Sunday, February 25, 2024

Forward SGF will guide Springfield’s development for the next 2 decades

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Springfield’s comprehensive plan Forward SGF will guide land use, housing, economic development, transportation, parks and more for the city over the next two decades, according to city officials.

The planning process for Forward SGF began in 2019, and the plan was adopted last November.

How the plan will be used

The city’s principal planner Randall Whitman said the plan is required by state statute, but it provides needed guidance when development proposals have to be decided.

“It tells the Planning and Zoning Commission, it tells the city staff, developers, neighborhood residents and, obviously, city council on what the criteria that should be considered when new development — whether it’s redevelopment or brownfields or are on greenfields — what that should look like and how it should play into that overall community vision of creating…quality places in the city,” said Whitman. “So, it’s a tool that’s very much used for that. So, it traditionally will go into — this is what future land use, this is how design should be incorporated in decisions about how property is used, how zoning should be developed to achieve that, where the streets are located, what type of infrastructure needs to go along with that to…be conscious of the impact on the environment, the adjoining properties, the adjoining neighbors, traffic congestion, groundwater — all those things are covered in the plan that give guidance for development.”

The city’s last comprehensive plan Vision 20/20 was created in 1996, and several projects came out of it, including Springfield’s Partnership Industrial Parks. And Whitman said Vision 20/20 kicked off the revitalization of downtown and the city’s trail system.

One project that came out of Vision 20/20 was Jordan Valley Park on E. Trafficway, which many enjoy today – especially in the summer when the park’s fountains are turned on. Jordan Valley Ice Park and Hammons Field also grew out of the development of Jordan Valley Park and the last comprehensive plan.

How the plan was created

The creation of Forward SGF was led by Houseal Lavigne, a city planning organization out of Chicago, which helped create a plan for the growing city of Bentonville in northwest Arkansas. Forward SGF is the result of many hours of work, including community outreach to make sure a variety of Springfield citizens had a say in what the new plan contains.

Dr. Tom Prater led the Forward SGF Citizens Advisory Committee, which he said was comprised of nearly 30 people who represented all of the demographics and areas in the community.

“We used that as our springboard to get community input, and many, many civic engagement opportunities, big meetings, small meetings, online touchpoints for people,” said Prater. “I think, overall, we had close to 10,000, you know, clicks or involvements or meetings with citizens across Springfield, and that was very helpful for city staff and for the consultant to see what we need here.”

Whitman said they held traditional public meetings and had one on one meetings with as many groups as possible. They engaged with adults as well as children, high school students and college students.

COVID-19 slowed down the planning process, but late last year, the plan was approved by Springfield City Council.

What’s in the Forward SGF comprehensive plan

It contains concepts that were deemed important by Springfield citizens like a more complete trail system, more parks and outdoor spaces, corridor improvements and a better sense of place. Prater said many who weighed in supported creating complete neighborhoods, including so-called neighborhood commercial hubs, which will involve updating city code.

“The city building codes are ancient,” Prater said. “Some of them come from the 60s and redone in the 90s. And they say ‘this block has to be residential and this block has to be commercial, and this area has to be industrial.’ Well, that’s fine. That worked then, but look at Cherry Street between Missouri State and Glenstone. Now, you can see some places have retail on the lower floor, maybe apartments on the upper floor. There’s a little nidus at Cherry and Pickwick of shops and restaurants. So, you’re making neighborhoods, and that’s what we want to do.”

There are five core elements of the Forward SGF comprehensive plan: Housing and Neighborhoods; Economic Development; Transportation and Mobility; Infrastructure and Community Facilities; and Parks, Greenways and Natural Resources.

Top 10 key initiatives championed by Forward SGF are Restore SGF – Neighborhood Revitalization; Place-Based Approach, Comprehensive City Code Update, UnGap the Map, Entrepreneurial Stewardship, Corridor Improvements, Neighborhood Community Hubs and Planning, Connecting to Nature, Growth and Annexation Plan and Regional Planning and Partnerships.

Randall Whitman said the plan will be used by city staff and others to guide planning and development.

He said the plan also gives guidance on how the city should invest in its infrastructure such as streets, sidewalks, trails and parks. And he said it gives guidance to City Utilities as it works to bury utilities and plan improvements to the water system. There’s also a master plan for parks that gives guidance on future park improvements.

Why citizens should care what’s in the plan

Whitman said the plan is one that all citizens should care about and become familiar with.

“It gives some certainty to the future of how the city will guide development, redevelopment and allow property to be used,” he said. “But other than that it’s really, ‘how is the city going to evolve in terms of a community.’ You know, what kind of neighborhoods are we going to have? What kind of infrastructure are going to support it in terms of sidewalks, streets, trails, parks, and what kind of quality of place that where somebody would want to live, invest, stay . If they’re graduating from college, how can we attract those students to stay here, and how can we bring new residents in, new visitors, new investors, to, you know, open shop here and continue to contribute to the economy?”

Tom Prater feels it’s important for residents to know what’s in the plan and how it will shape the future of Springfield so the city will be a better place for future generations.

“I would love to be sitting on my rocking chair in my retirement home in 20 more years saying, ‘wow. This is so cool. Isn’t Springfield better now than it was 20 years ago or 40 years ago?’ And I think we’re on the tipping point,” he said. “We’ve got the momentum behind us with a lot of brand new schools. Our infrastructure is better than it was before. Our streets are in good condition. Our budget is good in Springfield. We’ve got three great universities and a great community college that are big draws, so we have all the pieces in place. We just need to move it forward. We need to take this momentum that we’ve got for improving our place that we live in and continue that.”

You can view the City of Springfield’s comprehensive plan, Forward SGF, at forwardsgf.com.

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