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Communities try to keep small-town atmospheres

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by Jan K. Allen

SBJ Contributing Writer

One prevailing theme among officials in the smaller communities around Springfield is that they want to retain their small-town atmospheres while keeping up with steady growth.

Nixa, Ozark, Rogersville, Strafford, Willard and Republic have all experienced growing pains in the past few years, and each of these municipalities is dealing with changes needed to accommodate new residents and businesses.

Nixa has had the most startling growth rate, increasing a whopping 101.4 percent since the beginning of this decade and registering a healthy 8 percent growth rate in 1997, according to the city's statistics.

"There has been quite a bit of annexation in the past five years," according to Brian Bingle, Nixa's Planning and Development manager.

The city is growing in all directions, Bingle said. The town issued 285 new residential building permits, 13 new business permits, and 30 permits for additions in 1997. These figures do not count multifamily additions.

Nixa's water upgrade was completed in January of 1997 and the system has a current capacity of 1.8 million gallons, Bingle said.

As early as 1987 Nixa had a building code in place and, after years of bedroom-community status, residents are starting to advocate self-sustainability, Bingle stated.

Officials hope the James River bottom will continue to act as a scenic buffer between Nixa and Springfield to help maintain separate identities.

"We would just as soon not become a megalopolis," Bingle said.

According to Republic City Administrator Dean Thompson, Republic has been keeping pace with an average 5 percent annual growth rate in recent years. The city had 285 housing lots available for construction at the end of '97.

In some phase of construction, approximately 1,000 lots have been approved, with proposed subdivisions reaching in almost every direction from the city.

Economic development along Highway 60 has been strong. The new Smitty's Supermarket has increased trade from outlying regions, and a new complex is going in next to the store. Anchored by a new Cox Clinic, the commercial complex will be called Frisco Square. Construction on yet another business park will begin on the east side this year.

Republic has upgraded building standards in the last five years and is now in the planning stage for adding to its water system and building a new sewer treatment facility, according to Thompson.

Archie Backlin, architect and real estate broker, has done some consulting work for the city. Backlin said Republic has made an effort to upgrade everything in the city, from road improvements to services.

Existing businesses have expanded. As a result, new complexes are planned on both sides of town along Highway 60, Backlin said.

Republic's city statistics show 100 building permits issued in 1996 and 130 granted in 1997. Thirteen permits were issued in January of '98.

The city offices are undergoing expansion along with the growth of the city. More computers have been added, and technology upgrades are in the works to keep pace with progress.

Despite the size increase, Republic is working to maintain its small-town image.

"You don't want to be solely a bedroom community," Thompson said. "And you don't want to have someone else control your destiny."

Ozark has kept pace with its small-town neighbors and shows no signs of slowing down this year. The growth rate from 1990 to 1996 was 58.2 percent, according to city statistics. Residential building permits totalled 247 in 1997, representing more than $16.5 million in construction. Sixty-seven commercial permits were issued for a total cost of about $3.5 million.

The town has been working on a large expansion to the sewer system, which should be complete by August of this year, according to Kyle Gjeruldsen, Planning and Development coordinator.

Gjeruldsen said the new exchange at Highway EE and Highway 65 has generated a lot of interest in commercial development. The city is trying to get the infrastructure into place to accommodate the growth and plan for development in between.

Ozark is also concentrating heavily on its downtown area to maintain the town's identity, which is what draws people to small towns in the first place, according to Gjeruldsen.

Willard has really moved forward with infrastructure improvements and amenities since 1991, according to Diane May, director of the Southwest Missouri State University Center for Resource Management and Planning. Single-family housing permits totalled 47 by late 1997, the highest in this decade, May said.

1996 and '97 have been the highest growth years, followed closely by 1993.

Since 1990, most new nonresidential development in Willard has located on Highway 160, May said, such as the shopping center at the first intersection with 160, anchored by Murfin's Supermarket, which contains several retail and service businesses.

On Highway Z the city has constructed a new post office, community center and community park complex. "I would say they are trying to preserve their small-town atmosphere," May said.

Strafford's mayor, Susan Brown, said her city has had a comprehensive growth plan in place since 1993. Through grant money Strafford is getting ready to extend its infrastructure toward Webster County, Brown stated.

The city erected a new water tower in 1995 and has added several businesses to the lineup along Interstate 44.

Two new subdivisions are in progress, and two more developers have appeared before the board for approval, Brown said.

St. John's located a clinic in the community in the mid 1990s, and there has been major expansion to the school system during the middle of this decade.

The growth is needed, according to Brown, but she also indicated people in the area definitely want to keep the small-town atmosphere and country lifestyle.

Rogersville has continued to grow in the face of losing city officials right in the middle of the city's expansion of its water system. Things came to a halt on the much-needed system because there was no board to vote for approval, May said.

Grant money has been made available, but bids came in higher than expected, creating the need for additional funds, according to May. New bids are in progress so the project can move forward once more.

"Hopefully things will get started again by mid-summer," May said.

Rogersville Mayor Larry Martin said he blames the price of land rather than the water issue for the recent slow down in commercial development in the area.

"The water situation is going to get solved," Martin said.

According to Martin, residential development has not been affected by the city government's problems, and three subdivisions are under way, adding to the 9 percent growth rate for last year.

Like the other communities surrounding Springfield, Rogersville wants to maintain its small-town image and is working to make long-range improvements, according to Martin.

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