Financially, at least, New Berlin School District 16 stands to gain if the Springfield City Council allows a 50-duplex development on the far west side of the city.
While the proposed duplexes would be within city limits, they would be outside the boundaries of Springfield School District 186. In addition to more tax revenue from enhanced property values if farmland is turned into housing, the New Berlin school district also likely would get more money from the state if enrollment increases as a result of families with kids moving into the new homes. But money isn’t everything, according to Adam Ehrman, New Berlin schools superintendent .
Like many residents in the area, Ehrman says that he’s concerned about the condition of Lenhart Road, a narrow, crowded lane that already forces bus drivers to be extra careful. “If you’ve ever been on that road, there are so many dips and dives – it’s so wobbly, it’s a concern of bus drivers,” Ehrman says. “It tosses the children around, so we try to go slow and do the best we can do. The more pressure we put on that road, the worse the conditions are going to get.”
District buses travel Lenhart Road 11 times each school day, Ehrman says. “I think the road has been bad for four to five years, and it’s been getting worse day by day,” he said. Ehrman says that the district isn’t taking a position on whether the council should allow the duplexes, which would add more than 700 vehicle trips to the road each day, according to forecasts. But the district does want assurances that the road will be fixed to improve safety.
Improvements would cost an estimated $5 million, according to city officials. The city in 2013 rezoned the land and approved development plans. The development was approved four years ago without any solid plans for road improvements. A drawing of how lots would be laid out has expired, and so city council approval is needed before the project can go forward. Some aldermen say that the city has no choice: If the city doesn’t approve the drawings so that construction can proceed, the developer, Corky Joyner, could successfully sue.
Those who argue that the city would invite a successful lawsuit if it doesn’t approve plans point to a lawsuit the city lost more than seven years ago after the city council rejected a final plat plan for warehouses on the city’s west side. The council rejected the plat even though the development proposal from David Maulding met technical requirements to allow construction. A court awarded $1 million to Maulding, who had asked for $40 million. In the end, the city paid no damages because the award was predicated on development taking place, and the warehouses never were built.
Gordon Gates, Joyner’s lawyer, has told the council that the law requires approval because the duplex project meets technical requirements needed for construction to begin.
“There’s not a whole lot of discretion at this stage,” Gates told the council at a Nov. 14 committee-of-the-whole meeting. Ward 7 Ald. Joe McMenamin, the most vocal opponent on the council, argues that the poor condition of Lenhart Road allows the city to legally block the development. A final vote is expected on Dec. 5.
Ehrman said that he met with Mayor Jim Langfelder last week to express his concerns about Lenhart Road.
“The main priority that I have is to make sure that there’s at least some plan to make improvements to Lenhart in the future,” Ehrman said. “That’s the hope.”
Contact Bruce Rushton at email@example.com.