Signs posted in the University Heights neighborhood. (Photo by Shannon Cay Bowers)

The University Heights Neighborhood Association’s board of directors released a statement Friday morning to explain its official stance on the potential rezoning of the northwest corner of Sunshine Street and National Avenue. 

The association is opposed to a developer’s request to rezone the properties from residential to general retail. The statement reads in part:

“General Retail is the most intense commercial use and offers no assurances for compatibility with surrounding neighborhood uses or character and would have a negative impact on the surrounding properties for reasons including creating further traffic issues at an already challenging location.”

The white home at 1755 S. National Ave. was on the market for years. It seems no one was interested in purchasing the home due to the traffic and noise. That intersection is the second busiest in Springfield with about 67,000 vehicles passing through daily. 

Approximately 70,000 vehicles a day pass through the intersection of National and Sunshine. (Photo by Shannon Cay Bowers)

Developers with BK&M LLC quietly bought the home at 1755 S. National Ave. in late March, as well as the homes to the north of it at 1745 S. National Ave. and 1739 S. National Ave. and the one around the corner at  1119 E. Sunshine St. In addition, the company bought a vacant parcel to the west of 1755 S. National Ave.

Developer Ralph Duda III, with BK&M, and his partner Anthony Tolliver, want to have the property rezoned from residential to retail. 

Residents opposed to rezoning properties

Many residents in the neighborhood have been very vocal about their opposition to the rezoning request. 

Duda said in an earlier interview he’d like to have fun restaurants on the first level — perhaps a destination breakfast restaurant like The Pancake Pantry in Nashville, a bakery and a “top-notch” Italian restaurant.

The second two levels would be executive lofts.

The statement from the board of directors seeks to address some recent activity related to the rezoning request, and some uncivil discourse that arose at previous meetings.

“UNHA continues to work to maintain our vision to ‘be a destination residence for those who seek the benefits of center-city living in a historic neighborhood.’ We believe respectful and productive discourse between all parties is a must,” the statement says.

“We will not tolerate or condone inappropriate actions, insults, threats, trespassing or vandalism of any kind. We support everyone’s right to their opinion and strive to create an environment for civil discourse between parties.”

BK&M applied for permits to board up the white house at 1755 S. National earlier this month. Duda said at the time that the 92-year-old house was a “hazard” and the tenants who had been living there were moved to another property.

Trespassers leave mark on home?

A few nights later, someone painted a big red heart with the words “Love your neighbor” on the boards that cover the front door. Duda said it was a positive message and he intends to leave the graffiti. He went on to say whoever painted the heart was trespassing on his property. 

Vandalized with a heart, the University Heights house debacle continues on National Avenue. (Photo by Shannon Cay Bowers)

Duda also said someone broke into the back of the white house last Saturday night. They didn’t do any damage other than removing the boards and breaking the door, Duda said. 

The developers hosted a meeting in August to share their plans with residents. Residents became very confrontational with developers at that meeting. It finally ended when someone from the neighborhood called Duda’s wife an offensive slur.

At a meeting last week, a former planning and zoning commissioner explained to neighbors about appropriate ways to present their arguments to commissioners. Among her tips was to not yell at commissioners. She also said the commissioners would likely consider what happened at that August meeting and any meetings going forward. 

“Over the last few weeks, actions taken by a few individual neighbors have taken the spotlight, reflecting upon the neighborhood and jeopardizing the ability of all parties involved to have productive conversations about the issues at hand,” the statement says. 

People are handing out materials, petitions

According to the statement, a group of residents has been distributing materials and petitions and holding meetings.

Some residents of University Heights have been fighting commercial development at the northwest corner of National and Sunshine for years. (Photo by Shannon Cay Bowers)

“While we respect their passion to oppose the rezoning request, we need to clarify that these individuals do not officially represent all UHNA members and neighbors surrounding the properties affected by the zoning request,” the statement says. 

The statement also addresses the recent filing of a lawsuit against the neighborhood association by one of its members. 

Evelyn Gwin Mangan, who lives in the neighborhood and is also an attorney, filed a “petition for an order to inspect records” in an effort to get the list of the UHNA’s members and their contact information. 

As a few members have pointed out to the Daily Citizen, UHNA members and the board often communicate via email. And at least until recently, everyone’s email addresses were visible to anyone receiving it. 

“The time and energy spent addressing the lawsuit would have been much better served focusing on the rezoning case,” the statement says.

A public hearing before the Planning and Zoning Commission to discuss the BK&M’s request to have the property rezoned will be at 6:30 p.m. on Oct. 6.

Read the full statement from the University Heights Neighborhood Association Board of Directors here:

Jackie Rehwald

Jackie Rehwald is a reporter at the Springfield Daily Citizen. She covers housing, homelessness, domestic violence and early childhood, among other public affairs issues. Her office line is 417-837-3659. More by Jackie Rehwald