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City Beat: Council won’t oppose cluster development

Mayor says there’s no procedure to reject or remand housing issue

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Some members of the Olde Ivy Homeowners Association had looked to Springfield City Council as their last bulwark against a development they fear will change the nature of their neighborhood.

On April 4, council allowed the Reed Avenue Cottages project, a so-called cluster development, to proceed by voting 7-1 to approve the plat submitted by developers.

At the March 21 council meeting, 17 residents spoke, most in opposition to the project that would pack 22 residences onto 4.7 acres of land.

The proposed development is now set to move ahead at 4423 S. Reed Ave., near the intersection of James River Freeway and U.S. Highway 65. The applicant for the project is the Katy A. St. George Revocable Trust and the developer is DHTC Development LLC, run by Debbie Hart, Tammi Creason and Riley Shantz. Its website says it focuses on affordable housing for seniors and families.

Before the council vote, Mayor Ken McClure offered a statement to explain the body’s role in the matter as administrative, rather than legislative. He said council was required simply to accept the dedication of public streets and easements if the final plat is in accordance with the preliminary one filed by the applicant.

Within council’s administrative function, members do not have discretion to consider what they would choose to do, McClure said.

“This means that by law the council must consider only the factors the city code states city council must be able to use on which to base its decision,” he said.

In the case of the cottages, council could consider only whether the location of the land to be dedicated for public use or public improvements is appropriate and complies with applicable ordinances.

There is no procedure in place for council to remand the plan back to the Planning and Zoning Commission, McClure said.

Councilperson Craig Hosmer was the lone dissenting vote.

Afterward, he told Springfield Business Journal he felt council should have a say in the matter.

“It doesn’t make any sense for Planning and Zoning to pass something and then automatically our only option is to vote yes,” he said. “From a procedural standpoint, that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Otherwise, why even have a public hearing?”

He added that neighborhood residents need to be heard.

Asked what the homeowners association’s next move would be, legal representative Patrick Platter of Neale & Newman LLP said that is yet to be determined.

Platter provided SBJ with a letter he sent to council and city staff on March 24.

“We believe the review by council is, and must be, different than ‘ministerial,’” Platter wrote.

He wrote that Missouri state statute provides councils with discretion when determining if a preliminary plat application complies with city ordinances. He expressed concerns about stormwater flow and retention as well as street gradients, which he noted were not indicated in plans.

His letter asks how 3,864-square-foot townhome lots would impact values of larger homes around them and also questions whether existing streets will be made private in the planned gated community. None of this information is indicated in the plat, according to Platter.

“The surrounding neighbors have heard only boilerplate statements that the application and plat are sufficient, when the lack of detail obviously shows they are not,” he wrote.

He suggested council remand the case to P&Z for proper fact-finding.

At council’s March 21 meeting, Shantz, a resident of the neighborhood and a partner with DHTC Development, said the project started when he would drive by the site and notice how blighted it appeared to be.

“Ultimately, we thought we could do something better with it,” he said.

Division improvements
The city plans to improve a stretch of Division Street between National and Glenstone avenues, and the lowest bid for the project came in more than a half-million dollars under the city-contracted engineer’s estimate for the project.

At its meeting, City Council heard the first reading of an ordinance to approve plans for the project and to enter into a contract with the low bidder, Springfield-based Hartman and Co. Inc.

Hartman and Co.’s bid was just under $4.7 million, and the project estimate, calculated by Crawford, Murphy & Tilly Inc., was over $5.2 million.

The project, if approved by council April 18, will widen the three lanes on Division Street while adding an upgraded stormwater system, 5-foot-wide sidewalks on the north side and a multipurpose trail on the south side, according to the council ordinance.

“If you’ve driven that, you’ve noticed that the road is basically worn out,” Public Works Director Dan Smith told council.

“Pavement is in terrible condition, but really the sidewalks are not good, stormwater is not good, so this project would basically rebuild the entire thing.”

Three bids were submitted for the project. The other two were from Radmacher Brothers Excavating Co. Inc., of Pleasant Hill, with a bid just under $5.4 million, and D&E Plumbing and Heating Inc., of Nixa, with a bid of nearly $5.5 million.

Funds for improvements will come from the quarter-cent capital improvements sales tax, which is already budgeted, and $1.1 million will be appropriated from the eighth-cent transportation sales tax reserves. The explanation of the council bill notes the latter tax fund provides additional money due to the increasing cost of construction in the current market as a result of inflation and supply shortages.

“We are seeing prices go up, but at the same time, we do believe this is a good bid,” Smith said.

In addition to sales tax funds, the project will be paid for with over $720,000 in gas and water utility improvements that will be reimbursed by City Utilities of Springfield, reducing the city cost to about $4 million.

Hartman & Co.’s bid document states the project will be completed in just under a year after a contract is signed.

Other action items:

  • Council welcomed Amanda Ohlensehlen, the city’s director of economic vitality. Ohlensehlen is a Missouri native who most recently served as community and economic development manager for the city of New Bern, North Carolina. Ohlensehlen will head up the new city department.
  • An updated flood control and water quality protection manual was approved. It includes a water quality requirement for redevelopment in connection with storm sewer system permitting, and it also clarifies stormwater design standards while offering other changes for consistency within the manual. Council also approved an amendment to the city’s land development code regarding stream buffers.

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