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The Reed Avenue Cottages project is planned at 4423 S. Reed Ave.
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The Reed Avenue Cottages project is planned at 4423 S. Reed Ave.

Cluster development proposed in southeast Springfield

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Planners of a residential cluster development and 17 residents of the neighborhood where it is proposed were deeply at odds at last night’s meeting of Springfield City Council.

At issue was a request for council to approve a 22-lot residential subdivision located at 4423 S. Reed Ave., just south of James River Freeway and less than a mile west of U.S. Highway 65. Called the Reed Avenue Cottages, the applicant for the project is the Katy A. St. George Revocable Trust.

The subdivision would be housed on 4.7 acres of land.

At the Feb. 10 meeting of the Planning and Zoning Commission, Riley Shantz, a member of the Reed Avenue Cottages development team, said the plan was to build upscale patio homes sized at 1,500-1,600 square feet with two-car garages.

The commission postponed approval of the preliminary plat until its March 10 meeting, when Shantz explained the project would have a density of 5.6 units per acre, and that cluster grouping preserves nature while providing a unique housing plan, according to the minutes of the meeting. The commission voted 5-2 to approve the preliminary plat.

At last night’s council meeting, members were advised by Susan Istenes, the city’s director of planning and development, that the governmental body’s role was merely to authorize her to accept the dedication of easements to the city.

“That’s all we’re doing tonight,” she said, noting council would not be revisiting the approval of the plat.

Mayor Ken McClure sought clarification that council’s role in the matter was merely administerial, rather than legislative. City Attorney Rhonda Lewsader said city code states once the Planning and Zoning Commission approves city plats, if they comply with applicable ordinances, council’s role is to authorize the easements.
Councilperson Andrew Lear said that effectively council’s hands are tied since Planning and Zoning accepted the plat. He noted that if council were to deny the matter, the developers could take an appeal to court; likewise, opponents of the development could do the same.

The first speaker before council disagreed with Lear’s assessment that council has no say in the matter. Patrick Platter, an attorney with Neale & Newman LLP, said he was present as representative of the Old Ivy Homeowners Association.

“Unfortunately, we do not have a mutual assent concerning the interpretation of your role tonight,” he said. “The cluster development presently before you has been used once in 20 years, according to a senior planner from the city of Springfield.”

He said council was not just reviewing a cluster subdivision; by city code, they are reviewing a major subdivision.

Platter said if there was a problem with ambiguity, it is because the code is so seldom used.

“This is the legal equivalent to experimental surgery by a surgeon who doesn’t normally do the surgery, who doesn’t have a plan once he starts the surgery,” Platter said. “That’s what you’re doing. Please review it, and remand it to the commission for it to do its proper job, which it did not do before.”

Residents of the neighborhood had a range of concerns. Greg Smith said he has lived in the neighborhood for 34 years, and the roads were not designed for the current level of traffic, much less the vehicles associated with 22 new homes, and emergency vehicles would have a hard time responding to the area.

Resident Daniel Losco said he lives 200 feet from the proposed development.

“This is experimental, is I think the best word for this,” he said. “I think you have the authority and the power to say no, this is not a good idea, and there’s lots of reasons why it’s not a good idea.”

Losco said the proposed backyards are 10 feet deep, and the houses will be only 5 feet apart. He added that clearcutting over 3 acres of trees is not in the best interest of the community.

Losco said the project is high-density housing, not low-density housing, as described.

After clarifying that he was speaking solely as a business owner, Jim Meadows, an attorney with Kutak Rock LLP, brought up several factors in favor of the development, including lack of housing stock in the city, economic development benefits from the project and environmental sustainability from encouraging more people to live on available land.

Meadows added that the project encourages developers to take risks, and a code not having been used frequently is not a reason to turn the project down; rather, it’s a reason to encourage developers to try to do new things.

Karen Baker, a neighbor of the proposed development, said the Planning and Zoning Commission had failed to perform due diligence.

She called it a bad ordinance and claimed the commission did not take into consideration the opinions of neighbors. She said 118 signatures were obtained opposing the development, and at least 50 emails of opposition were sent to the commission. Neighbors’ objections were ignored while developers’ claims were not questioned, she said.

“This development and the tsunami of future development will dominate and destroy this lovely neighborhood, robbing residents of its beauty and serenity, should the desires of the developers and their team supersede the rights of the neighbors who live in and love this neighborhood,” she said.

Resident Shanda Moore called the project a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

“This project simply shoves as many units as possible on the portion of the property that is financially feasible to be developed,” she said.

She added that this is not a precedent council should want to set for the community.

“Council, you’re the final judge and jury here,” she said. “All of the required work is not done on this project. Send it back to Planning and Zoning.”

Council will vote on the matter at its April 4 meeting. The ordinance asks council members to authorize the director of planning and development to accept the dedication of public streets and easements into the city, as recommended by city staff.

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