Council denies public input to all development projects under 12 acres

Posted on 05/17/17 No Comments

On Tuesday, May 16, the Springfield City Council voted to radically alter the definition of Large Scale Development to only include projects over 12 acres in size (previously the definition was any project over 1/2 acres involving 2 or more buildings, and any project over 5 acres regardless of how many buildings.)

The council vote effectively shuts out ALL public input to ALL projects up to 12 acres that do not require a zoning change – projects that could negatively impact quality of life and property values for nearby residents.

Ward 1 Alderman Chuck Redpath led the extreme change to the Large Scale Development trigger from 5 to 12 acres. The change was unknown to the public prior to the Committee of the Whole meeting on May 9. It was delivered towards the end of a lengthy 3 hour meeting with over 40 ordinances covering many significant issues. Redpath’s amendment reversing more that 40 years of “Large Scale” practice was made without hearing from any subject matter experts and without hearing from neighborhood associations – the only voices at the table were developers. At final passage barely 1 week later on May 16, 4 amendments were debated – of which the public had no prior knowledge.

Aldermen brushed aside concerns that new projects between 1/2 acre and 12 acres would no longer have city streets financially upgraded at the developer’s expense.  This potentially has the impact of making the City pay for street upgrades currently funded by developers.   This is because the so-called “Developer’s Agreement”, the Adjacent Substandard Roadway Agreement, is tied to the definition of Large Scale Development and requires developers to pay to upgrade substandard streets that are impacted by additional traffic caused by their developments and/or to provide letters of credit for future changes required by their development.

Aldermen initially approved an amendment proposed by the Mayor that would have considered multi-family dwellings and storage facilities as Large Scale Development, but Redpath also successfully proposed re-voting to remove even that limited requirement.

Do it Right?

Even though the Mayor and four aldermen expressed concern about the impact and the speed of the change, alderman were unwilling to consider the Mayor’s request to slow down and “do it right”. We thank Ward 7 Alderman Joe McMenamin for his “no” vote on this issue.

The city is currently updating it’s Comprehensive Plan, which specifies the preferred development for various areas of the city and which informs Regional Planning when recommending approval or denial of zoning changes. Waiting for that to be finalized and using the results to inform a decision on development would have been a forward-thinking move.

The city planners we talked with about this change were opposed and offered observations / suggestions:

  1. While it is true nearby cities do not have this particular process in place, our Central Illinois peer cities cities DO have robust planning departments which review for the same content as the Land Subdivision and large scale development committee does here in Springfield. Eliminating this review would eliminate the only effective planning process we currently have.
  2. If there is a desire to streamline this process, then there is a series of recommendations from an already-convened Chamber of Commerce advisory sub-committee which could help guide those decisions. This group is comprised of architects, engineers, and developers who have in fact discussed this very issue and produced several recommendations to address this process. It seems that this group of professionals may be able to offer more objective opinions of the process and how it could be improved without being gutted. It would not be difficult for the aldermen to request those recommendations from the Chamber and review those for potential implementation.

Long Term Negative Consequences

The most important negative consequence is removal of public input to the process for all development projects up to 12 acres. Neighborhood and residents will be denied the ability to oppose changes that could negatively affect our quality of life and property values – with NO opportunity to raise concerns that have recently resulted in changes requested by neighbors under the Large Scale Development process. This opens the door to strip malls, apartment complexes, storage facilities, industrial uses, commercial uses (including those with a history of problems within the city) and even WalMart stores without the opportunity for neighbors to weigh in on the potentially negative impact to them.

History of neighbor objections to developer projects

Developer Corky Joiner repeatedly addressed the council Tuesday night promoting the change. Joyner’s Cobblestone Estates development has been the target of neighbors who requested changes to the development through the Large Scale Development process & the city council. Although the Cobblestone project involved a zoning change, there are multiple projects that won’t – and those would be approved without a word of public input.

In an article on May 14 in the SJ-R, Cobblestone Estates Homeowners Association member Roger Kanerva said he and some neighbors successfully lobbied against a proposal to build a Wal-Mart between Archer Elevator and Meadowbrook roads 10 years ago. More recently, the association fought construction of 12 three-story apartment buildings backed by Joiner at the same site. “We presented written objections and testimony all the way through the process, and (the council) gave Joyner what he wanted.” Still, it was important for residents to have a voice in the process. “We didn’t win, but we got come conditions put on to keep it from being totally ridiculous”, he said, citing concessions over parking requirements and the height of new buildings. Kanerva warns that by changing the rules for large-scale developments, it reduces the opportunity for residents to have their concerns heard, as he and his neighbors did, saying “The aldermen and the city need to be accountable to the people that have got to live with this stuff.”

Homeowners’ group challenges city zoning decision on west-side apartment complex… (7/27/2015)

West side homeowner group continues to fight against apartments (3/15/2015)

Letter to the Editor: Residents will fight west-side apartments (11/9/2012)

Excerpt: The residents are understandably upset with this change of plans for this area and the potential adverse impacts on property values and the neighborhood. The residents expressed their concerns to the city Planning and Zoning Commission and the city council in a responsible manner. One can expect the residents to continue their resistance to this unfortunate development proposal.

In ICON’s remarks to the council opposing this change, we stated our concern over the urban sprawl that indefinitely commits limited tax dollars to service an ever-expanding city footprint – funds that are spread thin for infrastructure (streets, water, sewer, electric), police & fire services, yard waste and limbs and snow removal. Other cities are actively working to limit the effects of sprawl – quantifying the long term cost of sprawl vs. expected tax revenue. Because public school District 186 has been allowed to become landlocked, large developments on the outskirts of town no longer benefit the local school district. Finally, large scale development on open ground on the periphery of the city fails to redevelop vacant property in the city core.

ICON is not against development, but we are against development that potentially harms our city and our neighborhoods. We believe there are better ways to support development other than eliminating public input.

Why the Change?

Local developers claim the Large Scale Development process, which brings all parties together to review plans at a public meeting before going before the city council for approval, takes too long.  Out of town developers have stated the process is efficient and is what is expected in implementing new developments. In this process, the public has 2 opportunities for input, even if the project requires NO zoning or technical changes. Current (not Large Scale Development) projects that are less than 1/2 acre (for 2 or more principle structures) OR less than 5 acres (for 1 structure) still need to meet all technical and zoning requirements, but do not need any public or aldermanic oversight before proceeding.

When ICON attends neighborhood development conferences, we hear stories about Illinois city councils that are doing creative things with city planning, public / private partnerships, funding, affordable / energy efficient residential development. By doing this, they are successfully wooing & attracting quality development to their cities – and the residents, workers and businesses who want to be in successful and forward-thinking cities and who support positive growth.

 From the WalMart article linked to above, “One lesson learned from Walmart’s urban debut is that cities that want good design are going to have to demand it.”