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Council passes 60-65 zoning amendment

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Last edited at 7:26 p.m. March 9, 2011.

Plans to substitute and then table a bill that allows for public-private infrastructure development and floodplain land donation to the Park Department fell through at last night’s City Council meeting before the measure passed with a 6-1 vote.

Councilmen Doug Burlison and John Rush were absent. Councilwoman Cindy Rushefsky moved to table the bill due to their absence, but the bill was not held after a 4-3 vote.

Rushefsky said she was a proponent of a substitute bill that would not remove the language that laid responsibility of infrastructure improvements on the developers. At a Jan. 10 public hearing, project architect Geoffrey Butler of Butler, Rosenbury & Partners Inc., insisted that language originally crafted with good intentions could prevent the Parks Department from constructing an access road to land he and members of the 60/65 Partnership LLC had planned to donate.

Council approved plans for the development in 2009, but the economy has kept the project on hold, Butler said at the Jan. 10 meeting.

At a March 1 council luncheon, city planners and parks officials answered questions about the bill that would facilitate negotiations for the land donation.

Rushefsky said she wanted to vote for the substitute bill that would keep the language that Planning and Development Director Ralph Rognstad said wouldn't prevent developers from utilizing economic tools such as tax increment financing to assist with the project. She also supported bringing future parks plans at the site back before the council instead of only seeking approval under an internal administrative review process.

“The original bill does not allow for public input, and I think that’s a mistake,” Rushefsky said.

The substitute bill was negated with the passage of the zoning amendment.

Councilman Scott Bailes said he believed “council was speaking out of turn,” in its scrutiny of the possible donation of land and the change in language that allows public assistance with infrastructure.

Councilman Nick Ibarra disagreed, saying the developers were changing their tune by changing the originally approved ordinance.

“I’m not mad at Mr. Butler for doing his job.” Ibarra said, but he noted that council would be neglecting its responsibility to tax payers by approving the measure.

Councilman Jerry Compton said the city shouldn’t build obstacles to land donations for parks.

“If we are going to make it this difficult for developers to give us some land, the less likely they will be to do it in the future,” Compton said.

With Mayor Jim O’Neal, Councilmen Dan Chiles and Robert Stephens also expressing support for the bill, Rushefsky said she would relinquish her opposition for the sake of the parks system.

“At this point, I don’t want to be seen as voting against the parks,” Rushefsky said.

Jerry Clark, chairwoman of the Parks Department bond, said negotiation on the land donation could resume. At the March 1 luncheon, Clark said a tentative agreement had been reached for the parks department to receive at least 10 acres in the James River flood plain and access to the waterway with the bill’s approval. The department could receive up to 100 acres of green space as the $40 million planned development progresses. A trail that would run parallel to the river connecting to Greenways and Galloway trail systems is a likely use of donated land.

“The planning process is a long process, and the department feels a responsibility to council to seek public input along the way,” Clark said. “We are looking forward to that.”

For more on the March 7 City Council meeting, look to the March 14 Springfield Business Journal print edition.[[In-content Ad]]

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