YOUR BUSINESS AUTHORITY
A Springfield City Council member apologized and the mayor chastised his colleagues over voting down an appointment to the Planning & Zoning Commission.
At the Oct. 3 meeting of Springfield City Council, Councilperson Mike Schilling said, “I take this opportunity to publicly apologize for my rash, impulsive vote at the last council meeting which resulted in the defeat of Andrew Doolittle’s appointment to the Planning & Zoning Commission by a one-vote margin.”
Schilling chairs the Public Involvement Committee, which nominated developer Andrew Doolittle for an open seat on the Planning & Zoning Commission. Doolittle is one of the developers of the Loose Goose project at the corner of Grant Avenue and Grand Street. The project is the first new retail business approved for the Grant Avenue Parkway, which is zoned to prohibit drive-thrus and package liquor sales, both of which Loose Goose will have following a rezoning approved by council Aug. 22. Schilling and two other council members voted against the development at the Sept. 19 council meeting, but the resolution passed.
Schilling voted against the Loose Goose project, in keeping with city staff recommendations.
At the Sept. 19 meeting, rather than being passed with a group of bills as part of council’s consent agenda, Doolittle’s appointment was pulled out for a separate vote at the request of Councilperson Craig Hosmer, and Hosmer, Schilling, Heather Hardinger, Monica Horton and Abe McGull voted against the appointment.
“When my turn came to vote, I impulsively said no, prompted by a bit of lingering spite about the development project,” Schilling said. “I’m sincerely sorry for my lapse in ethical judgment.”
Mayor Ken McClure offered harsh criticism of the five council members who voted against Doolittle’s appointment.
McClure critiqued the notion that a developer would automatically hold explicit bias, noting if such perceived conflicts were real, council must consider whether anyone involved with property development should be considered for P&Z.
“I fear that we are needlessly embarking on a very slippery slope where there are no winners and our community is the loser,” McClure said.
He added those who would cite a conflict of interest must not be aware of the strict ethical provisions in the city’s charter and code.
McClure said his colleagues who voted against Doolittle’s appointment should have done their homework, and he added council damaged its credibility with the vote.
“Those who claim conflict of interest are obviously not aware of the long and rich history of those involved in property development who have served effectively and honorably as a member of the Planning & Zoning Commission,” he said, offering the example of Ralph Manley, a longtime developer who served on P&Z as well as council.
Also speaking up against the vote was Matt Morrow, president and CEO of the Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce, who offered his comments during the public input portion at the end of the meeting.
Morrow said people in the building trades have expertise to contribute to P&Z.
“In a group of nine members of a Planning & Zoning Commission, it’s not unreasonable to think that a couple could have a perspective that would be specific to having that firsthand experience in planning and development,” Morrow said.
In this case, Morrow said, it sounded as though an entire profession was being disqualified.
“It was concerning to me and I think to a couple of other people that reached out to me about that and wondered if the developer perspective can be part of the conversation,” he said.
Reached by phone on Oct. 4, Hosmer called the response by the mayor and Morrow “a little bit of an overreaction,” adding, “It was probably a little over the top for both the mayor and the chamber.”
He said council is generally receptive to those who wish to serve. In Doolittle’s case, however, the appointment vote came very close to a significant change in zoning that went against both staff recommendations and those of consultants hired to lend their expertise to the Grant Avenue Parkway project.
“I have nothing bad to say about Mr. Doolittle at all – he’s a good person, a smart guy,” Hosmer said. “It’s just that the timing was not well thought out.”
In the past, Hosmer has raised concerns about the voices of the chamber and building organizations being weighted more heavily in decision-making processes than the voices of community residents. An example was on Jan. 24, when he questioned council’s prioritizing of development over needs like poverty, blighted properties and crime.
“I believe there are issues other than what the chamber wants,” he said at the time.
Several high-profile conflicts exist in Springfield regarding development efforts. The zoning change to accommodate Loose Goose despite staff objections resulted in a split council vote that was a narrow win for developers. Additionally, a citywide vote Nov. 8 will settle a zoning dispute in Galloway Village. That disagreement has pitted the developer against the neighborhood association and led to a court battle, with a June 8 appeals court ruling in favor of residents of Galloway Village.
When asked if those who support development try to slip a finger on the scale in decision-making, Hosmer replied in the affirmative.
“I think that’s true,” he said. “The chamber does have more influence on council than they should have.”
He rejected the mayor’s notion that the down vote for Doolittle was an embarrassment to council or to the developer.
“There have been embarrassing things the city’s done,” he said. “This wasn’t one of them.”
Developer BK&M LLC razed a home at 1755 S. National Ave. at the corner of Sunshine Street on Oct. 4 amid an ongoing dispute with members of the University Heights neighborhood over the developer’s plans to build a retail establishment there.
BK&M, which stands for Be Kind and Merciful, had boarded the windows and erected a fence with its slogan wrapping around the corner. The city’s Building Development Services issued the wrecking permit Oct. 1.
University Heights resident Mark Fletcher wrote to Springfield Business Journal on Oct. 1 with copies of deed restrictions discovered for the lots purchased by BK&M, which is seeking council approval to rezone them to commercial from residential in order to move forward with its plans.
“These deed restrictions provide, in part, ‘Nothing to be erected thereon excepting a private residence of brick, stone or stucco construction,’’’ he said.
Each deed also contains a setback requirement that makes the placement of a commercial building incompatible with current city requirements, he added, noting advertisements for the original lots touted the restrictions.
“It is only a matter of time until BK&M LLC is forced to abandon their rezoning request,” Fletcher wrote. “Additionally, no future development will ever be allowed to take place in University Heights.”
City spokesperson Cora Scott said deed restrictions are a private matter and the city has no enforcement role concerning them. They are typically more restrictive than zoning laws, and they are enforceable not by public authorities but by private individuals.
Other action items
SBJ interviews the interim dean at the William H. Darr College of Agriculture at Missouri State University.