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Sewer work is underway for Cherry Street widening south of the proposed Beechwood Heights Storm Water Project area at Elm Street and Patterson Avenue.
SBJ photo by Jessica Rosa
Sewer work is underway for Cherry Street widening south of the proposed Beechwood Heights Storm Water Project area at Elm Street and Patterson Avenue.

City Beat: Council votes to withdraw from Missouri Clean Energy District

City staff requests eminent domain through an ordinance for stormwater project

Posted online

Springfield City Council on Sept. 23 voted to withdraw from a statewide program that provides capital for efficient and renewable energy projects.

The 7-2 vote followed council’s tabling of the measure a month prior, when members first cited accountability issues with the Missouri Clean Energy District. The political subdivision provides financing for energy-efficient improvements to residential and commercial customers under the Missouri Property Assessed Clean Energy bill.

Objections to the city’s participation in the political subdivision came after the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Environmental Advisory Board issued a letter to the city and county about issues it has identified.

The Army Corps cited several problems with Missouri Clean Energy: not filing annual reports with local municipalities; a lack of an economic benefit statement for projects; mortgage lenders not being notified of loans; and concerns of following statutory limits for loan amounts and loans exceeding 50% of property values.

Concerns from council focused on the residential side of the program.

“The concept of this program is very noble and good,” Councilman Richard Ollis said at the meeting. “On the residential side, there’s some real problems with accountability.”

However, he joined Councilman Craig Hosmer as the two votes to keep the program in place.

At the Sept. 23 meeting, Hosmer first made a motion to again table the bill, which was struck down with a 6-3 vote.

“It would serve us well to make the right decision instead of a quick decision,” he said. “We have to look at whether or not we can make it work for the city of Springfield rather than reacting to the problem.”

City Attorney Rhonda Lewsader said other commercial clean energy programs, such as Show Me PACE, could be considered in the future. Show Me PACE requires consent from mortgage lenders and underwriters and uses a third-party collector for annual assessments, according to its website. It is administered by the nonprofit Missouri Energy Initiative.

“If council wanted to enter into an agreement with another energy district, they could do so,” she said.

In voicing his concerns with Missouri Clean Energy, Councilman Mike Schilling in an August council meeting cited a $65,000 loan for a property with a $71,000 valuation.

“I’d like to see something going forward, but I’d like to see some improvements made,” said Schilling, who sponsored the bill to withdraw.

Council’s decision follows the Greene County Commission withdrawing from the district in mid-August, according to past Springfield Business Journal reporting.

Easements needed
Council held a first reading of the first phase of the Beechwood Heights Storm Water Project, slated between Chestnut Expressway and Cherry Street east of Patterson Avenue.

The project design addresses stormwater complaints from area residents, said Springfield Principal Engineer Chris Dunnaway, who presented an eminent domain request to council. Streets, homes and yards are flooding in the Beechwood Heights neighborhood, city officials say.

Dunnaway said the plan calls on retrofitting roadside ditches with inlets and underground stormwater piping along Walnut and Horning streets, Elmwood Drive.

The city has acquired 17 easements for the project, but still needs two more – owned by Deck Investments LLC – to move forward. City staff is requesting use of eminent domain of an undeveloped parcel to keep the project on schedule for anticipated bidding in June 2020.

Deck Investments is listed on Greene County assessor records as the property owner of 340 S. Patterson Ave., the location of Queen City Warehouse Corp., and a 9.18-acre undeveloped parcel to the east with a detention area.

Edward Deck Jr., managing member of Deck Investments and president and owner of Queen City Warehouse, said negotiations with city officials broke down over the past year. Now, he’s fighting eminent domain.

“We have built and maintained our own detention area with our own dollars for our own use,” Deck told council.

Giving the city the easement would cut in half his 9-acre parcel, he said, rendering it undevelopable for future use by his company.

“If I can’t use it, everything south of that is unusable,” Deck said, adding he could use the area to the east for employee parking or a truck lot. “Why would I want to own it, maintain it, pay taxes and insurance on it? This is a big, open ditch we can’t navigate across.”

He agreed the flooding in Beechwood Heights needed to be addressed but said it isn’t coming from his property.

“I know they need relief from the flooding,” Deck said. “But I don’t believe it should come at my expense. I think the city has had other opportunities.”

Three residents addressed council about the flooding concerns.

“Our backyard has been so full of water at times that on numerous occasions we’ve had water go through our foundation vents, and we’ve had to get a sub pump,” said Beechwood Heights resident Gary Witt. “We’ve had to deal with termites. We’ve had to deal with mold, mildew and things like that.”

Dunnaway said city staff would continue negotiations with Deck during the eminent domain process and prior to going to court.

Council is scheduled to vote on the ordinance Oct. 7. The project would be funded through the quarter-cent capital improvement sales tax, according to city documents.

Rezoning bills
Council members unanimously approved three rezoning requests.

Two of the requests were for property at 1720 W. Grand St. totaling 3.17 acres owned by College of the Ozarks. The parcels were rezoned to general retail and low-density multifamily from single-family residential. SBJ previously reported the college plans to sell the property. The land was bequeathed to the college in 2012, but it did not include the former Price Cutter building. The vacant store is still owned by the grocery company.

The third rezoning, for a half acre at 1700 S. Enterprise Ave., amended the planned development to allow veterinary clinics, animal hospitals, pet day care services, pet grooming facilities and kennels.

The applicant, Skinner Real Estate LLC doing business as Spring Valley Veterinary Clinic, already has an existing clinic on the property. According to city documents, officials requested the rezoning to expand services to include pet day care and kenneling at the vet hospital.

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