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

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) – Those who oppose the construction of an apartment complex directly across from Sequiota Park won a significant victory this week when an appeals court ruled that the issue should be a vote of the people.

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

“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. In a four-year fight, they spent more than $50,000 in legal fees to stop the construction of a 100-unit apartment complex with office and commercial developments on the west side of Lone Pine Avenue , near Sequiota Park.

The proposed project has had many chapters on its way to becoming a reality, with more to come. But it all started when the city declared parts of the Galloway area “degraded”, which offers tax incentives for those who want to develop the properties.

Elevation Enterprises, owned by Mitch Jenkins, has acquired an area directly across from historic Sequiota Park and has announced plans to build a mixed-use development, much like the rundown areas of Lone Pine Avenue that had been turned into housing, restaurants and shopping area.

“We don’t hate what they did there,” Huscher said of the completed development. “We just don’t want it to be in front of the park.”

“The simple fact is that we’re here to preserve this area for all of Springfield,” Boles said. “It’s not a bunch of neighbors who don’t want it in their yard. We already have it in our garden. But it’s the wrong development in the wrong place. Sequiota is where people want to come to get away from the city and not be right in the middle. Building something like this across the street will take away the nice vibe of this neighborhood.

The neighborhood association has expressed concerns about increased traffic, storm water pollution and the removal of trees (on the development property) that would ruin the charm and ecosystem of the historic park, which is already suffering from accumulation of algae in its water bodies.

After the city council approved the rezoning of the property, the opposition group then collected more than 2,000 signatures needed to call for a special election. But when the developer took the matter to court, potential inconsistencies were discovered in the city’s charter, and in 2021 Greene County Circuit Judge David Jones issued a ruling that stopped the election plans to decide the zoning case.

Jones ruled that a zoning referendum petition process found in the Springfield city charter conflicts with state law by accepting an argument made by Springfield city attorney Rhonda Lewsader. during the trial.

But the appeals court disagreed, citing a 1994 precedent in which 75% of Springfield voters rejected a city council proposal that would have prevented zoning issues from being put on the ballot.

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

Those words of the appeals court (regarding the city’s concerns about violation of state law) were: “If that were the principled and sincere legal position of the city, rather than an attempt dishonest and deceitful to ask the courts for an end to the referendum requirements of their own charter, he should not have passed the ordinance or, after later determining that such an election violates state law, immediately repealed it.

And while more legal wrangling is possible, the court ruling says, “The city respondents are obligated to take all necessary steps to bring the ordinance to the voters for a vote.”

“You have to go to people to see if they want to protect this park or not,” Huscher said.

Opponents of the complex believe they have a good chance of winning at the polls.

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

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

“It’s not just about Galloway,” Boles pointed out. “It’s pretty much Springfield because if they can do it with us, they can do it wherever they want.”

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

We also left a phone message for the developer’s attorney and weren’t called back.

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