Signs encouraging voters to vote "No" and then "Yes" on ballot Question 1 appear along South Lone Pine Avenue in Springfield. (Photo by Rance Burger)

It’s unprecedented, at least in Springfield. On Nov. 8, voters from across the city have the power to decide if a piece of property should be rezoned to accommodate new development.

Ballot Question 1 puts 4.2 acres of land in the 3500 block of South Lone Pine Avenue up for referendum zoning.

  • A “Yes” vote allows the land’s zoning to change to a planned development zone, clearing the way for construction of a mixed use project that will include retail and office spaces and about 100 apartments.
  • A “No” vote is a vote to keep the land zoned as it is, a mix of single-family residential, limited business and general retail lots.

Without a “Yes” from voters, developers Mitchell and Amanda Jenkins of Elevation Enterprises won’t be able to build their project on the west side of Lone Pine Avenue across from Sequiota Park.

Bigger than one building project

Mitchell Jenkins and other supporters of a “Yes” vote on Question 1 say the referendum is about a good deal more than just one zoning case in southeastern Springfield. 

“At first glance, people who are looking at this particular ballot issue think that, ‘Well, I’m just voting on whether Mitch and Amanda’s development across from the park can occur,’ but really what’s happening is our community is voting on the future of economic development in Springfield and the future of job creation and homes being constructed,” Jenkins said.

Jenkins thinks the outcome of the referendum election may lay out a playbook for opponents of future development proposals to stop rezoning and development through referendum petitions, creating a scenario where ordinance and procedures create barriers to development.

“There is nothing stopping anybody from gathering signatures and putting that same rezoning to a public vote,” Jenkins said. “That’s the scary thing here.”

Jenkins pointed out that the Springfield City Council and the Springfield Planning and Zoning Commission both voted to approve rezoning the property, which also had favorable recommendations from staffers in the Springfield Planning Department.

Melanie Bach, president of the Galloway Village Neighborhood Association, balked at the notion that one referendum petition would set off a slippery slope of development blockage across Springfield.

“We do believe in property rights, and we absolutely feel like this developer could have used his property in many ways under its current zoning,” Bach said. “He could have also tried to do a better job compromising to get a zoning change.”

Galloway’s evolution over time (Click to expand story)
People enjoy Sequiota Park. (Photo by Dean Curtis)

A recent issue of SGF Neighborhood News (a publication of the city of Springfield) included a history of Galloway Village that traces the neighborhood’s roots back to a time when it was its own municipality. In the 1860s, Galloway was six miles south of the Springfield city limits and was established around a limestone quarry and a lime-producing plant.

What was then U.S. Highway 65 ran through Galloway, and the appropriate gas stations, restaurants and stores popped up along the road. The new U.S. Highway 65 was built in the 1950s, and the old road became Lone Pine Avenue. Springfield took ownership of a fish hatchery that is now Sequiota Park in 1959. Springfield voters annexed Galloway Village into the larger city in 1969.

Growth slowed after annexation, and gas stations and restaurants gave way to shops and studios. At the same time, people who lived in Galloway leaned into the neighborhood’s natural resources and the park as attractions for visitors.

Organized opposition from neighborhood association

A narrow driveway separates commercial property on South Lone Pine Avenue to the left, from a building Elevation Enterprises owns as part of its proposed development zone to the right. (Photo by Rance Burger)

The stretch of Lone Pine Avenue between Battlefield Road and Republic Road has the Galloway Creek Greenway Trail, a salon, a coffee shop, 4 by 4 Brewing, an art studio, village shops and a spa. There is also the Township 28 apartment complex. 

“It’s sort of like being in town but out of town, you don’t feel like you’re in Springfield,” Bach said. “What we really have is a nature feel. We’ve got a lot of trees, we’ve got a lot of ’70s residential homes, it’s just a quaint, residential feel.”

There’s also the Conco Quarries limestone operation, and the Quarry Town Apartments across the street.

Northeast of the quarry, Sequiota Park serves as Galloway’s star attraction, with its trail, lake, rock features and a cave that draws in people from other parts of Springfield to come and play.

“The heart of our neighborhood is Sequiota Park, that is what people come to from other areas and from within Galloway to visit, to spend time, to have events — it’s just really the center of our little Galloway Village,” Bach said.

The Galloway Village Neighborhood Association circulated a “Top 10 Reasons to Vote ‘No’” on the ballot measure. Among the reasons, the group lists concerns over the amount of tree removal needed for the development, the potential for stormwater runoff to cause flooding in Sequiota Park, added traffic that apartment buildings hold the potential to generate, changes to the landscape and aesthetic of the park and surrounding neighborhood and pedestrian safety.

Some of the people who live in Galloway Village say the development would infringe on their property rights because it favors “one developer’s request to rezone a property over all of the other property owners in the area that are adamantly opposed to this zoning change.”

