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As the proposed rezoning of property at the corner of National Avenue and Sunshine Street goes up for its second public hearing, the Springfield City Council must weigh diverging recommendations from the Planning and Zoning Commission and city staff.
University Heights residents will have another opportunity to voice their concerns, this time to the City Council at the May 22 meeting. While developer Ralph Duda from Be Kind and Merciful maintains nothing is “set in stone,” new renderings for the property provide a potential alternative to “The Heights,” a mixed use development with apartments, offices and restaurants which was unveiled in November.
One of the new mockups from BOTI Architecture depicts a building that could house a boutique grocery store or restaurant. Duda told the Springfield Daily Citizen that they have multiple other renderings for the 2.6 acres of property at the southeastern edge of the University Heights neighborhood, serving as a reminder of the flexibility of the zoning change BK&M is seeking — a conditional overlay district (COD).
“This is evolving, and it will continue to evolve…there’s a lot of options on the table right now,” Duda said.
BK&M aims to ‘scale down’ University Heights development
Ultimately, BK&M is not seeking the City Council’s approval on a mixed-use building, a grocery store or any other structure the development group’s renderings might depict. BK&M instead seeks to rezone the property from single family residential to general retail, and establish a COD to allow The Heights to be developed for a mixture of commercial and residential uses.
While the renderings provide an idea of different types of businesses BK&M is considering for the property, Duda emphasized that the plans are not concrete.
“It could very well be a mixed-use development with retail below and two stories above with executive loft apartments,” Duda said.
According to Springfield city codes, a planned development would have required a site plan from the developer ahead of time, providing a clearer picture of the type of business that would inhabit the space. However, with the COD’s flexibility, BK&M doesn’t have to have a site plan available, and the types of tenants any development may house is in question.
Nonetheless, Duda said BK&M plans to “scale down the development.”
“The neighbors voiced their opinions pretty loudly,” Duda said. “They didn’t like something that large and billowing right next to their neighborhoods, so our plans are to scale down the development.”
“We will probably not even get close to that height limitation that we put in the COD,” he went on. “I think we put 75 feet, and I think realistically we’re probably looking at a 50, 60-foot structure.”
In addition to a smaller structure, Duda said that they are planning on potentially adding either a craftsman fence or white stone wall, as well as evergreen trees to act as a sound and sight barrier to separate the “old from the new.”
The property has recently been listed for lease or build-to-suit by Zamora Real Estate, as BK&M begins seeking out potential tenants. Duda said that they have spoken with several candidates, including “some high end restaurants and boutique grocery chains that have expressed interest.”
“I’m not planning on bringing my own business here,” Duda said. “If I was, I’d have a [planned urban development] in a second, but that’s not the intent here.”
The 2.6 acres of property BK&M is seeking to rezone is at 1739, 1745 and 1755 South National Avenue, 1138 East University Street and 1111, 1119, 1133 and 1141 East Sunshine Street.
City Council decision will follow contentious election, 7-1 denial from P&Z
The Springfield City Council faces a tough decision after both a contentious April election that brought three new faces to City Hall and the narrow reelection of Mayor Ken McClure over challenger Melanie Bach.
Although McClure won his fourth and final consecutive term as mayor, it was less than seven months ago that Bach led a successful referendum campaign in the November general election, where Springfield voters resoundingly voted against the rezoning of property in Galloway Village.
If the council aligns with the recommended approval by city staff, Duda is prepared to face the same challenge as Elevation Enterprises, the developer whose rezoning request in Galloway Village was flattened at the ballot box.
“If there’s a referendum, we’ll go through the referendum process,” he said.
But unlike in University Heights, the proposed development in Galloway had a recommendation of approval from the Springfield Planning and Zoning Commission.
The City Council’s decision this time around will come after commissioners voted 7-1 to recommend denial of BK&M’s rezoning application on April 20.
If the City Council sides with the commission, BK&M’s route could follow that of the 7 Brew coffee shop at Jefferson Avenue and Sunshine Street, where developer Reding Management sent his project through the Planning and Zoning Commission and City Council several times over seven months until its eventual approval.
“We’re not going to give up on this at all, ever,” Duda said. “…We’ll roll with the punches and keep doing what we do.”
At the Planning and Zoning Commission meeting on April 20, Commissioner Dan Scott voted against BK&M’s rezoning request and encouraged BK&M and University Heights residents to find a common ground. Scott anticipates and embraces the developer’s resilience.
“I think this will come back to us, we should all expect that, and I want to encourage that,” Scott said.
Prior Springfield Daily Citizen coverage of the Heights
- Aug. 19, 2022: Pokin Around: Residents recoil at commercial plans that would tear down old homes on National
- Sept. 15, 2022: University Heights landmark home boarded up while residents were at meeting to discuss saving it
- Oct. 3, 2022: It’s gone. Most well-known home in University Heights demolished Tuesday morning
- Oct. 24, 2022: In a dark tent with armed security guards, University Heights residents rally to protect their neighborhood
- Nov. 8, 2022: Developers unveil new details about University Heights project at Sunshine and National
- Nov. 15, 2022: Pokin Around: Tension is part of University Heights story and shouldn’t be overlooked
- Nov. 22, 2022: University Heights prompts ask for more scrutiny of National and Sunshine
- Dec. 29, 2022: BK&M addresses 10 grievances against University Heights project
- March 31, 2023: Judge denies motion to dismiss University Heights residents’ lawsuit against BK&M
- April 1, 2023: City staff recommend zoning change approval, with conditions, for ‘The Heights’
- April 7, 2023: After contentious public hearing, city Planning & Zoning postpones vote on The Heights
- April 21, 2023: Springfield Planning and Zoning Commission votes against BK&M proposal