Ten Springfield residents are suing the City of Springfield to stop the construction and maintenance of bicycle trails in the greenspace off of Lone Pine Avenue in the southeastern part of town.
A lawsuit alleges that property owners near the greenspace will be forced to pay for park improvements they didn’t want and didn’t agree to. It also alleges they will be harmed by having more traffic in their neighborhood, illegal parking, future developments in the greenspace, stormwater runoff and safety concerns from a high volume of cyclists riding in and out of an area that was not initially designed to accommodate them.
The plaintiffs are listed as Art Farris, Tim Reese, Cal Wise, David Lewis, Edwin “Cookie” Rice, Patty Melton, William Wear, Susie Henry, Chip McGeehan and Dale E. Williams. Their dispute is over 16.42 acres of grassy field and woods off Lone Pine Avenue at Southern Hills Boulevard, near Southern Hills Swim & Tennis Club.
The 10 plaintiffs filed their lawsuit against the city of Springfield on March 25, and online court records show that the city attorney was issued a summons for the lawsuit on March 29. The case has been assigned to Greene County Circuit Judge Michael Cordonnier. Filing documents were shared electronically on a Facebook group, Springfield/Greene County Start Local by administrator Linda Simkins.
The plaintiffs allege that in the 1990s, a developer submitted plans to develop the greenspace for commercial use. At the time, the late John Q. Hammons was involved in a partnership with Lee McLean, Jr., and their wives were also partners. The greenspace was zoned for single-family residential use.
According to the lawsuit, the people of Springfield largely opposed the development proposal and asked that the city preserve the property in its natural state. In an effort to protect the land, people organized the Lone Pine Greenspace Neighborhood Improvement District.
The NID petition called for some of the money taken for property taxes within the district to be put toward maintaining the greenspace. It was determined that 577 single-family residential properties would fall within the neighborhood improvement district.
“On or about April 22, 2003, the NID petition was submitted to the City with a request that it be approved to establish the Lone Pine Greenspace Neighborhood Improvement District of Springfield, Missouri,” the lawsuit reads, in part.
Around June 12, 2003, the Springfield Planning and Zoning Commission approved a request from the Springfield-Greene County Park Board for the city to acquire the greenspace on Lone Pine Avenue.
According to the lawsuit, the city required the 577 individual properties within the NID area to pay an additional real property tax of $80 per year (for a period of 20 years) to finance the acquisition and maintenance of the greenspace at a principal amount of $675,000.
“Sometime in 2019, an unknown group of minors, acting without permission from the city, began modifying portions of the greenspace to construct makeshift bicycle tracks in the wooded area of the greenspace,” the lawsuit reads, in part. “Rather than inform the minors that they were not authorized to construct makeshift bicycle tracks in the greenspace and to restore the natural condition of the greenspace, the city began developing plans to create a permanent bike park in the greenspace.”
The suit alleges that concerned property owners in the NID contacted the Springfield-Greene County Park Board and some of its staff members to express their concern that an offroad bike path was not part of the original intent of the greenspace.
“The city refused to heed the taxpayer concerns and announced its intent to move forward with its plans to develop a bike park on the greenspace,” the lawsuit reads.
On Jan. 13, 2022, the Springfield Planning and Zoning Commission approved a request from the Springfield-Greene County Park Board to allow trail construction on the property, changing the land’s use designation. This action, the lawsuit plaintiffs say, violated city laws.
“The Growth Management and Land Use Plan of the Comprehensive Plan designates this area as appropriate for greenway use and low-density housing. The plan states greenways are usually to be located along major creeks or rivers and serve as a connection to parks. The proposed trails will allow users to connect to the Galloway Creek Greenway Trail,” the planning and zoning staff review of the proposal from Jan. 23, 2022, reads, in part.
The lawsuit argues that a bicycle path violates the original terms of the greenspace NID agreement, and that property owners within the NID should not have to pay for maintenance and construction of the bike park. It also asks the judge to take up whether or not the city “has the authority to unilaterally change the plans and specifications of the greenspace project or authorized use of the greenspace.”
The case does not have a court date set as of April 1, 2022. No financial damages are part of the injunction sought in the lawsuit documents, although the plaintiffs do specify that they seek “other and further relief as the Court deems just and proper.”
The 10 plaintiffs are represented by Charles Cowherd of Springfield-based law firm Spencer Fane, according to the court records.