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Wednesday, July 3, 2013 12:08 pm

Qestions about Jefferson Crossing

How to keep the park in Veterans Parkway

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The sign is all that is left of the old Jefferson Mall now that the site has been cleared in preparation for new construction.
PHOTO BY DAVID HINE

The slogan of the Qik-n-EZ gas station chain is, “The two things you cherish most in your life, make it QIK and make it EZ!” The company’s owners have found that redeveloping the old Jefferson Mall property is neither qik nor easy. That property is part of a 44-acre parcel on Winch Lane just off Veterans Parkway where Jefferson Street drops down to Spring Creek which, after extensive filling, will be the home of a new retail strip featuring a Qik-n-EZ gas-and-gulp and a McDonald’s, which I guess we could call a gulp-and-gas.

You readers with smart-ass city relatives who keep asking why you live in Springfield now have an answer.

There are serious qestions about the financing of the project and about its economic rationale. For example, building on land that nature did not mean to host a strip mall (more proof that Mother Nature is a liberal) will reqire subsidy in the form of what is believed to be the largest single TIF award in Springfield’s history. But since city hall has shown no interest in considering serious qestions, why should we ask them? I for one will focus instead on a qestion city hall considers trivial – aesthetics.

Mayor Houston said that building a Qik-n-EZ will improve the appearance of the area, because, I assume, it would bury the moldering remains of the Jefferson Mall. The president and CEO of Qik-n-EZ naturally agrees. She told the SJ-R. “I feel very confident that when it is done, this corner will be one of the most aesthetically pleasing corners for community development in Springfield.”

It will pain her to hear it, but there are people in Springfield who are convinced that no corner with a Qik-n-Ez on it can be aesthetically pleasing. This matters because Jefferson Street is a gateway to the capital city from the west. Mr. Houston’s predecessor, the late Mr. Davlin, made sprucing up the civic front doors a priority of sorts. The remedies proposed were cosmetic and in any event doomed to fail because the underlying development mechanisms that create the blight in the first place were left intact by aldermen who don’t realize that the most noxious weeds in Springfield have doors and windows. Nonetheless, enhancing the aesthetics of the gateways is official city policy. That would be best done by remediating the old mall site, not by building something bigger atop it.

Gateway, schmateway – the real issue is Veterans Parkway. As its name implies, a parkway offers travelers a way through a simulated park created by landscaped medians and deep and dense roadside plantings – the visual version of the noise berm. The concept dates to the mid-1800s, and its purpose was to transform roads into pleasure driveways by shielding from view the wreck that unregulated commerce had made of American cities.

There is plenty of way on Veterans Parkway but very little park. Its narrow median is landscaped with mown weeds, and already views from the road are compromised by the sort of second-class commercial operations one usually finds banished to the inconvenient fringes of a city. A future as the next Dirksen Parkway looms.

Nonetheless, Veterans was built through land that remains mostly rural, and where it crosses Jefferson it abuts a wooded creek bottom. A serious and ongoing program of planting will enable it to realize its potential as a genuine parkway, but the city council must at least not degrade what is already there. While there are dozens of appropriate sites for a gas-and-gulp in Springfield there is only one Sugar Creek bottom.

The new Qik-n-EZ will sit well west of Veterans, facing Winch, but the back side of the strip (and its lights) will be highly visible to motorists because of its position on the shoulder of the creek valley. City planning and design coordinator Paul O’Shea told the SJ-R that the parkway side of the development qalifies as street frontage under city rules and therefore it must meet minimum landscaping reqirements for such developments. This is like blessing a marriage of her daughter to a man who promised only to pay his share of the bills and not beat her, and thus met the minimum reqirements of a spouse.

The shopping strip should be invisible from Veterans, as in “can’t see the center for the trees.” So for that matter should all the buildings along Veterans, such as the nearby prefab discount carpet outlet on the too aptly named Plainview Drive. To the inevitable objections that providing this public amenity at this site will cost this company too much money, I reply that if building a screen to protect parkway views costs too much money, then maybe this isn’t a good site for a gas-and-gulp.

Contact James Krohe Jr. at krojr@comcast.net.

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