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Some residents around Westport Elementary School in west Springfield are opposed to a 46-unit low-income development that would wipe out a forested area in their neighborhood. KSMU’s Rebekah Clark reports on both the developer’s reasons for building, and the residents’ scrutiny of the plan.
The plan would likely involve removing an urban forest in neighborhood—and that has homeowners upset.
Beverly Wilson, a 30 year resident of the area, says she and her neighbors are not happy about the proposal.
“That area, has forever I supposed, been zoned single-family dwelling. And when we all bought our homes here, we assumed that eventually they would put single-family homes over there.”
The area she’s talking about is between Chestnut Expressway and Westport Park on Hilton Street.
“We see no point in building this unit out there. Plus, this area that’s on Hilton that we are talking about is a wooded area.”
Wilson thinks that keeping that land to use as a park or nature reserve would serve in the best interest of the community. But what exactly is an “urban forest” and what makes this area qualify as one? George Freeman, editor for GREENE magazine, clarifies.
“Well, in the broadest sense, the urban forest is every tree and shrub that we have in the city. You can divide it into two parts, one would be private land and one would be public land. But every tree has value, both in terms of what it does to property and what it does to the environment.”
Freeman went on to say that although he is not directly involved with this development, he understands both sides. He says he thinks that the developers should at least realize the environmental importance of saving the trees on that land.
“Often you hear developers say that it’s cheaper to start from scratch than it is to try and save trees because you lose some of them in the process, if you damage the root system for example. But after just taking a master gardening program, I heard time and time again that it is possible to save the trees.”
The developers of the housing units are Joe and Marie Carmichael. They want to build a large building with several units inside. The couple is proposing to rezone this area in order to fit all of the units into the plans. Marie says she thinks that this project will improve the quality and value of the existing housing in the area.
“You know, you have had some opposition from folks in the neighborhood. I think there are some misconceptions about what the development will look like. I think it will be a wonderful addition to the neighborhood.”
Carmichael says that the new units will improve the value of the neighborhood and reduce crime. As to the environmental impact, Carmichael says the new plans include the planting of many new trees and shrubs.
“All along the street that borders the neighborhood, we are just going to load that with trees and shrubs, so that the neighbors will look across the street and see that, the trees and shrubs will sort of be somewhat of a barrier.”
City Council will vote on the rezoning proposal of this area on Monday. Six of the nine council members must vote in favor of the plan for it to pass.
For KSMU News, I’m Rebekah Clark.