Springfield City Council members have approved the first reading of a hotly-debated zoning ordinance that establishes a residential/office district on Oak Street.
Council members voted 5-1 in favor of the change, which allows professional offices in the residential district.
“We want to give homeowners a chance to sell their homes to professional offices,” said council member Charles Hinely.
A first reading of a zoning map approved at last Tuesday’s council meeting included rezoning 13 homes on Oak Street from Early to Madison streets. Residents were split on the issue.
“I was expecting a little opposition, but never what it turned out to be,” said Joe Kight, who lives on Oak Street. “My thought is a professional, respectable office is going to be far less of an evil than what has happened and what is going to happen.”
Kight pointed to a house that is in disrepair and has been so for quite some time, and to a house that has had a series of tenants. That house also has had up to six cars parked there at any one time, he said.
“A professional office could be a lot less vehicles than that residence is,” he said. “The fact of life is our property values have been going down because it’s not the Norman Rockwell village we thought it was.”
An opponent of the rezoning measure, Bibiana Krall, questioned why the entire neighborhood had to be rezoned.
“Why does the whole neighborhood have to go under this umbrella?” she said. “I’ve come to the conclusion that having an attorney’s office is probably not the worst thing to happen. But I feel getting rid of the residential feel is the wrong way. There is a huge potential for change. But once that change is in motion, sometimes it’s hard to stop.”
Residents initially brought the request to council members several months ago, and City Manager Brett Bennett said the rezoning doesn’t mean the city or property owners will be eliminating homes.
“Nothing in the ordinance promotes that,” he said. “Nothing in the ordinance allows that. A lot of the questions are answered in the ordinance itself.”
Bennett also said the proposed ordinance stipulates how a proposed professional office should look.
“It gets into the pitch of the roof and it has to have a color scheme that matches the buildings around it,” he said. “It has to have a front door that faces the street.”
Bennett said the city wanted to establish a defined set of rules and abide by them, rather than granting a series of variances. He also noted that zoning ordinances aren’t perfect but they can be amended.
“You try to address the concerns and get the best product out there,” he said.