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Introducing The Heights: BK&M shares design plans for busy corner while resident intends to sue

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BK&M LLC, the development group seeking to rezone the northwest corner of Sunshine Street and National Avenue, unveiled architectural renderings of its mixed-use concept at an event it hosted Nov. 7 at DoubleTree by Hilton.

The proposed development is of a grand scale, with a set of buildings that may be up to six stories and 200,000 square feet depicted wrapping around the corner of the block.

The developer sent invitations to select guests, including University Heights neighborhood members, who received door hangers about the event. The meeting was not a formal part of the city’s rezoning process, but the developers sought to explain what would be built on the corner if City Council were to OK a rezoning to commercial from single-family residential.

The development would be called The Heights, the developers said, as a nod to the neighborhood.

Lead architect Bo Hagerman of Boti Architects LLC unveiled the plans, which feature multistory French-style design that an aerial view suggests is composed of four connected buildings. Store entrances would be accessed from the back side of the development, which is designed with up to 190 parking spaces.

The curved center of the building is in a Colonial Revival style. A large restaurant is planned on its Sunshine side with a smaller restaurant along National. Tenants have not yet been secured, officials said.

The renderings show most of the development is in the French Second Empire style, with towers and sloping roofs.

Hagerman said the second floor would be retail, with office spaces in the design, most likely for medical tenants.

Developer Ralph Duda of BK&M said they’re planning for 50 lofts – but that number could rise – and they’d  rent for up to $2,000 a month.

“There’s a lot of T’s that need to be crossed and I’s that need to be dotted,” he said.

He added the entire development could range from 75,000 to 200,000 square feet.

Hagerman said the design takes its inspiration from the University Heights area, and specifically from some of the houses that are going to be displaced if the project moves forward. One house already has been demolished, and Duda said the others may be moved to provide more single-family housing on the north side of Springfield.

With the displaced houses in mind, Hagerman described the proposed design as “a little bit of nostalgia – a little bit of a throwback.”

The development would have two vehicle entrances, one off of Sunshine and the other off University Street. In the renderings, a greenspace barrier near the entrance on University appears to block traffic into the neighborhood.

In August, Duda and business partner Anthony Tolliver introduced themselves at the initial meeting regarding the development as the two owners of BK&M. At the start of the latest meeting, Duda announced two other partners: his brother, Marty Duda, who was present, and Brad Miller – like Tolliver, a former NBA player – who was absent. Tolliver was not present, either.

In introducing Hagerman, Duda noted the architect served as lead developer on several large projects in the Springfield area, including Hammons Field; Hotel Vandivort; buildings on the Ozarks Technical Community College’s Richwood Valley campus; Big Cedar Lodge buildings the Cliffs at Long Creek and the Lodge at Paradise Point; the Brentwood Center renovation; and the Mercy Heart Hospital Springfield.

A friendlier gathering
Though the meeting was punctuated at times with concerns and questions from neighborhood residents, the atmosphere did not seem to be as charged as in the two formal neighborhood meetings hosted by BK&M.

At the first meeting, held at Messiah Lutheran Church in the Seminole/Holland neighborhood on Aug. 18, infuriated neighbors demanded plans from Duda and Tolliver, who said they were present only to hear neighbors’ ideas. At that point, the developers already had purchased several houses with the intention of constructing a mixed-use development.

That meeting ended suddenly after one neighborhood resident referred to Duda’s wife, Sarah, by a vulgar anatomical term. Duda instantly closed the meeting down, and not long afterward, on Oct. 4, BK&M demolished a landmark home at 1755 S. National Ave., a site depicted in renderings as the apex of the proposed development.

A second neighborhood meeting was held on a rainy evening Oct. 24 in a tent at the site where the 100-year-old Colonial Revival home was razed. BK&M was criticized by neighbors for choosing a site that was difficult to get to, and the meeting was beset with technical difficulties, including a generator whose wires got wet and quit working.

At the tent meeting, neighbors again demanded a plan, but BK&M’s attorney, Bryan Fisher, said one would not be provided at that time.

At the Nov. 7 meeting, cheese and crackers were served in a hotel ballroom. There was one heated moment when Duda thought he spotted a woman mouthing an insult and suddenly asked her to leave. The woman refused.

“You don’t look at me and motion ‘a------.’ That’s not acceptable. We’re not standing for that tonight,” Duda said.

But Hagerman moved ahead with the presentation, saying, “Let’s just focus on actually getting the project out in front of us before we get all concerned about calling names or whatever.”

Resistance remains
University Heights resident Mark Fletcher, who plans to sue to stop the development, was not present at the meeting, he told Springfield Business Journal, in continued protest of the tent meeting that he said violated rights guaranteed in the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“Considering the flagrant violations of the ADA at the neighborhood meeting, it is incumbent on people who respect and cherish the hard-won rights of their fellow Americans to avoid attending events put on by those, such as BK&M LLC, who practice such invidious discrimination,” he said in an email to SBJ prior to the meeting.

Fletcher added, “This ‘meeting’ puts the cart before the horse. BK&M has no legal right to construct commercial buildings in University Heights. A fantasy will be presented tonight that a court will very soon bring to an end.”

Fletcher and his wife, Courtney, intend legal action against both BK&M and lender Guaranty Bank. They sent a letter to the bank in early October, stating that at the time it made a loan to BK&M for the purchase of four of the eight lots, Guaranty was fully aware of deed restrictions preventing commercial use of the property.

In a phone interview Nov. 9, Mark Fletcher said he and his wife plan to file a lawsuit as early as the week of Nov. 14, perhaps joining with two groups of neighbors who have retained legal counsel. The Fletchers, who both have experience as attorneys, would act as their own legal counsel, but he said the other groups have retained lawyers with Lowther Johnson Attorneys at Law LLC and Husch Blackwell LLP.

They plan to seek an injunction to halt the development based on violation of deed restrictions, and Fletcher called it a “slam dunk case.”

“My wife and I are going to do whatever needs to be done,” he said.

They also plan to claim tortious interference against BK&M and possibly Guaranty Bank, which Fletcher claims lent the developer over $1 million, despite the deeds stating they were subject to restrictions, he said. A request for punitive damages is not out of the question, he said.

Courtney Fletcher is an attorney with Carnahan Evans PC, while Mark Fletcher works in real estate and is a former attorney disbarred in 2015 for allegedly filing fabricated documents in cases, according to a report by Missouri Lawyers Weekly. In media reports, Duda has dismissed Fletcher’s complaints because of the disbarment.

When asked if hundred-year-old title restrictions can be enforced, Fletcher said he is not aware of any precedent in Missouri law for ignoring deed restrictions, and if there were, every neighborhood would be threatened.

“Lawyers are not magicians, and he’d need a magician to get out of this,” Fletcher said.

The zoning issue is expected to be heard by the city’s Planning & Zoning Commission in December. If approved, the development would take up to three years to complete, according to Duda.

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