Springfield voters will decide the fate of a development proposal on South Lone Pine Avenue when they go to the polls in November.
On June 27, the Springfield City Council voted 7-0 to enact an ordinance calling for an election to decide a zoning case over a proposed multipurpose development in the Galloway Village neighborhood near Sequiota Park. The election will take place Nov. 8.
The neighboring property owners of Galloway Village banded together to collect signatures for a petition calling for a special election with the chance to overturn the property rezoning from residential, retail and limited business to a planned mixed-use development. The Springfield City Charter allows for referendum elections. The neighborhood association opposes further commercial development of property in Galloway Village. Elevation Enterprises filed suit, which prevented the referendum election from occurring in 2021.
Elevation Enterprises then lost an appellate court decision handed down in June 2022, clearing the way for a public vote at the next possible opportunity.
Galloway Village Neighborhood Association President Melanie Bach addressed the Springfield City Council just before its vote to hold an election Monday night.
“What you didn’t expect was that Galloway Village Neighborhood Association would be able to fight this issue in court,” Bach said.
Bach received three warnings from Mayor Ken McClure about speaking to the topic of the bill to call for a referendum election in November, rather than in August.
“I’m going to ask you to confine your comments to the purpose of the bill as to whether the date should be amended,” McClure said.
Bach paused, and then responded.
“I do believe the date should be amended so that the city charter can be defended, and so we can avoid what the appeals court called ‘a cancerous anomaly,’ that was the city’s failure to defend that charter,” Bach said.
Bach concluded by admonishing some of the City Council members again.
“The citizens of this city deserve a more honest approach to city government,” Bach said. “No tax-paying citizen or group of citizens should ever have to experience what we have had in our dealings with this city. It’s still not too late for Galloway, we fought to guarantee every Springfield citizen’s right to vote and we will continue to fight to protect Sequiota Park and Galloway Village.”
On June 8, a three-member panel of judges issued a ruling in appellate court that essentially favors the Galloway Village Neighborhood Association’s effort to stop Elevation Enterprises from building a multipurpose development on South Lone Pine Avenue. The appellate court ruled zoning decisions may be appealed by a petition and a public vote in a municipal election, and that the city of Springfield acted improperly in stopping such an election from occurring in the case of a development proposal in southeast Springfield.
Judge Mary W. Sheffield, Chief Judge Gary W. Lynch and Judge Jennifer R. Growcock made up the three-member appellate court panel that heard oral arguments in the case on March 22. Growcock authored the principal opinion.
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.”
Official ballot language
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?
How it got to this point
In 2018, about four years after Galloway Village was declared a blighted area by the Springfield City Council, Elevation Enterprises introduced a plan to develop a 100-unit apartment complex with offices and retail developments on the west side of Lone Pine Avenue near Sequiota Park.
The City Council voted to zone four pieces of adjacent property from residential and limited commercial to a planned development district.
The Galloway Village Neighborhood Association tried to stop the development from happening. Their concerns include increased traffic volume on Lone Pine, stormwater runoff from parking lots, and the potential for the surrounding neighborhood to lose its identity as a quiet place with a connection to nature.
The case ended up in court, where 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 found in the Springfield City Charter conflicted with state law. A lawsuit by Elevation Enterprises effectively stopped the zoning case from going to voters for a final decision, in spite of the neighboring property owners believing that they had the rights under the Springfield City Charter to petition for a referendum election.
In the original trial, Springfield City Clerk Anita Cotter testified that the petitioners obtained sufficient signatures and that the Galloway Village Neighborhood Association submitted a petition that could be placed on the ballot in the August 2021 election.
“On May 25, 2021, a trial court enjoined the city from going forward with the referendum election concerning Ordinance No. 6614, therefore the election that had been called for Aug. 3, 2021, could not go forward,” Springfield City Attorney Rhonda Lewsader said.
The Galloway Village Neighborhood Association made its appeal, and arguments took place in March. The court then issued a ruling in June that put the decision back into the hands of Springfield voters.
Missouri election laws require notice of an election be provided to the election authorities, the Greene County Clerk’s Office in this case, no later than the tenth Tuesday prior to an election. A court can issue an order to shorten the time, but that didn’t happen in the Galloway case.
“While there is an election coming up Aug. 2, the appellate court’s decision was not issued in time for the city to provide the required 10-week notice for that election, and no court order has been issued for the election authorities to allow the referendum election on Aug. 2,” Lewsader said.
Attorney Bryan Wade, representing the Galloway Village neighbors, told the appellate court judges there is nothing illegal about the referendum process that has been part of Springfield’s charter since 1978.
“My clients followed that process. They got 2,000 people to sign it within 30 days. They wanted to be heard. They wanted to have a voice. The city charter says they have a voice,” Wade said.