The former Boyd Elementary School could become the site of Midtown Springfield’s trendy new restaurant and living space, though not everyone who lives nearby is thrilled.
The Springfield Planning and Zoning Commission voted 7-0 to recommend approval for a planned development in the former Boyd school building at the northwest corner of North Washington Avenue and East Lynn Street. The plan now goes to the Springfield City Council for consideration and is slated to go up for public hearing April 3.
People from Midtown spoke to the Planning and Zoning Commission March 9, and the speakers support for the project was mixed.
Bruce Colony commended the development group for the work it has done communicating with people in the neighborhood up to now. He also thanked the people from the neighborhood for attending the meeting and giving their input.
“Oftentimes, we see developments come in here that just don’t care less what the neighborhoods have to say,” Colony said. “It is a massive undertaking to take on such an old structure and turn it into something new, so I encourage the neighborhood to have faith that the developer has taken on this project in this area because it wants to, and because it wants to create an amenity for the neighborhood and complement the neighborhood.”
The original Mary S. Boyd Elementary was built in 1911 and has been zoned for single-family residential use since 1995. Springfield codes allow for schools to be built on single-family residential land. The Springfield Board of Education declared the building surplus property in 2021, which cleared it to be sold, opening it up to the possibility of future development.
Matt Blevins is the president of the Boyd School Redevelopment Corporation. He explained the basics of a development plan for the 1.5-acre property. According to Greene County Assessor’s Office records, there is a little more than 26,000 square feet of building space on the property. The plan calls for part of the building to be developed into 3,500 square feet of commercial space. Blevins told the planning commissioners about 900 square feet is allotted for a coffee shop or similar business, and about 2,400 square feet is allotted for a potential restaurant.
“Most larger scale restaurants are 3,500 square feet or so, this one would be potentially smaller,” Blevins said. “If it’s an office-type use, I could see a scenario where it could be split into two.”
Stipulations in the planned development application prohibit all marijuana uses, along with bars, nightclubs, overnight storage, drive-thru windows, or transitional shelters or soup kitchens. The Midtown neighborhood plan limits multifamily dwellings to a maximum of 24 housing units, which equates to 16 units per acre. Blevins said the development group is willing to reduce the cap to 20 units.
“One of our goals for the project was to preserve the historic building as it sits, while allowing uses that are appropriate for the neighborhood and with being a good steward of a hundred-year-old building that is steeped in Midtown history,” Blevins said.
Some residents oppose the plan
Gene Arnold lives on Benton Avenue and says he is not opposed to development of the Boyd building, but is opposed to the size of the apartments and the possibility for a restaurant that serves alcoholic beverages in the plan.
“This could include up to 50, perhaps, new residents within what has been a single-family residential neighborhood as described by the Springfield document about designating Midtown as an urban conservation district,” Arnold said. “The inclusion of a multifamily development of this size will significantly change the single-family nature of the neighborhood. This is not located on a periphery, this is located internal to the neighborhood.”
Arnold said he objected to the way the building is being “carved up,” in the plan Blevins brought to the commission. He requested the developer revisit his proposal, and possibly divide the building into 10 or 12 units, but not 16-20.
“Many of us believe that this size of an apartment, 300 square feet, an efficiency or a micro efficiency-sized apartment is too small for a single-family residential neighborhood in a historic district,” Arnold said.
Gina Hinch lives on North Washington Avenue and is concerned about traffic, and what having apartments, commercial business and maybe a restaurant would have on her ability to get in and out of the neighborhood.
“We have questions as to exactly how many apartments will be there, and whatever commercial residences end up being there would impact traffic greatly,” Hinch said.
Nathan Davis lives on North Washington Avenue and opposes the project because he is against having any commercial development occur in the former school building.
“We dislike allowing commercial development in a single-family residential neighborhood,” Davis said. “The worst part is that the zoning waivers allow for the development of a restaurant. Now, that doesn’t sound like too much, but the reality is that any restaurant can apply for a beer and wine license. We’re only one block from Drury University with freshman students every year who would like to have a drink.”
Davis said he was the same way when he was a college freshman, but doesn’t want to invite the chance “long parties and loud parties” to happen in his neighborhood.
Does it fit with existing plans?
Springfield Senior Planner Kyle McGinnis explained Midtown also has its own neighborhood plan, adopted in 2001.
“It was meant to identify certain issues that the community felt were threatening its predominantly single-family neighborhood nature,” McGinnis said. “The plan also went on to outline certain actions that the neighborhood could take to combat the encroachment of certain institutional uses into the neighborhood.”
In addition to the former Boyd Elementary School, Midtown includes Drury University, Cox Medical Center North, and the world headquarters of the Assemblies of God. The plan contains provisions “to encourage the preservation of architecturally significant structures,” and, McGinnis said, to “encourage private redevelopment in a manner that will not detract from the neighborhood’s historic character.”
Brian Mattson lives on North Washington Avenue and sees the proposed development as part of a continued trend of revitalization in Midtown. He said it supports the concept of “placemaking” found within the pages of the Forward SGF 20-year comprehensive plan for Springfield.
“I think this is an amenity for our neighborhood,” Mattson said. “I would love to have a place that I could walk down to take my family on a Friday night to go have a bite, sit outside and enjoy the neighborhood.”
Some residents like the plan
Todd Thomas lives on North Summit Avenue and has since 1995.
“I couldn’t afford Rountree or Phelps Grove, and I could really see that Midtown was the way to go,” Thomas said. “The building has been there since 1911 and has served our neighborhood well, and it’s time for it to have a new life.”
Danny Crisp lives on North Benton Avenue. In what he said was his first time ever speaking in front of elected or appointed officials, Crisp likened what type of restaurant could be built into the Boyd building to the nearby Cafe Cusco at the corner of Commercial and Robberson, a spot where people go for Peruvian food.
“Cusco is a fantastic restaurant, it’s not a chug ‘n puke, people are not getting themselves in trouble up there,” Crisp said. “I think that a lot of the community members that are speaking against this are speaking not in sense of community, but out of their own fears, out of their own wants, out of their own interests.”
Crisp said he bought a corner lot in Midtown because he saw its potential for growth.
“Part of the reason I moved to Midtown was I saw the potential development opportunities, and I saw a Rountree in 15 years,” Crisp said. “That’s the direction I think that this community can go, and that’s the direction I’d like to see this community develop.”
Crisp said he believes the development will make Rountree a better neighborhood that is “more socially prosperous” in the future.
Pickwick Place, the name for the development surrounding the intersection of East Cherry Street and South Pickwick Avenue, comes front and center for many Springfield residents when they hear the phrase “complete neighborhood,” according to consultants who wrote the Forward SGF 20-year comprehensive plan for Springfield. Mixed-use developments blur the lines between commercial and residential zones. Cherry and Pickwick is home to stops like Skully’s, Team Taco, Tea Bar and Bites, Ott’s Pasta, Tie and Timber Beer Company, the Royal Music Hall and Cherry Picker Package and Fare.