Springfield City Code 36-405F is rarely used, but it’s being used at least once, and at least a few residents of the Doling Park area are happy about it.
By default, the Springfield City Council denied a developer’s application to turn an old church gymnasium into apartments and then build 22 houses on old playing fields. City Attorney Rhonda Lewsader explained the technical issue surrounding the Baptist Temple property near the intersection of Grant Avenue and Talmage Street March 20, eight days after a previously unknown 30-day window to act had expired.
The planned development proposal calls for the Baptist Temple gymnasium to be retrofitted and made into an apartment building with 33 units.
Under the proposal, the interior of the apartment building would include fitness and laundry facilities and some storage space for tenants. Developer Mike Stalzer estimates the gym was built sometime in the 1970s. It has fallen into a rundown state, and the church does not use it anymore, according to planning documents. The retrofitting plan calls for 16 efficiency units, 10 single-bedroom units, and seven multi-bedroom units.
The Springfield City Council held a public hearing on the proposal Feb. 6, unknowingly starting a 30-day countdown.
“There is no action that city council can take this evening regarding the application for preliminary planned development,” Lewsader said.
Code 36-405F, which governs cases where a developer applies for planned development designation, has a provision stating that if Council fails to act within 30 days following the conclusion of a public hearing on a preliminary planned development, the preliminary planned development shall be deemed denied.
Stalzer held a neighborhood meeting Dec. 22, 2022, a day with subzero temperatures, heavy snow and a minus-22-degree wind chill.
Zone 1 Councilwoman Monica Horton suggested the developer hold another meeting with people who live near the Baptist Temple. Horton, whose push for a second neighborhood meeting aided in causing the 42-day delay, suggested the code review include some way for a neighborhood meeting to be rescheduled in the event of a bad weather emergency.
“This is what has spurred this conversation in the beginning is the fact that inclement weather — whether it’s a tornado or we’re dealing with ‘snowmageddon’ or what have you — that needs to be included because we want to afford the process of neighbors engaging to really be meaningful,” Horton said.
The code calls for a developer to hold a neighborhood meeting with adjacent property owners at least 21 days before the Springfield Planning and Zoning Commission is scheduled to take up a rezoning case.
Back to the starting point
March 20, City Councilman Richard Ollis asked aloud what recourse Stalzer might have.
“What happens?” Ollis asked. “Can the developer start this process all over again?”
Lewsader said Stalzer can apply again, using an identical application, but that he would have to hold another neighborhood meeting and have a new case go before the Springfield Planning and Zoning Commission. Then the proposal would come to the City Council again as a new bill. Stalzer would be looking at several more weeks of time for his project to go through the entire process again.
Stalzer attended the City Council meeting March 20, but did not speak.
City Manager Jason Gage said the 30-day clause is not found in the code for rezoning, but is found in the code for applications for planned developments.
“I don’t know why,” Gage said. “To me, it should be the same, but it is different. And yes, we missed that in the code.”
Gage apologized to the City Council and to Stalzer on behalf of the City Hall staff. Ollis voiced some frustration over the length of time and the steps it takes to move a case through Springfield’s zoning procedure.
“I don’t know whether this was going to pass or not,” Ollis said. “I will say the length of time it takes to develop a project in this community seems to be longer than maybe it should be. With the economy and inflation the way it is, and interest rates, I just sometimes feel that it’s a challenge to get things accomplished.”
Residents in the surrounding Doling Park neighborhood collected signatures and filed a protest petition against the proposed development. The protest petition meant that had the application gone to the City Council for a vote, it would have needed at least six of the nine possible votes of the council to pass. Lewsader confirmed that the neighbors who live within 185 feet of the Baptist Temple property would also need to file a new protest petition in order for the supermajority requirement to stand, should Stalzer submit a new application for a planned development.