University Heights residents are alarmed by a Springfield planning and zoning document filed ahead of a meeting set for April 6.
The Springfield Planning and Zoning Commission is set to take up a proposal to rezone 2.6 acres of land at the corner of Sunshine Street and National Avenue from residential to a general retail district, and then add a conditional overlay to allow mixed uses, meaning commercial storefronts and offices and residential apartments in the same building, and buildings up to five stories tall.
The property has been shrouded in controversy since August 2022, when developers Ralph Duda III and Anthony Tolliver of BK&M held a public meeting at a Springfield church that ended when an angry neighbor allegedly directed an insulting expletive at Duda’s wife. There have been two more meetings since then, one in a tent on the property at 1755 South National, and one at a Springfield hotel. All three meetings involved heavy opposition from some neighboring residents in University Heights.
Ahead of the April 6 meeting, the front page of a document Springfield Director of Planning and Development Susan Istenes and Senior Planner Daniel Neal have prepared shows City Hall staff recommends approval for the BK&M group’s rezoning application.
The application, according to the document, was filed before the adoption of the Forward SGF comprehensive plan, and is therefore better suited for evaluation against the previous plan, entitled Vision 2020. That plan describes National Avenue and Sunshine Street as major arterial roads, an important consideration for the BK&M property.
“The Plan encourages higher density development, particularly employment, shopping, and multi-family housing, served by transit, major roads and bicycle routes in Activity Centers and the established development pattern in the northeast, southwest and southeast quadrants of this intersection reflect the intent of the plan,” part of the staff recommendation reads. “This is the preferred development pattern for the Springfield area, as a means of encouraging infill growth, of using infrastructure efficiently, of reducing auto trips and creating diverse, exciting urban locations.”
Judge denies motion to dismiss University Heights residents’ lawsuit against BK&M
Greene County Presiding Judge Michael Cordonnier denied a motion of dismissal in a civil lawsuit between a coalition of University Heights residents and development group BK&M, the group with a desire to build a mixed-use development of restaurants, shops, offices and apartments at Sunshine and National opposite Mercy Hospital.
A conditional overlay is a zoning designation where an applicant generally agrees to place additional limits or stipulations on how their property will be developed.
“The applicant has prohibited eating and drinking establishments with drive-in, pick-up window or drive-thru facilities which can be a high-volume traffic generator,” part of a planning and zoning document reads. “Other potentially objectionable uses such as retail sales of adult novelties, standalone vape shops, stores that primarily sell package liquor are also prohibited amongst others as listed in the COD.”
Stephen Robert Plaster’s Precision Investments owned the house at 1755 South National until March 30, 2022, when BK&M, LLC bought it. The Warranty Deed for the 2022 transaction shows BK&M bought two tracts of land in the transaction, Lot 12 of University Heights, and the east half of Lot 13. The white colonial home that stood on the corner of National Avenue and Sunshine Street for more than 90 years was demolished Oct. 4. The developer did so upon obtaining the necessary demolition permit from the city of Springfield.
At a November meeting at the DoubleTree, the developers said multiple times that the intersection of National Avenue and Sunshine Street is the “second-busiest intersection in Springfield,” with about 70,000 cars passing through on a typical day. For this reason, Duda has repeatedly stated in public meetings that no one would want to build a house and live in a single-family home on the property. In the zoning documents, it appears Springfield’s planners at least partially agree with that assessment.
“Non-residential uses exist at all other corners of this major intersection,” the document reads. “There is an existing retail shopping center at the northeast corner, the Mercy hospital campus at the southeast, and a new Cox hospital clinic at the southwest corner.”
Lawsuit still active
Twelve plaintiffs, all residents of University Heights, are suing BK&M, LLC. They claim their “lots are adversely affected by any proposed change of University Heights lots from private residential zoning to multi-family and/or commercial use, zoning or conditional overlay,” according to the lawsuit.
The suit was filed Dec. 9, and assigned to Greene County Presiding Judge Michael Cordonnier. Cordonnier recently denied a motion from BK&M’s attorneys to dismiss the lawsuit. It is unclear if or how the active lawsuit will affect the Springfield Planning and Zoning Commission’s procedure.
The University Heights Preservation Group, as the plaintiffs are collectively known in legal documents, started a crowdfunding campaign to pay some legal fees associated with the lawsuit.