Springfield City Council sends University Heights development proposal back to Planning & Zoning
The latest twist of the University Heights development controversy in Springfield will see a rezoning proposal for the corner of National & Sunshine sent back to the city Planning & Zoning Commission — after the commission already rejected an earlier version of the proposal.
The University Heights development saga stretches back to mid-August 2022. Then, residents expressed outrage at a neighborhood meeting with developers from Be Kind & Merciful LLC. That meeting ended with foul language and hardened attitudes of opposition toward developers’ plans to build a big mixed-use complex of apartments and businesses at the busy northwest corner of National & Sunshine near Mercy hospital.
Nine months later, the development proposal has morphed. The corner might now get an upscale restaurant or grocery store, according to discussion at Monday’s Council meeting.
In a news release from city officials last week — a news release University Heights residents denounced as evidence that city government is biased in favor of the developer’s wishes — BK&M’s Ralph Duda said he had three changes to his proposal.
The new building height would be reduced to 55 feet from 75. A brick or stone wall would separate the development from nearby homes. And 60 to 70 evergreen trees would be planted in a bid to block views of the development.
In keeping with the changes, Duda also asked Council to send his proposal back to the Planning & Zoning Commission to see if the newly revised plan would get the Commission’s recommendation. A month ago, commissioners rejected the earlier plan from Duda's company in a 7-to-1 vote. Following the city charter, the proposal went forward for council’s consideration anyway.
But before Council took up that question, they had to vote on a bill sponsored by Councilman Craig Hosmer on whether to delay for 210 days any rezoning — for not just the National and Sunshine corner BK&M wants to use for business, but a moratorium that would include a stretch of National Avenue between Sunshine Street north to Grand Street near the Missouri State campus. The development pause would have affected a similar portion of Sunshine Street from Mercy Hospital west to Jefferson Avenue. Hosmer’s moratorium would have affected five neighborhoods in central Springfield, not just University Heights.
Numerous representatives from University Heights and Phelps Grove neighborhoods urged Council to adopt the 210-day moratorium on Monday. Here’s Don Dunbar, a military veteran who lives in University Heights.
“I encourage you to pass this moratorium," Dunbar said. "More discussion needs to happen. There’s a lot that hasn’t been brought out.”
Hosmer, citing previous times when the city imposed temporary pauses on development in the Galloway, Grant Avenue, Rountree and Phelps Grove neighborhoods, said a new moratorium would allow time for developers and the neighborhood to create a plan.
Yet after lengthy debate, Council voted 5-to-4 against a moratorium. Mayor McClure was joined by councilmembers Matt Simpson, Abe McGull, Derek Lee and Callie Carroll in voting no.
Later in the meeting, Council voted again, opting to send Be Kind & Merciful developers’ proposal back to Planning & Zoning. In that vote, Mayor McClure was joined by councilmembers Abe McGull, Heather Hardinger, Derek Lee and Callie Carroll in voting yes. Councilman Simpson was absent for the room and the other members — Craig Hosmer, Monica Horton and Brandon Jenson — voted against sending the University Heights development proposal back to Planning & Zoning.
Chief city spokesperson Cora Scott told Ozarks Public Radio on Monday that the Planning & Zoning Commission is expected to consider BK&M’s modified proposal on June 22.
Meanwhile, a court case filed in December by residents over the validity of century-old property deed restrictions calling for the University Heights subdivision to remain residential in perpetuity — with no commercial development allowed — is still pending. Missouri court records show a bench trial scheduled for August 28.