Renderings presented to the Springfield Planning and Zoning Commission. The developer is seeking to rezone the property to a planned development. (Photo from the City of Springfield)

Springfield planning and zoning commissioners and members of the public who came to voice their opinion about a proposed development generally all agree on the benefits more urban housing could bring to Midtown and Commercial Street. 

Despite that agreement, four of eight commissioners at a meeting May 11 voted to deny a rezoning application for the planned development of brownstone-style apartments one block south of Commercial Street. 

The applicants, Titus Williams, LLC and Historic Commercial Development, LLC, look to rezone approximately 2.3 acres of property located at 1630 N. Jefferson Ave. and 1635 N. Benton Ave. from single-family residential, center city district to a planned development.

Springfield Department of Planning and Development employees recommended approval of the application, but due to the tie vote — with the absence of one commissioner — it will again be presented to the Commission on June 8, allowing Williams time to weigh comments and recommendations from commissioners and the public. 

Developer hoped compromises enough to win neighborhood support

A map of the property developer Titus Williams seeks to rezone, generally located at 1630 N. Jefferson Ave. and 1635 N. Benton Ave. (Photo from the City of Springfield)

While Williams said with the current design, the developers tried to emulate historical elements of the Midtown neighborhood, he was hoping to be able to build “higher-end” townhome-style apartments. 

“The difficulty that we have is we have to build to what the market can bear, and that type of development allows for great opportunity for marketing, but the majority of people that can afford that is not what we are going to be able to get as tenants,” Williams said.

The planned development is for a total of 72 dwelling units inside several three-story buildings with gable rooflines, brick veneer cladding and Hardie Board siding. The proposal includes aluminum fencing, internal garage spaces for off-street parking, a dog park and landscaping features throughout the property.

According to Olsson engineer Ricky Haase, the initial design for the development was “significantly more dense” during the early planning process that dates back to 2018, with 270 planned units, but after getting some feedback at a neighborhood meeting, they scaled it back.

“We feel like this is a good compromise,” Haase told the Planning and Zoning Commission. “It’s good for us, it’s good for the neighbors, it’s good for the city.”

Haase also said they agreed to tier the development, increasing in density the farther north it gets from the single-family residential properties to the south.

While the site is currently in the center city neighborhood place type, it abuts mixed-use properties to the north, across Pacific Street.

Renderings presented to the Planning and Zoning Commission. The developer is seeking to rezone the property to a planned development. (Photo from the City of Springfield)

“This edge of contact between differing placetypes makes this site ideal for higher-density residential development, which can act as a transition between the mix of uses located north of E. Pacific St. and the detached single-family residential homes which exist south of the development area,” the city staff report reads. “Furthermore, the project area is bound to the east and west by Collector roadways, further solidifying the justification for higher-density residential development at this location.”

Uses permitted under the current proposal include multi-family dwellings, home occupations, temporary and accessory uses, short-term rentals and residential condominiums, which would be available for purchase.

City staff determined that the application fits in the framework of the city’s Forward SGF comprehensive plan, the Midtown Neighborhood Plan and the Midtown Urban Conservation District.

In order to make way for the development, Williams would first require two structures on the property, including a former funeral home, to be demolished.

“Our intent is to continue to move forward with this property fairly quickly in the development,” Williams said. “We feel like this has taken us some time to get here, to this point, to be able to develop it, with multiple iterations of design, changes of internal staff, actually changing of architects and engineering firms.”

Concern over style, Williams’ ‘track record

Titus Williams speaking at the Planning and Zoning Commission meeting on May 11, 2023. (Photo by Jack McGee)

The primary concern speakers opposed to the development expressed during the public hearing overlapped in regards to the aesthetics of the design presented to the commission.

Mary Jo Greer, a Midtown resident who was involved in the neighborhood meetings about the development, said that while the developer was initially cooperative, the latest plan did not meet concerns over fitting the project to the neighborhood’s character.

“We hope to have a high end development there that appeals to upscale living,” she said, suggesting that the current plan and rendering was not reflective of that.

Greer was also concerned about the “abrupt” end in communication with the developers, some inaction on Williams’ other properties and that short-term rentals were now included in the application, despite not being a part of previous discussions.

Christine Schilling, who owns an art studio on Commercial Street, said she was “struck” by the uniformity of the development as depicted in the renderings and described the Hardie Board siding as “cheesy.”

“It may have a peaked roof, but that’s probably where the similarities to the houses to the south ends,” she said. “It might have some brick, but that’s where the similarity to Commercial Street historic structures end.”

