RNA special meeting minutes – March 30, 2017

Topic: Cherry Street corridor discussion

Board members present: Laurel Bryant, Sue Ekstam, Mike Brothers, Jim Lohmeyer, Peggy Wise, Nick Harper, John Melton, Jeff Bentley.

Others present: 42 other people were also in attendance.

Call to order: 6:30 p.m., University Heights Baptist Church

The meeting began with Chair Laurel Bryant and board members giving some background about recent happenings on Cherry Street. She discussed properties along the street from west to east. At Cherry and Kickapoo, one individual owns a 1.1-acre parcel consisting of several homes. Moving east, a developer has recent purchased two homes on one 0.47-acre lot. The adjacent 3-4 houses just to the east are individually owned at this time. East of that are two properties owned by Kelly Byrne, where a new development of inward-facing townhouses was proposed. That plan was withdrawn after the Land Clearance for Redevelopment Authority (LCRA) voted to decline a blight designation after opposition from several Rountree residents. The next triplex to the east is held by a private owner. The next three and the “Spanish Mission” building, along with two homes behind the Josh Mitchell gallery, are currently in a due diligence period with Kelly Byrne. He is in the process of purchasing this 1.15 acres consisting of the Spanish Mission and the five homes.

All of this is zoned residential high density (R-HD), which allows up to 40 units per acre. It has been zoned that way since the 1930s and the city doesn’t really want to “dial down” that zoning, said Jeff Bentley, however there are other documents and plans that do mitigate the high density zoning somewhat, including the Urban Conservation District (UCD) and the neighborhood plan. The RNA requested a review of the UCD two years ago in March 2015. The city agreed, but with staffing capacity they were not able to do it at the time, or since. In part because of this inaction, in the fall of 2016, the RNA requested a moratorium on lot aggregation and development on Cherry until such time that the UCD could be updated.

We have several issues on the street including traffic speed and congestion at the Cherry/Pickwick intersection, pedestrian safety, and a lack of adequate parking.

Laurel asked the group: What are our general options on the north side of Cherry?

Continue to press for the requested moratorium? Work with the developer on a planned development? (This will require compromise and end up with some things we may not like there.) Show up at every meeting and oppose everything? Even if we do that, there are no guarantees the voting bodies will listen. Requests for blight designations are one way for us to insert ourselves into the process but it’s not always requested for each project.

Discussion then turned to the Pickwick District proposal, which was recently posted about on one of the Rountree Facebook pages. Byrne is the developer. He came to the RNA board with some preliminary drawings for feedback and the board did give him some, which he did incorporate. And he’s also done a survey online for feedback. He has met with City staff and his next steps would be a neighborhood meeting as required by the city, and then he can take it to LCRA for a blight designation, then to the Planning & Zoning Commission and finally to City Council.

Laurie Knowlton owns two businesses at Pickwick and Cherry, has been in the area 20 years. Have faced parking, traffic, intersection is treacherous. Concerned as a resident and a business owner. Right now people have to park far down Pickwick and Cherry (which blocks off sightlines). Feels the intersection needs to be improved with a stoplight or roundabout. As for the proposed development, it’s totally out of scale and the design doesn’t match the neighborhood architecture. Will only make parking and traffic work. Feels intersection needs to be improved before anything else happens.

Colleen Smith, also a business owner, is concerned about congestion, pedestrians, kids, cyclists on the corner. People come flying around the corner off Cherry onto Pickwick. Kids and families cross at that crosswalk. It’s an issue.

Jeff Bentley asked the group: more pedestrian accommodation or more cars and parking? The two might be mutually exclusive.

Speed limits are not enforced along Cherry. We’ve had discussions with our PAR police officer and the City. John Melton suggested a traffic light.

City has done many traffic calming devices in the past at other locations. One example is the “jog” on northbound Campbell just as traffic enters the downtown core. It was suggested that more parking on Cherry would help pedestrians because it effectively narrows the street and slows down traffic.

Past board member Karen Spence recalled a conversation with former Public Works Director Earl Newman about a crosswalk on Cherry. He “refused” to even consider it because he said a crosswalk gives people a false sense of security and might actually endanger pedestrians crossing Cherry.

It was asked if the city had done a multi-family housing study to determine what the real need is for this? Are we over built in center Springfield? City Councilman Craig Hosmer has requested this information from city staff and it should be available in the near future.

Is the parking sufficient for the incoming apartment being built?

Are there restrictions on the types of businesses and the hours they can operate? This will greatly impact and exacerbate the already tight parking situation.

Josh Mitchell, artist and gallery owner at Pickwick and Cherry, spoke in favor of “giving progress a chance.” Has lived and worked next door the old mission building and the two college rental properties for 16 years and it’s been a “nightmare.” It’s got a very high number of police calls and is frankly ugly. Is it blight? “Darn near.” It can also be improved. He pointed out that the lots are very deep and would have much room for parking lots, etc. Change on the north side of Cherry could be a very good thing.

Former RNA board chair Bob Keyes asked – does it make sense to work with the developer in light of the existing R-HD zoning? Laurel said the RNA board does not want to attempt to negotiate until we are sure that’s what the neighborhood wants. It’s very tough to negotiate with individual developers. Jeff Bentley suggested that a more effective approach is to update the UCD and create a known, level playing field for the developers and business owners and residents alike. It gives us leverage with future developers and puts expectations right up front for all concerned before the process begins.

Collaboration will allow us to work with him now and try to get many of the things we want before the UCD revision is possible.

The developer has said he wants to go after empty nesters, young professionals, professors, etc., and not necessarily student housing.

Brookside in KC was cited as a successful neighborhood. Many people say Rountree is like Brookside. We should protect that. It was pointed out that Brookside is all two-story. Jeff said that should be our goal: to get a pedestrian scale and preserves the character and charm of the neighborhood.

One person supported the moratorium idea to push the whole process forward, collectively. This will put pressure on the city from both the neighborhood AND the developers. Would a petition process of some kind help make this happen?

Would senior housing be workable? RNA board members said this has been suggested to the developer but he said it will not work economically.

One business owner said tenants and pedestrians help his photography business. People walk by and they notice his place. He wants to know about the crime rates before and after East Cherry Flats was erected.

It was said that development shouldn’t be totally opposed but we need keep a shared vision of what we really want there. We need to think in terms of concepts (i.e., pedestrian scale) and think long term – 20, 30 years out.

Could we request a moratorium immediately after Byrne puts his project into the pipeline, and then work with him, but try to stop the rest until the UCD revision?

What is the downside of the moratorium? It will alienate developers.

How should we best proceed? Mike Brothers suggested that we try to craft a few conclusions and some options for paths forward and then do an online survey. In the meantime, he urged those in attendance to continue to think about these issues and send feedback to him and Laurel. Email addresses are: mikebrothers@drury.edu and laurelrlbryant@gmail.com.

About Mike Brothers

Mike is a Pickwick Person; husband to Maureen and dad to Vivian and Dorothy. He has lived in the neighborhood since 2011 and has lived in Springfield for over 20 years. He the PR director for Drury University. He was previously a communications specialist with the City of Springfield and the Springfield-Greene County Health Dept, and before that a features writer and music columnist with the News-Leader.
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