Located at the western gateway of Historic Commercial Street, developers look to build and replace a vacant building.
Unanimously approved by Planning & Zoning, the development planned at 425 W. Commercial St now goes to city council for approval of a Conditional Use Permit, which allows the development to exceed 10,000 square feet of total building area. If approved by council, the new project, which would include both retail and residential housing, would be 37,533 square feet.
Developer Tyler Hellweg said at P&Z that approving the permit “not only makes the property developable from a financial investment perspective but it would be in keeping with the historic character and evolution and future evolution of the district.”
“The building that’s there now has been vacated for quite a long time and the buildings that are there are not in compliance with many of the district’s design guidelines nor are they in compliance with the zoning ordinances requirements…” Hellweg said. “Our new building is in compliance with the design guidelines, and that is in compliance with the zoning ordinances, sort of as a way to restore the corridor and restore the streetscape.”
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Last month, the city’s Landmarks Board approved the proposed demolition of the existing building and the architectural design of the new building.
Letters from Midtown Neighborhood Association and Commericial Club of Springfield both ask city council to deny the permit so neighbors can negotiate with developers over certain aspects of the project.
“We feel that 425W. Commercial could better reference the existing historical architecture in the district through small changes in the facade of the structure, including color, pattern, and materials,” said the Midtown Neighborhood Association in their letter.
“While Arkifex architects reassured members of the Commercial Club that they would be happy to work with a small group of interested neighbors in order to address these concerns, they have stated that they plan to pursue Planning and Zoning and City Council approval prior to seeking input from neighborhood stakeholders. This would mean that the Commercial Club would have no recourse once approval has been passed. We ask the Commission and Council to require design input from neighbors as promised at the Landmarks Board before considering their request for demolition and construction.”
The proposed modernist architecture led to some of the resident opposition at the Planning & Zoning Commission meeting.
Architecture firm Arkifex Studios is known for its modernist design and “seeks to define a specific present-day aesthetic and methodology that is derived from the urban/rural sense of self and place unique to the modern Ozarks,” according to the company’s website.
Commercial Street business owner Christine Schilling argued that design is “incompatible with the character” of the historic neighborhood.
“This intersection is our gateway to the historic commercial street district. Unfortunately, the structures that they have proposed … is not lively, colorful and vibrant. While you represented it as several different structures, it really reads more like one long continuous structure that is long and gray and pristine,” she said at the P&Z meeting.
“It does not read like the buildings across the street that have variety in height and color. They have appeal, they are welcoming, whereas what Arkifex has proposed is is not that at all.”
Another C-Street business owner disagreed — claiming new Commercial Street buildings should not ape the historic style of the other buildings.
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“The more you try to mimic historic proportions on a modern building, the more you create something that is no longer real. Meaning the district would actually be degraded if a modern structure pretended to be a historic structure. By creating something that’s different that will actually enhance the quality of our historic buildings,” said business owner William Angle.
Development of the property would also disincentivized loitering on the street, he argued.
“I’ve noticed an uptick in dangerous situations on the street. In the last year we’ve had a break in attempt, violent fights across the street, homeless and drug addicts sleeping on the stoop, graffiti, general loitering and antisocial behavior. I believe this uptick in undesired behavior is partly the result of these buildings sitting unoccupied,” Angle said.
“The best chance we have of making the side of the street and the surrounding neighborhood safe again is to allow this site to be redeveloped. The longer we put this off, the harder it will be for all of us on the street.”
Conversely, another resident said the low-income housing units included in developer’s plan would make that apparent problem worse.
“I don’t think low-income housing or housing is right for that street. I want to see more businesses come in. And that’s what brings in people to see how beautiful it is. And I talked to people that said, you know, we had something like that at one time. And they tore it down. We tried to modernize and it ruined it. It just went out of business,” said C-Street shopper Debra McDaris.
Big Momma’s coffeeshop owner Lyle Foster said the new development “represents sensitivity and respect for the architectural character and significance of the historic district.” Wary of setting a precedent, he also urged the Commission to not place any more restrictions on the developers.
“It is useful and it is welcomed to get input and comments from our neighbors and members of the district. But I believe there are processes in place and I would be cautious in adding another layer that may lead to unintended consequences,” he said.
The commission unanimously approved the permit, which now must be passed by city council at their September 19 meeting.
“I do think the project meets all the guidelines. I think it checks all its boxes to get a conditional use permit,” said Commissioner Bruce Colony before the vote.
However, Colony warned the developers and those opposed to the project to “speak with each other, to work collaboratively rather than oppose the development.”
Andrew Sullender is the local government reporter for the Springfield News-Leader. Follow him on Twitter @andrewsullender. Email tips and story ideas to email@example.com.