The developer of a contested project in Galloway Village won a victory after a Greene County judge ruled in its favor, but opposition led by the Galloway Village Neighborhood Association has filed an appeal on the ruling.
On May 24, Greene County Circuit Court Judge David Jones ruled in favor of Elevation Enterprises LLC to block an election ballot that was slated for Aug. 3. Elevation Enterprises sued the city and Springfield City Council after council voted in December 2020 to send a rezoning request to public vote.
Mitch Jenkins, owner of developer Elevation Development Co., is seeking to rezone roughly 4 acres at 3535 S. Lone Pine Ave. to bring to the Galloway Village neighborhood up to 12,000 square feet of retail, office and restaurant space and two multifamily buildings with a maximum of 25 housing units per acre, according to past Springfield Business Journal reporting. Jenkins did not respond to requests for comment on the ruling.
The development has been contested for two years after residents in the area spoke out against the development plan due to traffic and stormwater concerns, and its size and aesthetic.
City Attorney Rhonda Lewsader said neighborhood residents were outspoken critics of the plan during the planning and zoning process, and Jenkins made some adjustments to the development in response before it was approved by council.
After council approved the rezoning request, residents, including members of the Galloway Village Neighborhood Association, filed a referendum petition. Lewsader said by collecting enough signatures from the public, ordinances can be moved to a public ballot for a vote.
“The referendum is something set out in the city’s charter, and it’s a fairly common provision in a city charter,” Lewsader said. “It gives the public the right to have a process where they can try to repeal ordinances a city passes.”
On Oct. 9, 2020, the city clerk’s office received a referendum petition with 1,718 signatures asking council to repeal the rezoning approval.
At the Dec. 14, 2020, meeting, council members voted 7-2 not to repeal it, with councilpersons Mike Schilling and Craig Hosmer voting for a repeal. The decision not to repeal led council to let the public vote on the matter at the Aug. 3 election.
After that decision, the developer filed suit against council and the city to get an injunction to remove the issue from the public ballot on the basis that the referendum procedure conflicted with state policy, Lewsader said.
The county judge ruled in favor of the developer, finding the city’s referendum process does conflict with state law.
Lewsader said the city is aware of the conflict, as well as another conflict within the city charter. The referendum process and the similar initiative process, which allows residents to propose ordinances, conflict with portions of the state and city charters.
“The city has had concerns since the mid-1990s that the referendum process and the initiative process, relating to rezoning, conflicts with the rezoning procedure and with state law. There have been a couple of cases that have gone forward on those issues,” she said.
The referendum procedure can be used for any ordinance other than emergency ordinances, levying of taxes or issuance of special tax bills, Lewsader said. The conflict comes specifically with the city and state charters on rezoning issues.
State law requires a public notice and public comment period before a property is rezoned. However, rezoning ordinances go into effect immediately once approved.
“If you put it to a public vote, and the public repeals it, you’re actually rezoning the property back to what it was before,” Lewsader said. “So that’s a rezoning without the public hearing and notice that is required by state law.”
A similar conflict exists within the city charter. The charter requires rezoning issues to go before the Planning and Zoning Commission for approval. If the public vote repealed the council’s action, it would remove that step.
Removing the issue likely would require a change to the city charter, adding rezoning ordinances to the list of issues that cannot go under the referendum procedure.
Lewsader said the city previously tried to fix the conflict in 1994, but voters rejected the change. To revise it now, council members could call for the change, but it would ultimately be decided by a public vote.
Members of the Galloway Village Neighborhood Association declined to be interviewed on the issue, but officials provided a statement that admonishes the city for allowing the conflict to remain within the city charter.
To address the conflict, the GVNA does not want the referendum procedure to be removed from rezoning issues. Instead, they recommend rezoning ordinances take effect 30 days after passage instead of immediately, to allow time for the process to take place should it go to a public ballot.
“GVNA remains firm in the opinion that the laws of the state of Missouri and the city charter afford citizens the right to a referendum vote on rezoning decisions of City Council,” neighborhood officials said in the statement.
The GVNA filed an appeal of the Greene County ruling on May 26 with the Missouri Court of Appeals Southern District and requested an expedited hearing.
If the state court decides against the original ruling, the rezoning issue can return to the ballot. However, the court rejected the association’s request for an expedited hearing, and Lewsader said it is unlikely the process will be completed in time for the August ballot.
The outcome of the appeal also could be appealed by either party, potentially taking the issue to the Missouri Supreme Court.
As for the development, Lewsader said progress will be delayed until the appeals process is complete. The city will not issue building permits on the project while the case is under appeal.
In a recent SBJ poll, 63% of 2,248 respondents said they supported the Galloway Village project.
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