Water runoff and the Galloway Creek floodplain

Sequiota Park is home to walking paths, a playground and water features in the Galloway Creek floodplain. (Photo by Rance Burger)

The Galloway Village Neighborhood Association lists a potential for an increase in stormwater running from the Elevation property and into Sequiota Park, causing flooding on Galloway Creek, as a key reason to oppose the development.

When undeveloped land is built out with buildings and parking lots, water runs off of the impervious surfaces, materials such as shingles and concrete that are made to repel water rather than absorb it. Developers in Springfield are required to address stormwater runoff out of respect to the watersheds and to neighboring property owners. 

Galloway Village Neighborhood Association treasurer Wendy Huscher said the stormwater runoff control measures Elevation has planned are not adequate to protect against runoff flooding Sequiota Park or Galloway Creek.

“I feel like the stormwater effect on Sequiota Park and downstream from there is major, but I think it’s major because it’s real visible,” Huscher said.

The developer provided an engineer’s stormwater assessment and runoff plan as part of the rezoning request. According to the plan, water from about 80 acres of land runs off onto the 4.2-acre development site. Elevation Enterprises plans to replace one box culvert that runs under Lone Pine Avenue to allow for fast drainage during a storm. The idea is to move water off the property and send it downstream faster, a claim the Galloway Village Neighborhood Association criticizes, but Elevation’s engineers say is a good solution to solving runoff issues.

“Due to the project’s proximity to the Galloway Creek floodplain, additional stormwater detention will not be provided,” the engineer’s report reads. “This will allow stormwater runoff from the site to move downstream before Galloway Creek reaches peak flow rates in the vicinity.” 

Jenkins pointed to spots in the development where the plan calls for wooden boardwalks instead of concrete sidewalks in an effort to reduce runoff. Water can seep through the cracks of a wooden boardwalk to be absorbed into the ground.

An architect’s rendering shows the proposal for Elevation Enterprises’ development on South Lone Pine Avenue in Springfield. (Image from the City of Springfield)

“We have more pervious surfaces than most new developments that are being constructed at this time, and so what that allows is for stormwater and rainwater to actually soak into the ground and not become runoff,” Jenkins said. “We are privately funding the improvement of the culvert underneath Lone Pine that provides a spillway for other developments and the surrounding community.”

Jenkins says the neighboring residents’ concerns about potential flooding in Sequiota Park have some validity, but that it isn’t fair to point to one 4.2-acre development as the cause for all of the drainage that enters the Galloway Creek floodplain.

“Let’s think of the thousands of acres that have been developed over the last 50 years and the dozens of residential subdivisions and the shopping centers up on Glenstone — those all flow down through impervious surfaces to the Galloway Creek,” Jenkins said.

Developer notes list of compromises

To some of the residents of the Galloway Village neighborhood, the natural beauty of Sequiota Park is integral to the neighborhood’s identity. (Photo by Rance Burger)

Mitch Jenkins said he likes Sequiota Park so much that it’s where he proposed to his now-wife Amanda in 2015.

“In 2018, when we had the opportunity to purchase the property, we were, as you can imagine, pretty excited about that,” Jenkins said. “So the original plan was to clear the site of all the buildings and trees and build a four-story, mixed use development.”

Jenkins said at the first public hearing related to rezoning the property for commercial development, residents of Galloway pushed back at the plan.

“It was pretty hostile, but through that, we learned that if we could keep the bike shop building, that that was important to the neighborhood,” Jenkins said.

An administrative delay from the city of Springfield slowed the project for 270 days after a second and third neighborhood meeting related to the Elevation Enterprises plans. The city of Springfield introduced a Galloway redevelopment plan in 2019, unrelated to the zoning case. However, Jenkins said that plan became the “north star” guiding force behind a fourth draft of a development plan.

“We have designed and redesigned this project five times,” Jenkins said.

An architect’s rendering shows the proposal for Elevation Enterprises’ development on South Lone Pine Avenue in Springfield. (Image from the City of Springfield)

In 2020, Jenkins thought he had a plan that people in Galloway Village would embrace. He organized another public meeting in a virtual space because of safety concerns of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“What was important to the neighborhood was keeping buildings, preserving trees where possible, increased green space, limiting the height of buildings on Lone Pine, limiting the height of retaining walls and the list goes on,” Jenkins said.

The current plan is to build 90 apartment units, “really nice residential loft apartments,” in two buildings, and between 8,000-9,000 of rentable commercial space. The new plan, Jenkins said, keeps four existing buildings with plans to rehabilitate them, keeps 102 mature trees, moved sidewalks, expanded greenspace and limited the heights of buildings and retaining walls.

“We’re preserving buildings, we’ve got tons of greenspace, we’re providing housing when rents are skyrocketing,” Jenkins said.

