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Outrage in University Heights neighborhood as developers propose retail zoning at Sunshine and National

White house at Sunshine Street and National Avenue, along with other nearby houses.
Gregory Holman/KSMU
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Five central Springfield properties located near the intersection of Sunshine Street at National Avenue, northwest of Mercy hospital, are subject to potential rezoning from single-family residential to general retail. BK&M LLC, which recently acquired the properties, is applying for the zoning change and held a neighborhood meeting on Aug. 18, 2022.

Residents of central Springfield’s University Heights neighborhood expressed their outrage Thursday at a neighborhood meeting called by local developers. Here's what riled them up.

Two entrepreneurs, Anthony Tolliver and Ralph Duda, want the city of Springfield to rezone five properties at the corner of Sunshine and National from single-family residences to general retail.

The land is located northwest of Mercy hospital. Two other corners of that intersection have been redeveloped in recent years. One corner is now a retail strip, another is a CoxHealth facility under construction.

Tolliver and Duda want to use their 1.8-acre site for professional or medical offices, a restaurant, or something similar. Duda said the retail buildings could also include upstairs apartments.

But residents in University Heights aren’t happy about the idea. As word about the neighborhood meeting spread among residents, they started reaching out to the developers — in advance — to share their opposition.

"If you want to put businesses in, do it someplace else," said Cindy McCarty Sherman. "Don’t go into the historic district and tear the houses down. It’s just — deplorable. I can’t imagine — he obviously doesn’t care about historic homes.”

McCarty Sherman says she lives down the road from the proposed retail.

'Stealth attack'?

A few days later, roughly 80 residents turned out for the Thursday-night developer meeting. They shared even more pointed criticism. Nearby resident Don Dunbar, who’s a retired military veteran, called the developers’ plans a “stealth attack.”

Don Dunbar, University Heights resident, speaks while developer Ralph Duda listens.
Gregory Holman/KSMU
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Don Dunbar is a resident of University Heights in central Springfield. He characterized actions by developers Ralph Duda (right) and Anthony Tolliver — who want the city to rezone 1.8 acres of the neighborhood for general retail rather than single-family residences — as a "sneak attack" on University Heights.

Dunbar added, "That’s what my term for it would be, from a military perspective, to have gone this far and acquired the properties without talking to us about this significant change to our neighborhood.”

Later, the meeting got heated. A woman advocating for the neighborhood used an offensive term to refer to the wife of a developer. After that, the meeting ended a half-hour early.

The morning after the meeting, University Heights Neighborhood Association president Jan Peterson issued a written public apology.

Peterson declined to be interviewed by KSMU, but her statement said in part that “last night’s incivility was absolutely unacceptable.”

As the meeting wrapped up, Duda told KSMU that he and Tolliver will continue pursuing their plans.

Ralph Duda and Anthony Tolliver
Gregory Holman/KSMU
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Developers Ralph Duda and Anthony Tolliver listen to University Heights residents at a neighborhood meeting on Aug. 18, 2022.

"University Heights neighbors are very passionate about their neighborhood," Duda said. "They’re concerned. They’re concerned about traffic flow, they’re concerned about noise, they’re concerned about maintaining the character of their neighborhood. And we are definitely hearing and listening to that. We do not want to come in and do something that’s going to upset them.”

Duda said Springfield’s Planning & Zoning Commission could begin considering the rezoning proposal in early September.

Gregory Holman is a KSMU reporter and editor focusing on public affairs and investigations.