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Almost a year after the first neighborhood meeting about a proposed development at the corner of National Avenue and Sunshine Street, the fate of the rezoning case — and a lawsuit filed against developers Be Kind & Merciful, or BK&M — are yet to be decided.
After months of delays, pre-trial motions and contention between some University Heights residents and the developers, a second Springfield Planning and Zoning Commission hearing was slated for Aug. 24, and a trial date set for Aug. 28. Both cases, however, have once again been delayed.
BK&M requested the rezoning case be postponed until the Nov. 9 Planning and Zoning Commission meeting, according to a city spokesperson, and the trial date is now undetermined, with a new judge now needed to preside over the case.
Where the rezoning case stands
BK&M seeks to rezone approximately 2.6 acres of property located at 1739, 1745 and 1755 S. National Ave., 1138 E. University St. and 1111, 1119, 1133 and 1141 E. Sunshine St. from single-family residential district to general retail district, and establish a new conditional overlay district.
What kind of development BK&M principal Ralph Duda and his partners aim to build remains unclear, as they have backed away from the large scale development that was proposed to residents in November 2022.
Despite city staff’s recommendation for approval of the rezoning, the Planning and Zoning Commission voted 7-1 against the application. On May 22, at the request of the developers, the Springfield City Council remanded the rezoning case back to Planning and Zoning so changes could be made to the application.
The case’s second appearance before the commission has been pushed back multiple times, most recently from the Aug. 24 agenda.
Reached on Aug. 17, Duda told the Springfield Daily Citizen that he was unable to comment as to why they requested the postponement.
Where the lawsuit stands
On Dec. 9, a group of University Heights residents sued BK&M, seeking declaratory judgment from the court upholding neighborhood deed restrictions from 1925 that don’t allow anything but a single-family dwelling on the property BK&M seeks to rezone.
The case was assigned to Greene County Circuit Judge Michael Cordonnier, who has since retired. A hearing was held on Aug. 17, after BK&M filed a motion of continuance and an attorney for University Heights neighbors filed a motion to compel evidence.
Due to Cordonnier’s retirement, Division III Judge Dan Wichmer was the acting judge for the hearing Aug. 17. BK&M’s motion was sustained in order to allow a new Division I judge to hear the matter, according to court documents. The case has been set for a case management conference on Oct. 2 at 9 a.m.
Mark Fletcher, a University Heights resident and intervenor in the case, said Wichmer had previously recused himself due to a conflict of interest.
Fletcher said the plaintiffs plan to push for the quickest possible trial date and, in wake of delay, was glad to see the rezoning case pushed back further.
“I’m happy in that it provides some breathing space for us to get what we think is going to be the eventual judgment that puts a halt to this,” Fletcher said.
It is unclear when the trial will be held, and who will hear the case. The Division I judge position has yet to be filled by the governor, and remains vacant.
Mailer meant to provide “transparency”
Even while awaiting the fate of the rezoning case and deed restrictions lawsuit, the developers have moved forward with the demolition of two homes on their properties, at 1755 S. National Ave. and 1133 E. Sunshine St.
BK&M cites poor conditions, break-ins and harassment from neighbors among the reasons for demolishing the houses. Information on the demolitions and adjusted plans for the development were illustrated on a colorful brochure that the developers mailed out to Springfield residents in and around the 65804 zip code, which encompasses much of southeast Springfield.
Duda believes many people are misinformed about the BK&M group’s plans for the northwest corner of National and Sunshine, and that the mailer is meant to provide transparency and the “truth.”