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P&Z rejects plan for food hall, pickleball courts at the corner of Sunshine and National 

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A proposed BK&M LLC retail development at the corner of Sunshine Street and National Avenue was rejected by the Springfield Planning & Zoning Commission by a vote of 5-1 at the commission’s meeting last night. 

A food hall with indoor and outdoor pickleball courts was the latest plan proposed for the contested corner. The plan, unveiled in the course of the meeting, was new to commissioners, but their objections were unchanged from their previous hearing, when traffic and neighborhood integrity were cited. 

P&Z was reconsidering the rezoning proposal in the University Heights neighborhood after the issue was remanded to the commission for further consideration by Springfield City Council at its May 22 meeting.  

That vote to remand followed an April 6 recommendation of denial of permission to rezone by P&Z and multiple postponements at the request of the developer.  

City staff has recommended approval of the rezoning to general retail from single-family residential. 

Developer Ralph Duda presented the third iteration of a plan for the corner at the meeting last night, following an initial proposal for a mixed-use residential and commercial concept known as The Heights and a later concept of a boutique grocery store or restaurant.  

The latest plan, which Duda said was formed after input from neighbors, is something altogether different. 

“We’d like to bring a really good-quality food hall to Springfield,” he said. “Our food hall will be very different. It will be unique. It’ll have pickleball and a large indoor playground.” 

He noted that food halls are a growing trend in the United States, with 124 new food halls predicted to open in 2024 and popular examples in St. Louis, Dallas and Tulsa, Oklahoma. 

He said 12 local and established food vendors are interested in joining the project, though he did not name them. Neighbors are interested in coffee, he said, and among other foods to be offered are waffles, crepes, sandwiches, salads, barbecue, ramen, sushi, wings and ice cream. 

Duda has said all along that no plans are set in stone, and even at last night’s meeting showed a willingness to adapt to input, such as a concern from P&Z Commissioner Dan Scott about the possibility of signage up to 40 feet tall with 400 square feet of area allowed on each. Duda said he was willing to put restrictions on signage, and his intention was to keep signage below the roofline. 

The plans call for parking to be provided under the food hall, with 205 parking spots – three more than required by code for a development estimated at 26,500 square feet. 

Commissioner Bruce Colony raised the concern that there is no guarantee that the development would end up as a food hall, as the developer’s proposal for use of the corner following rezoning is not binding. He also questioned whether it was right for the corner. 

“I haven’t seen yet how it really complements the neighborhood more than it potentially provides a detriment to the neighborhood,” he said. 

Colony also expressed concern about traffic. 

“You add into that the enormity of traffic – calming and turn lanes and all of the measures that have to go in that are going to complicate our travel, not just to the folks in University Heights, but to everybody that uses that intersection,” he said. 

He said he was unable to get behind the plan at this point in time. 

“I wish you’d put in a food hall somewhere else, but I’d like to see that corner go back to being just part of University Heights,” he said. 

Scott said he felt uncertain of what he was supposed to make a ruling on. 

“I feel like a juror that needs a little instruction from the judge,” he said. 

Scott’s concerns stemmed from the fact that the food hall plan was proposed in the course of the meeting, yet agenda materials did not include the latest idea for the property. 

“We have a new site plan and building sketch that was provided mid-meeting – don’t know that it’s supposed to be considered,” he said. “I’m just a little bit confused on what I’m supposed to listen to and base my decision on and what I’m supposed to consider or not consider because it wasn’t part of the agenda.” 

City Planning Manager Bob Hosmer clarified that the new site plan is just a concept and is not binding. 

“That was just for presentation of a possibility of what could be there,” he said. 

Several people participated in the public discussion part of the meeting before the final vote that struck down the proposal. Only Commissioner Bill Knuckles voted in favor. Absent from the meeting were Britton Jobe, the P&Z chair, and Helen Gunther and Christopher Lebeck. 

In a text exchange, Duda told Springfield Business Journal that he and his team are passionate about bringing a food hall and indoor pickleball to the corner, but he understands the concerns he heard. 

“We heard the commission and neighbors loud and clear,” he said. “They desire certainty and prefer this to be a planned development. My partners and are I discussing and open to accommodating their request.” 

A lawsuit challenging the right of BK&M to build a commercial development in the deed-restricted residential neighborhood is pending in Greene County Circuit Court. 

Additional coverage will appear in the Dec. 25 print edition of SBJ. 

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