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Urban service area plans guide future development

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by Paul Flemming

SBJ Staff

The city's future is taking shape.

At a Jan. 11 public meeting the city and county unveiled what will, if approved, guide Springfield's development for the next 20 years.

"The overwhelming purpose back in the '80s, when it was first discussed and approved, was to make sure we grow in a more orderly way rather than hopscotch development," said City Manager Tom Finnie.

That purpose remains; its particulars are being reexamined in light of 13 years of further growth.

"We suggested more than a year ago that these (boundaries) needed to be reconsidered," said Loring Bullard, director of the Watershed Committee of the Ozarks.

Vision 20/20 planning started the process of reconsideration. Coming to concrete conclusions was hastened by requests for exceptions to the area's borders. City and county staff worked for two months to present the proposal Jan. 11.

If passed, the policy would encourage development in areas of the south and west, as well as currently proposed residential and industrial development east of Springfield in the Pierson Creek area.

The proposed urban service area contracts from its current boundary northeast of the city in the area of the South Dry Sac. Those regions not included in the final urban service area will be less likely for development.

"Outside the urban service area, the economic feasibility of providing these services is questionable," said a draft of the policy. "No commitment is made to public investment outside the urban service area, and participation by government in providing these urban services should not be anticipated."

And in more than a decade under the current boundaries, the Greene County Planning and Zoning Board has generally not recommended requests for dense development outside the urban service area.

"Services would be provided only after careful consideration of their impact on public resources and investment and in conformance with the comprehensive plans for Springfield and Greene County," the draft policy said.

The proposed policy outlines the methods for amendments and exceptions to the urban service area.

The urban service area that area provided or planned to be provided with sewer and urban-standard roads was first devised and implemented by the city and City Utilities in the mid-1980s.

The proposed area is an outgrowth of Vision 20/20 planning, and that effort's future development pattern plan element. Its emergence now the proposal will go before both county and city planning and zoning boards on its way to final adoption by the Greene County Commission and the Springfield City Council is hastened by recent requests for exceptions to the urban service area as it is now drawn. Those include exceptions sought east of town for residential and manufacturing zoned areas in the Pierson Creek area.

Springfield is growing at a pace of 1.1 percent for the city and 2 percent for the county and officials said managing the growth intelligently is important.

The city's corporate limits comprise 70 square miles now and 90 square miles is developed as an urban area. The proposed urban service area is 145 square miles, which allows for the additional 26 square miles of dense development the city will require in the next two decades, as identified by the Vision 20/20 process.

Finnie said orderly development as is produced by a defined urban service area also improves efficiency and reduces costs of building the public infrastructure that characterizes the urban service area. The urban service area follows the city's long-range annexation plans.

Greene County Presiding Commissioner Dave Coonrod said the urban service area is a guide for smart growth, buzzwords for manageable development.

"The city of Springfield and Greene County are committed to a smart growth concept: one that accommodates future growth but does so in a manner that is sensitive to environmental, community and fiscal resources," according to the draft of the policy presented at the Jan. 11 meeting.

The goal of smart growth, Coonrod said, is sustainable communities.

"You can't just close the door and say that's it," and oppose further growth and development, Coonrod said. "It's a delicate balancing act. Historically, we have done a great job. You don't see the sprawl here. There is focused growth and development back toward where the services exist."

County decisions on those areas outside the urban service area are just as important, Coonrod said.

"The whole county is under pressure for low-density development," Bullard said.

One possibility being pursued by county planners is cluster development that concentrates building more than is now allowed and requiring open space be left around or adjacent to such development.

Coonrod said that is one possibility for addressing urban fringe development.

That the proposed urban service area policy is a joint effort of city and county is different from when the original urban service area went into place in 1986: That boundary was determined by the city and City Utilities.

The process "allows Greene County to be a direct participant," Coonrod said. Before "the city and CU were deciding on their own what was good for the county."

Also a part of the process this time was the Watershed Committee of the Ozarks, an advisory group sponsored by the city, county and City Utilities.

The Watershed Committee's recommendation for the urban service area included taking the upper South Dry Sac watershed out of the urban service area. The South Dry Sac provides about two-thirds of the daily flow to the city's Fulbright Spring water supply. Water quality is good now, the committee's report said, but "it would be premature to extend sewer into this sub-watershed, stimulating urban-density development."

Introducing sewer service and taking existing development off septic tanks is one important element of the urban service area. The increased amount of impervious surface that comes with development that follows sewers is also important, Bullard said.

"It used to be septic tank is bad, sewer is good," Bullard said. "The last few years, we've realized that urban runoff can be as bad as septic."

He said the Pierson Creek area has already crossed the threshold of 10 percent to 15 percent impervious surface, where water-quality degradation from runoff begins to appear. The upper South Dry Sac is below that level and is worth preserving in that state, Bullard said.

In addition, Bullard said, the progression of development will allow city and county planners to develop strategies for dealing with runoff as growth comes to areas north and east.

"The city hasn't developed water-quality standards for runoff yet, and we're eager to see that happen," Bullard said.

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