This is the historic white house across from Mercy Hospital
This house has been in the news often. It is right off of one of the busiest intersections in Springfield. (Photo by Shannon Cay Bowers)

A member of the University Heights Neighborhood Association is suing the association to get the list of its members and their contact information.

A “petition for an order to inspect records” was filed last week by Evelyn Gwin Mangan, a longtime University Heights resident who is also an attorney.

Many residents in the historic neighborhood have been up in arms lately after learning developers purchased five pieces of property on or near the intersection of National Avenue and Sunshine Street and want it rezoned from residential to commercial.

“There are members among the group who do not feel that the (neighborhood association’s) leadership is adequately communicating to us regarding the rezoning,” Mangan said, “and do not feel that the leadership is giving any opportunity for input regarding the rezoning.”

Resident wants more ways to communicate

Mangan said she wants the list of members, so they have a way to communicate other than having to rely on the association’s private Facebook group. 

“The members are entitled to a way to communicate with one another,” she said. “Each year when we pay our dues, we fill out a form on which we give our names, address, phone number and email address. The members should be able to freely contact one another by phone or by email or by an individual email to discuss matters of mutual interest.”

According to Mangan, University Heights Neighborhood Association President Jan Peterson administers and edits the group Facebook page.

“For instance, she has cut off my access to that group even though I’m a member,” Mangan said. 

Reached by Facebook messenger on Monday, Peterson declined to comment since it’s ongoing litigation.

Association president says rumors not true

Peterson did share what she recently posted on the group’s Facebook page. 

“Rumors are flying, I’m being accused of being in cahoots with the developers, and we’ve been sued by one of our members,” Peterson’s post reads in part. “The subject of the lawsuit is to obtain our membership records. The board feels to release them would be in violation of our bylaws.”

According to the association’s bylaws, data supplied on the membership form will only be used for the Association’s direct operations and will not be supplied to third-party organizations.

“The member who sued is not a third party, but they also are not involved in the Association’s direct operations,” Peterson’s post reads. 

Mangan argues that Missouri law says any member can request a list of the members. 

“The only prohibition on the legal right to obtain that information is that there must be a certification that it is not going to be used for commercial purposes,” Mangan said. “I made that certification. I have no intention of using it for anything other than for communications among the members.”

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)

Peterson wrote in that Facebook post that she’s had people asking “if it’s true I’m pro development or I am secretly working with (the developers).”

“The unequivocal answer is NO,” Peterson wrote in that post. “I am not in favor of  redevelopment. I have never met the developers. I, along with all other board members, am 100% against this rezoning request.”

In her post, Peterson suggests the following is why she is being labeled “pro development” by some:

“The only pathway toward redevelopment I have ever considered would be through a very tightly controlled neighborhood plan or urban conservation district,”  she wrote. “Think Pagination Books, not strip malls, car washes and gas stations. If redevelopment should come to this neighborhood, it should be harmonious with University Heights and raise the quality of life here. If it can’t be harmonious, it shouldn’t come at all. … 

“I’m pro University Heights,” she wrote. “We moved here on purpose because it’s our dream neighborhood. And it’s absolutely breaking my heart to see neighbors turning on each other when we need to be working as a team to defeat these developers.”

What do the developers intend to do?

Developer Ralph Duda III with BK&M and his partner, Anthony Tolliver, presented their general plans for a commercial development in the University Heights Neighborhood at a meeting with residents last month.

Their plans include potentially tearing down a few historic houses at or near the intersection of National Avenue and Sunshine Street. Among them is 1755 S. National Ave., which has been the subject of numerous news stories over the years because residents have strongly opposed the property being used for anything other than a single-family residence.

Also, there are the two houses to the north — 1745 S. National Ave. and 1739 S. National Ave. — as well as one around the corner at 1138 E. University St.

According to developers, this house at 1739 S. National is used as an Airbnb. (Photo by Shannon Cay Bowers)

In addition, the company bought a vacant parcel to the west of 1755 S. National Ave.

The Daily Citizen checked property records last month and found that four of the five were bought on either March 30 or March 31.

At the meeting, the developers said they will knock down the houses and put in two-story buildings with retail on the first floor and a loft on the second (if the 1.8-acre combine property was rezoned from residential to commercial).

Residents want area to remain residential

But residents made it clear at that meeting they don’t want commercial.

“That neighborhood needs to be preserved,” Mangan said by phone on Monday. “It is one of the most diverse neighborhoods in Springfield — architecturally, culturally, politically, racially — in town.”

Mangan pointed out that if the rezoning is approved and the corner becomes a commercial development, property values would “plummet” and traffic will increase within the neighborhood.

“If you look at the area, none of the north-south streets have sidewalks at all. There are areas without sidewalks on east-west streets,” she said. “It’s a neighborhood where people walk, where their children and dogs walk. 

“If you start increasing traffic that dramatically, people are going to be afraid to walk,” Mangan said. “And that is going to help destroy a sense of community in that neighborhood which has always existed.”

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