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‘Filling a void’ — In wake of neighborhood controversies, Urban Land Institute seeks to shape debates on Springfield development

Springfield, Missouri's Historic City Hall, photographed Aug. 9, 2022.
Gregory Holman/KSMU
Springfield, Missouri's Historic City Hall, photographed Aug. 9, 2022.

A new nonprofit, Urban Land Institute Southwest Missouri, hopes to shape more productive debates about land use in Springfield.

A year ago, debates about the future of the Sunshine & National corner in Springfield’s University Heights neighborhood began amid outrage. A few months later, citywide voters crushed another developer’s plan near Sequiota Park after Galloway neighborhood residents objected.

Now a global nonprofit group, Urban Land Institute, wants to set up a southwest Missouri chapter to encourage sustainable development, rather than sprawling growth for growth’s sake.

“In a way, it’s knowing there’s a better way to engage the broader community, from not only the neighborhood side — but, you know, really on the real estate and development side as well, having these discussions beforehand," says Brandon Biskup, a Springfield architect heading up ULI’s local leadership team.

In a 40-minute presentation for Springfield City Council this week, Biskup said ULI also hopes to bring together realtors, architects, community leaders and others to help shape Springfield’s development code reform process. That’s currently going on as part of the Forward SGF comprehensive plan adopted last year.

Implementing that comprehensive plan is expected to play out over the next year — with so-called “Place Team” public input sessions. Implementation will finish up sometime in the spring of 2025. The last time Springfield development code was comprehensively updated was back in 1995.

"The city definitely, and the consultants, are doing their public engagement as part of this as well," Biskup says. "But this is just another layer to that. And, and at the same time, it's a third party. So we're not 100-percent beholden to the comprehensive plan. I think, generally, the comprehensive plan is a really good plan. And it aligns with a lot of what ULI advocates for. But, you know, as a third party, we can have very open and honest discussions about, you know, what are the challenges and opportunities that are around implementing these new zoning measures."

At City Hall on Tuesday, Biskup got a warm handshake from Mayor Ken McClure before sharing his talk on ULI's plans and ideas. Cora Scott, chief city spokesperson, told KSMU in a text message that she’s “very excited” about Urban Land Institute for the “engagement and connectivity they are fostering among varied perspectives.”

"I see this organization as filling a void in our community," Scott also said.

The group plans a real estate development roundtable at Ozarks Technical Community College on August 25. Biskup said tickets are $20 and a registration link will go live soon.

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