Judge rules for BK&M; covenants that are unenforceable in University Heights

The conflict over a proposed development at the northwest corner of National Avenue and Sunshine Street is one step closer to resolution.

Greene County Circuit Judge Derek Ankrom ruled in favor of Be Kind & Merciful, LLC (BK&M) on June 14, a year and a half after a group of University Heights residents sued the development group in an attempt to block the building’s proposed repurposing and redevelopment to stop. the lots at National and Sunshine.

The neighbors’ lawsuit was based on nearly century-old restrictive covenants that, among other restrictions, prohibited all but private homes made of brick, stone or stucco on lots in Springfield’s University Heights neighborhood. Ankrom ruled against three of the four restrictions at issue, only allowing a covenant regarding garagettes – an “apartment converted from a garage or adjacent to or above a garage” – to be enforced.

In its ruling, Ankrom determined that the deed restrictions were waived due to the “widespread and continuing failure to enforce such covenants,” citing violations by the plaintiffs themselves.

BK&M presented plans to build a dining hall, pickleball courts and an indoor playground at the corner of National and Sunshine during a meeting of the Springfield Planning and Zoning Commission on December 14, 2023. (Photo provided by Ralph Duda)

“This lawsuit is not about what is best for the University Heights neighborhood; it’s not about whether the homes in University Heights remain beautiful and full of history; and the issue is not whether a development proposed by BK&M is a prudent use of the land it purchased,” Ankrom wrote in his ruling, citing arguments made by plaintiffs during a Jan. 18 trial.

“These issues are all understandably important to the parties, but it is not the Court’s job to decide them,” Ankrom wrote. “Rather, this lawsuit focuses solely on (a) whether Plaintiffs are legally entitled to enforce certain deed-based restrictive covenants against BK&M, and (b) whether BK&M is currently legally bound by such restrictive covenants such that it is prohibited to erect one or more structures that would otherwise violate these restrictive covenants.”

After the Springfield Planning and Zoning Commission denied the developer’s rezoning request for the second time, BK&M filed an application for a planned development: a food hall with pickleball courts, an indoor playground and an underground parking garage.

The trial was suspended as BK&M awaited the court’s ruling.

Find previous Springfield Daily Citizen coverage of the lawsuit and rezoning case here.

Judge Derek Ankrom asks plaintiff Courtney Fletcher a question on Wednesday, December 27, 2023, in Greene County Circuit Court. (Photo by Jym Wilson)

Jack McGee

Jack McGee is a government affairs reporter at the Springfield Daily Citizen. He previously reported on politics and business for the Daily Citizen. He graduated from MSU with a Bachelor of Science degree in journalism and a minor in political science. Reach him at [email protected] or (417) 837-3663. More from Jack McGee