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City Beat: Developer asked to set 2nd neighborhood meeting for Doling Park project

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Springfield City Council voted Feb. 21 to request that a developer voluntarily hold a new neighborhood meeting to hear concerns from residents on a proposed housing development.

The move came after Councilmember Monica Horton, who represents the Doling Park neighborhood where the development is proposed, raised concerns about whether residents had been given adequate opportunity to express their views about the project at 739 W. Talmage St. That is where Mike Stalzer has proposed to transform the Dr. Harry E. Vickery Fieldhouse, a pole building owned by Baptist Temple of Springfield, into a 33-unit apartment building, with 22 detached single-family dwellings to be constructed on four acres beside it.

Council was scheduled to vote on rezoning the property to planned development from multifamily residential at the meeting when Horton spoke up.

A neighborhood meeting is a required part of the rezoning process, and it must be held at least 21 days before a hearing by the city’s Planning & Zoning Commission, which then passes the matter on to council with their recommendation.

The neighborhood meeting for this project was held Dec. 22, a day with dangerously low windchill temperatures. Horton contended that the weather did not allow some residents to attend the meeting and express their views.

Three residents spoke at the Feb. 6 council meeting to express concerns about traffic, interference with Watkins Elementary School, effects on property values and stormwater retention. Stalzer addressed several of these concerns in his remarks to council at the time by noting a city traffic study showed no issues related to the development, and his stormwater retention design is at 120% of the capacity required.

At the Feb. 21 meeting, Horton suggested the matter be remanded to P&Z and that the project timeline be reset to include a new neighborhood meeting. After reviewing city code, City Attorney Rhonda Lewsader determined there is no procedure for doing that.

“What you are talking about doing are adding steps that are not in the city zoning ordinance presently, and therefore I’m concerned that there’s not authority in the code for what you’re proposing to do,” she said.

Councilmember Andrew Lear said he was sympathetic to what Horton was trying to accomplish.

“My concern is if we set a precedent for this one, that the next time one comes along, we set ourselves a trap of having to do that,” he said.

Lear said, however, that setting another neighborhood meeting would be a commonsense action.

He also pointed out that neighborhood residents had opportunities to make themselves heard at the P&Z meeting following the neighborhood meeting – Mayor Ken McClure noted three residents spoke up there – as well as at the council meeting.

City Manager Jason Gage offered a conciliatory suggestion, which was for council to table its vote and encourage the developer to voluntarily host another neighborhood meeting and bring the results back for council determination. At that point, council could take its next step – an up or down vote, or a decision to remand to P&Z.

Horton said she thought that would work.

“The process isn’t just to check boxes; we really want it to be a meaningful experience,” she said.

She added that Gage’s suggestion is one she would be comfortable with.

McClure made a motion to table the matter until March 20, when it will be eligible for a vote, and Horton seconded it. The measure passed unanimously.

Hotel of Terror condemned
Council voted 9-0 to seize the downtown Hotel of Terror building through eminent domain to make way for the Renew Jordan Creek project. The seasonal horror attraction has operated at 334 N. Main Ave. for 45 years.

A public hearing on the matter was held at the last council meeting.

Before the vote, Lear talked about the decision to demolish the three-story, 1915-constructed building that was originally the Manuel Hotel, serving rail passengers. He explained the owner, Sterling Mathis, will receive fair market value for the former hotel.

“This is not a taking,” he said.

Negotiations between Mathis and the city will continue, but if negotiations aren’t successful, the condemnation vote ensures that a third party and ultimately a court will determine the value.

“This action tonight is not a forcing of any such event; it’s simply putting it in place so that this entire project stays on track,” Lear said.

In a separate matter, council voted to acquire by condemnation a house at 608 W. Kerr St. to allow the Grant and Norton Stormwater Improvement Process to proceed through the property. The owner died, and ownership has not yet been established, necessitating the action.

Bond proposed
Council heard the first reading of an ordinance to issue special obligation improvement bonds in the amount of $15.5 million.

The bonds would pay for improvements related to Historic City Hall at $6 million, the city’s portion of the city-county animal shelter at $3.4 million, several fire stations at $2.7 million, and the Hazelwood Cemetery office and maintenance at $1.2 million. It also includes a contingency of $1.7 million.

Debt service payment would come from the city’s 2017 level property tax fund, and the projects were identified for voters during the tax campaign. David Holtmann, director of finance for the city, said the true interest cost would be about 4.1%.

Council will vote March 6 on the ordinance.

Other action items

  • Without discussion, council approved a budget amendment to cover special election costs related to a proposed rezoning in Galloway Village for a mixed-use housing development by Elevation Enterprises LLC. Citywide, 70% of voters rejected the measure. The cost to the city to mount the ballot measure was $90,000.
  • Council accepted $10 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds as a flow-thru agent between the state and the Ozark Empire Fair Foundation.

Councilmember Matthew Simpson thanked Gov. Mike Parson and the state legislature for the funds, but Councilmember Craig Hosmer noted the ARPA funds were federal in origin.

“We keep talking about the state legislature, but we also should be thanking the federal government, President [Joe] Biden and our congressional delegation that voted for this, because there were a lot of people that voted against,” he said.


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