Appeals court rules voters should decide the fate of proposed apartment complex across from Sequiota Park

Published: Jun. 10, 2022 at 6:55 PM CDT|Updated: Jun. 11, 2022 at 8:58 AM CDT
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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) - Those opposed to building an apartment complex right across the street from Sequiota Park won a significant victory this week when an appeals court ruled the issue should be a vote of the people.

“I literally cried when I got the news,” said Wendy Huscher.

“That old song, ‘I Fight Authority and Authority Always Wins’? Well, we finally won,” added Ron Boles.

Huscher and Boles are members of the Galloway Village Neighborhood Association. During a four-year fight, they have spent over $50,000 in legal fees to keep a 100-unit apartment complex with offices and retail developments from being built on the west side of Lone Pine Avenue near Sequiota Park.

The proposed project has had many chapters in its path toward becoming a reality, with more to come. But it all started when the city declared parts of the Galloway area “blighted,” which provides tax incentives for those wishing to develop the properties.

Elevation Enterprises, owned by Mitch Jenkins, acquired an area just across the street from historic Sequiota Park and made his intentions known to construct a multi-use development, not unlike blighted areas down Lone Pine Avenue that had been turned into housing, restaurants, and business areas.

“We don’t hate what they’ve done down there,” Huscher said of the completed development. “We just don’t want it across the street from the park.”

“The simple fact is we’re here to preserve this area for all of Springfield,” Boles said. “This is not a bunch of neighbors who don’t want it in their backyard. We already have it in our backyard. But this is the wrong development in the wrong place. Sequiota is where people want to come to get away from the city and not be smack in the middle of it. To build something like that across the street will take away the beautiful ambiance of this area.”

The neighborhood association has expressed concerns about increased traffic, storm water pollution, and tree removal (on the development property) that would ruin the historic park’s charm and ecosystem, which is already suffering from algae build-up in its water features.

After the city council approved the re-zoning of the property, the opposing group then gathered more than 2,000 signatures needed to call for a special election. But when the developer took that issue to court, possible inconsistencies were discovered in the City Charter, and in 2021 Greene County Circuit Judge David Jones made a ruling that stopped the plans for an election to decide the zoning case.

Jones ruled that a zoning referendum petition process found in the Springfield City Charter conflicted with state law in agreeing with an argument made by Springfield City Attorney Rhonda Lewsader during the trial.

But the appellate court disagreed, citing precedence from 1994 in which 75 percent of Springfield voters turned down a proposal from the City Council that would have prevented zoning issues from being placed on the ballot.

“They (Southern District Court of Appeals) voted unanimously in our favor with lots of colorful harsh words used against the city,” Huscher said.

Those words from the appeals court (about the city’s concerns over violating state law) were, “If that was the city’s principled and sincerely-held legal position, rather than a disingenuous and duplicitous attempt to seek from the courts an end-run around the referendum requirements of their own charter, it should not have adopted the ordinance, or upon its later determination that such an election violates state law, immediately repealed it.”

And although more legal wrangling is possible, the court ruling says, “The city Respondents are ordered to take all necessary steps to place the ordinance before the electors for a vote .”

“It needs to go to the people to see if they want to protect this park or not,” Huscher said.

Those opposed to the complex feel they have a good chance of winning at the polls.

“It seems to touch a nerve to everybody unless they’re making money off the situation,” Huscher said. “The only people I’ve talked to who are for it are bankers, architects, and developers.”

The neighborhood association also sees the victory as an important precedent for other neighborhoods fighting zoning issues.

“This isn’t just about Galloway,” Boles pointed out. “This is about all of Springfield because if they can do it with us, they can do it anywhere they want to.”

Contacted to respond to the ruling, Springfield city officials said they had no comment because of the possible ongoing litigation.

We also left a phone message for the developer’s attorney and did not get a callback.

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