Like Greer, Schilling said she was concerned with Williams’ “track record” of inaction of his properties, including the former Missouri Hotel on Commercial Street.

Weighing benefits against concerns

This is near the rear entrance of the current building at 1630 N. Jefferson Ave. (Photo by Shannon Cay)

Commissioner Eric Pauly had also expressed concern about the lack of upkeep on the property of the proposed development, to which Williams said that they have “significant issues” with unsheltered people breaking into the existing structures, but that the builders consistently clean up the site and, dependent on the timeline of the project, plan to put up a construction fence. 

“I do understand you say you want to move forward with this quickly, but you have told us this before on many other projects and I have seen no progress on projects that you’ve owned for two, three, four, five, six, seven years, and that really worries me,” Schilling said to Williams.

Mary Collette, also a Midtown resident, thinks that this type of project has the potential to be beneficial for the area, and is understanding of the constraints of the developer, but wants to see neighborhood concerns further addressed before the development moves forward.

“We really need this to be upscale, ” Collette said. “We really need this to be a statement about what we want Midtown to continue to be and to be more of in the future and what we want Commercial Street to be more of. This needs to make that statement and right now, it doesn’t.

“But I do think that if we could go back to the drawing board with our committee and where we are now and look at some of the things that we have concerns about that maybe we can come up with something that does a better job.”

Lyle Foster, the owner of Commercial Street coffee shop Big Momma’s, said that he thinks additional attention should be paid to the materials used in the project, and that development of the site is “extremely important.” He also argued that Springfield does have the market for more upscale housing, and, like Collette, Foster expressed understanding of the financial limitations of the developer.

Following the public hearing, one neighbor said that they had never before seen the current renderings presented in the staff report, to which Williams replied that they were available at the most recent neighborhood meeting, which took place April 18.

Commissioners split vote citing neighborhood concerns

1635 N. Benton Ave. was formerly the Klingner Cope Funeral Home. (Photo by Shannon Cay)

The commissioners who voted against the rezoning application encouraged discussion between Williams and the neighbors, in hopes that compromises could be reached.

“You’re on the right track, but you’re not quite there,” Pauly said to Williams. “You need to go back and spend some more time discussing this with the neighborhood, the other stakeholders.”

Commissioner Bruce Colony said it was important for Williams to get at least a majority of the neighbors to “buy in.” Colony said everybody wants to see the property developed, as long as it’s in a higher style and better scale.

“If you can figure out how to make that math work, you probably got yourself a winner,” Colony told Williams.

Commissioner Betty Ridge reiterated Colony’s comments, and said the added residents the development would bring could be beneficial for the neighborhood and businesses on Commercial Street, but that the design needs to be “reworked.”

Britton Jobe, the chairman of the commission, told his fellow commissioners that, while it is important they consider architectural design and sensitivities of historic neighborhoods, they were tasked with considering land use.

“We’ve gone too far off the rails in what we’re looking at here today,” said Commissioner Chris Lebeck, in concurrence with Jobe. “We’re tasked with looking at whether the rezoning is appropriate… the bottom line is this property currently in its current state is not being used. We have a developer here that’s willing to commit significant financial resources to bring something that this city desperately needs, and that’s housing.”

1630 N. Jefferson Ave. and 1635 N. Benton Ave. have a small parking lot in-between the two buildings. (Photo by Shannon Cay)

Commission debates its role in the process

Colony ultimately agreed with Jobe and Lebeck’s comments, but said it was also their job to make sure developments are “complementary” to these neighborhoods, and doubled down on his opposition to the rezoning application.

Bob Hosmer, the city’s planning manager, reminded the commissioners that the purpose of a planned development is to encourage a “more creative and imaginative design that is generally possible under the conventional zoning code,” and that this vote was on more than just the straight rezoning of the property.

Even so, four of the commissioners agreed with the city staff’s recommendation for approval.

Due to the 4-4 tie vote, Planning and Zoning will be forced to reconsider and take another vote on the rezoning application, which requires a simple majority, or five votes when all the commissioners are present.

Neighbors, and at least four commissioners, are hopeful that Williams returns with a modified application.

Renderings presented to the Planning and Zoning Commission. The developer is seeking to rezone the property to a planned development. (Photo from the City of Springfield)

Jack McGee

Jack McGee is the government affairs reporter at the Springfield Daily Citizen. He previously covered politics and business for the Daily Citizen. He’s an MSU graduate with a Bachelor of Science degree in journalism and a minor political science. Reach him at or (417) 837-3663. More by Jack McGee