeting, City Manager Jason Gage told council the city’s transition from conventional zoning to a land-use plan means its codes do not match up well.
“We need to do whatever we can to accelerate the process of getting our codes for the whole community in place,” he said.
Hosmer asked if Gage had met with any developers interested in building along the corridor, and Gage acknowledged he had met with the developers of a 7 Brew Coffee shop at Sunshine Street and Jefferson Avenue two or three times and BK&M LLC, the developers of a proposed mixed-use development on Sunshine and National, about a concern not specifically related to development. He said he had not met with the whole neighborhood.
“There’s a reason that neighbors in this community feel like they’re getting the short end of the stick – because the developer has your ear,” Hosmer said. “The developers have the ear of council and neighbors don’t, and I think they’re getting tired of it.”
He added that even the Missouri Court of Appeals, in a 2022 decision permitting a city-wide referendum on development in Galloway Village, said there was a “cancerous anomaly” in the way the city deals with neighborhoods.
“A cancerous anomaly,” he repeated. “And people complain about neighbors fighting for their neighborhoods. If we don’t have neighbors fighting for their neighborhoods, what are we going to have? If people don’t care about their neighborhoods in this city, God help us.”
Hosmer said that by sending the proposal to committee, council was “deep-sixing” it – essentially, jettisoning the measure to die.
“Go ahead and do it, but this is bad policy. It smells, and it’s something we shouldn’t do,” he said.
Ollis called Hosmer’s characterization of council and staff not listening to neighbors inaccurate and offensive. As a member of the board of Restore SGF, an organization focused on rebuilding historic neighborhoods, he said people have an immediate need.
“Their difficulty is houses are literally rotting around them. Crime has overtaken their neighborhoods,” he said. “I’d just like to give a little perspective about what we are talking about here tonight.”
Other members’ views
Other council members also weighed in on the issue. Mike Schilling said the areas in question are vulnerable, and a study needs to happen soon.
McGull expressed concern about the legality of the resolution.
“I’m a little bit uncomfortable with the idea of the timing, because these types of actions can bring about litigation for the city,” he said.
Andrew Lear spoke in favor of following the Forward SGF plan.
“I recognize there is an urgent, important issue on that corridor that we need to address, but I think we do it in the framework that we’ve already got,” he said.
Reached by phone at his office the next day, Hosmer posited that council members didn’t want to commit to a vote on the issue.
“Sometimes people don’t want to vote on something, so they use procedural mechanisms to table it or refer it to committee to avoid having to make a vote one way or the other,” he said. “That’s probably the motivation. Plus, the election’s coming up; I’m sure people are concerned about what the impact is.”
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