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'When you add people, you add cars' — why a proposal to change a church gym into housing is drawing neighborhood opposition in north Springfield

The Baptist Temple church gymnasium off of Grant Avenue and Talmage Street is seen on Feb. 13, 2023.
Gregory Holman/KSMU
The Baptist Temple church gymnasium off of Grant Avenue and Talmage Street is seen on Feb. 13, 2023. A developer's plan would convert the building into 33 apartments of varying sizes.

Recently, Springfield City Council held a public hearing on a plan involving a northside Springfield church that's selling off parts of its campus and focusing operations on its main building. Rance Burger, local government reporter with the Springfield Daily Citizen, has been following this story for two months. He joined KSMU's Gregory Holman to share what's up.

Gregory Holman: Welcome to KSMU, Rance.

Rance Burger: Hey, Gregory. Thanks for having me on.

Q. Let's start with the basics: What's being proposed at the Baptist Temple off North Grant Avenue?

A. So a developer by the name of Mike Stalzer is proposing a residential development in two parts. Number one, he wants to gut and retrofit what was the Baptist Temple's detached gymnasium, creating about 33 apartments inside. The second phase of the project is to develop 22 single-family residences, they'd be about 1,200 to 1,400 square feet in size apiece. And there would be a small street with a cul-de-sac, serving that little subdivision.

Q. So — 33 apartments, 22 houses, but not everybody who's already living in the neighborhood nearby is thrilled about these ideas, right?

A. That's correct. And as we see in any zoning case, traffic is a big concern. You know, when you add residences, you add people; when you add people, you add cars; and when you add cars, you have traffic.

So there's no plan for any sort of driveway or street added to Grant Avenue. So cars will be accessing this development mainly off of Talmage [Street], which also serves the nearby Watkins Elementary School. There are traffic issues, of course, as you might expect with any school. And so the people in the neighborhood are really concerned with what adding a maximum of 55 residences is going to do, in terms of just feeding too much traffic into that area at the same time.

Q. Now, there are some unusual aspects of this project in terms of redevelopment, as I understand it. This is not a plan to put a brand-new subdivision on top of land that used to be a hayfield, right? Walk us through that.

Right. With the apartments, first of all, you're talking about taking a gymnasium that was built in the '70s that has fallen into a state of disrepair, so there's a complete gutting there. And the apartments inside — it's planned to be a mix, you know, 16 of them are efficiencies and then 10 more are single-bedrooms.

So then what the developer is planning to do is, you know, build apartments sort of all around the exterior wall of the gymnasium and then have common areas with things like laundry facilities and a workout area in the center.

So, you know, that project is just very interesting in terms of the design, and then with the residential subdivision, you're talking about taking what was the church's playing field — you know, its spots where kids used to play soccer and softball — and then turning that instead into a cul-de-sac with, you know, some some three-bed, two-bath houses. [...] The subdivision is also going to be — you know, it's landlocked, as it stands right now. So it would be surrounded by existing development. So that one challenge the developer talked about was building something that really fits in with the existing characteristics of the surrounding neighborhood.

Q. So yet another situation of neighborhood redevelopment making the news here in Springfield. City Council is expected to vote on this proposal at their next regular meeting on February 21. You can follow Rance's coverage at SGFCitizen.org.

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