The land use map that is part of the Forward SGF comprehensive plan resembles a patchwork quilt of differing zones across Springfield. (Contributed photo)

It’s called Forward SGF, and it will be the map Springfield uses to develop for the next two decades.

The Springfield City Council, some city employees and members of the public heard a general overview of the comprehensive plan on March 22 from the consultants who crafted it. The plan will eventually go before the city council for formal adoption, so the briefing gave members the chance to take a flyover look at the plan’s key elements and offer any late guidance to the consultants or to city staff members.

“It’s important for the staff to know are we generally headed in the right direction? If we’re not, then we need to know now, so we can adjust. If we are, then we can keep trudging along and try to hit the highlights and get you a good plan that you can talk about,” Springfield City Manager Jason Gage said to the eight members of the council who attended the briefing session held at the Springfield Art Museum.

Summary

Forward SGF is the title of a comprehensive plan for Springfield. It is not a legal document, but a guiding roadmap meant to help Springfield’s leaders steer the city’s growth and development over the next 20 years. The plan is in its finalization stages, and is under review by members of the Springfield City Council and by key city employees.

The process of developing and writing a comprehensive plan for Springfield’s growth began in June 2019 and originally was supposed to take two years to complete. According to Randall Whitman, Springfield Principal Planner and Forward SGF project manager, the COVID-19 pandemic created delays in the research and writing process.

“Under normal circumstances, that timeline would have been easily achieved, however, the last two years have created some challenges,” Whitman said. “The development of any community plan, especially one as diverse as this one, depends greatly on one-on-one interaction with residents, elected officials and members of the planning and consulting team. We anticipate a draft available for community review in late spring and adoption by the Planning and Zoning Commission and City Council sometime this summer.”

A city’s comprehensive plan is not a legally binding document, but it is meant to serve as a guide or a playbook for development and growth.

After about four hours of presentations and discussions Tuesday, Mayor Ken McClure said he was eager to proceed with finalizing the comprehensive plan.

“We want to get it done right away, as quickly as possible,” McClure said.

Chicago-based consultants Houseal Lavigne Associates have been working with staffers to write the preliminary draft of the comprehensive plan. The plan contains: a present-day profile of Springfield; a vision statement; guiding themes and principles; land use information; policies for housing, transportation, parks and trails and community buildings; public health information; arts and culture information; a piece on historic preservation; and some plans that are unique for certain parts of Springfield.

“Forward SGF is dependent on a structured flow of information, organized around key planning elements that shape community growth that also speak to community priorities,” Whitman said. “Forward SGF revolves around the guiding principle of creating quality of place. Quality of place can be easily defined as the creation of a desirable and economically vibrant city to live, work and play.”

More information

Visit http://forwardsgf.com to read summaries and view documentation of the Forward SGF comprehensive plan for Springfield.

Nearly 10,000 people participated in the comprehensive planning process, either by being among the 7,108 people who engaged online with surveys, or being among the 2,361 people who participated in person by attending workshops and focus groups. Online surveys were tailored to subgroups of people, including business owners, students, Springfield residents, teachers and college instructors, or persons specifically interested in strategy planning.

“It’s going to be driving us for quite a while, but the community involvement thus far has just been incredible, and I think it’s reflected just on a high-level overview today, so that’s positive,” McClure said.

The framework for Forward SGF is structured around the priorities of stewardship, a concept of “complete neighborhoods,” economic vitality, and the city’s physical image, along with the guiding principle of creating quality of place, Whitman said.

“Quality of place,” Whitman said, is reflected in the way people care for the city’s infrastructure and resources, and when resources are used responsibly and protected over time. Stewardship of resources and money plays a significant role in many areas of the plan, as new investments, new facilities and the annexations of new properties take place.

“For example, annexation and growth impact services and resources for existing residents, businesses, and neighborhoods. The city will weigh expansion against existing and planned commitments, balancing the need for growth on the fringes against initiatives for already incorporated areas recommended by the plan. Forward SGF prioritizes stewardship of neighborhoods and the local economy as fundamental components of creating quality places,” Whitman said.

Springfield has more than 30 neighborhoods, and each one has some qualities that make it different from the rest.

“Springfield is uniquely positioned to create a niche that other suburban communities cannot offer. At the heart of any neighborhood is the necessity to provide diverse housing options for a diverse range of residents with a wide array of needs and preferences. Beyond offering diverse housing options, amenities and services should be located within reasonable distance of neighborhoods,” a statement from the city of Springfield reads.

Whitman said that part of revitalizing some of Springfield’s neighborhoods over the next 20 years will involve changing the ways that they are perceived by the rest of Springfield.

Quality of place for those choosing place before profession

The economic pieces of Forward SGF call for Springfield’s governing boards and property owners to rethink land use. Mixed uses will be promoted in economically underserved areas and in commercial zones. Some of these changes were ushered in when the COVID-19 pandemic made lasting changes to Springfield’s business climate.

“Promoting flexibility and incentives to attract entrepreneurs, start-ups, and a remote workforce will lead the way in the post-pandemic years to come. Attracting investors, retirees, and a workforce who choose place before profession will require investing in aesthetics, landscaping, and community beautification,” Whitman’s statement reads. “The creation of quality places will lead the growth of our local economy and provide an edge to compete with surrounding communities and markets for visitors and those looking to remain or relocate to Springfield to live and invest in new ventures.”

Neighborhood revitalization and land use shifts are two of 10 key initiatives the consultants identified for Springfield to pursue as it develops over the next 20 years. The other initiatives are: comprehensive reform for city codes; closing gaps in the Ozark Greenways trail network; encouraging entrepreneurs to be stewards of Springfield; key road corridor beautification and management; development of neighborhood activity centers; encouraging nature connections; annexation and growing the city limits; and planning for growth on a regional basis that includes Springfield’s suburbs.

Rance Burger

Rance Burger covers local government for the Daily Citizen. His goal is to help people know more about what projects their government is involved in, and how their tax dollars are being spent. He is a graduate of the University of Missouri-Columbia with 15 years experience in journalism. Reach him at rburger@sgfcitizen.org or by calling 417-837-3669. Twitter: @RanceBurger More by Rance Burger