Four years of effort on two sides of Lone Pine

Huscher described the legal fight against the Galloway development proposal as “a full time job” for two people since the summer of 2018.

“The money is approaching the $70,000 range at this point, not just legal bills, but the whole process,” Huscher said. “Time, as far as investment, we’ve lost track of how many hours we’ve put into it.”

Bach and Huscher say zoning laws are intended to protect surrounding lands from harm — harm Bach said will happen if the Elevation Enterprises development proceeds as planned.

“That is to provide protections to the property owners around you,” Bach said. “That is the sole purpose of our zoning law, it is not to facilitate development, it is to protect the rights of the surrounding property owners.”

City Council vote led to lawsuit

An aerial photograph with a pink box shows the boundaries of Elevation Enterprises’ 4.2 acres of land subject to a referendum zoning vote Nov. 8, 2022. (Photo from the Greene County Assessor’s Office public GIS viewer, illustrated by Rance Burger)

On Sept. 21, 2020, the Springfield City Council voted 7-1 to rezone the Elevation Enterprises property for a planned development.

The neighborhood did not welcome it. 

“We started out with a matter of principle of, ‘Hey, this is a terrible idea, it’s too much,’ and, ‘City Council, please listen to us,’” Bach said. “When the City Council voted the way that they did, it was a little baffling, because we just had the Galloway guidelines put in place, and we absolutely felt like this plan violated those.”

Huscher was part of a protest petition neighboring property owners filed with the City Council in opposition to the rezoning. By Springfield ordinance, property owners who object to a zoning case with property within 185 feet of the property in question may sign a notarized petition in opposition of the rezoning. The petition gains legally binding status when at least 30 percent of the surrounding property owners sign it. Huscher and her neighbors met that threshold at 37 percent.

“Everybody thought we had it won, and then we didn’t, and that’s where it should have stopped,” Huscher said. “The referendum should never have to work, should never have to be used, but it’s there just for this type of situation.”

A protest petition causes the City Council to need at least six votes to approve a zoning decision. The Elevation case met that threshold with seven votes. However, the Galloway Village Neighborhood Association found an alternative strategy within the city charter, pressing forward with a referendum petition to put the matter up for a public vote.

“It is bigger than just apartments across from the park; it is about — our voice needs to be heard as a neighborhood,” Huscher said.

However, the referendum petition met a hurdle.  Elevation Enterprises filed a lawsuit to stop the zoning case from going to voters.

The first judge who saw the case ruled in favor of Elevation. On May 24, 2021, Greene County Circuit Judge David Jones issued a ruling that stopped the plans for an election to decide the zoning case.

In his ruling, Jones found that the zoning referendum petition process in the Springfield City Charter conflicted with state law governing zoning procedures that does not grant citizens the right to decide zoning cases through a public election. The neighborhood association sought to use a provision in the Springfield city charter that allows zoning cases to be decided by a vote of the general public.

2022 appeals court ruling changed things

That initial ruling, however, did not stand.

The Galloway Village Neighborhood Association appealed the trial court judge’s decision, and the case went to the Missouri Court of Appeals.

Judge Mary W. Sheffield, Chief Judge Gary W. Lynch and Judge Jennifer R. Growcock made up the three-member panel that heard oral arguments in the case on March 22, 2022. An appellate court ruling in favor of the residents of Galloway Village came down June 8.

“Simply said, Elevation does not want its success in obtaining a change in zoning from the City Council to be subject to the vote of the people,” Growcock, the opinion author, wrote in the appeals court opinion. “Elevation purchased the property when it was not zoned for Elevation’s intended development. A change in zoning was required, subject to referendum from the beginning of the rezoning process, before development could begin.”

The ruling made the possible rezoning of Elevation Enterprises’ property subject to a public election before any development may occur on the land across Lone Pine from Sequiota Park.

“The Springfield City Charter reserves to the people of Springfield the rights of initiative, referendum, and recall. No language in the charter expressly exempts zoning matters from these rights,” the opinion reads, in part.

In a concurring opinion filed alongside Growcock’s principal opinion June 8, Judge Lynch called the city of Springfield’s legal argument against the Galloway Village neighbors, “a disingenuous and duplicitous attempt to seek from the courts an end run around the referendum requirements in its own charter.”

“End run” is an expression borrowed from the sport of football that implies a tactic is meant to evade or circumvent regulations in some way.

Official ballot language

Question 1

Shall the city of Springfield amend the Springfield Land Development Code, Section 36-306, “Official zoning map and rules for interpretation,” by rezoning 4.2 acres of property, generally located at 3503, 3521, 3527 and 3535 South Lone Pine Avenue from R-SF, Single Family Residential, GR, General Retail, and LB, Limited Business District to Planned Development No. 374; and adopt an updated Official Zoning Map?

___Yes

___No

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