City Council discusses land preservation after encountering problems

Monday, June 9, 2008 | 4:46 p.m. CDT; updated 7:23 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

COLUMBIA — Following concerns over land use in Columbia, including the proposed Crosscreek Center near Stadium Boulevard and U.S. 63, the City Council discussed land development and preservation on Friday at the council retreat.

Earlier this month, the Boone County Environment and Energy Commission submitted a report on the subject to the council. It highlighted many areas that need work, including green infrastructure and a framework to change city ordinances.

What's In the Report

The report “Land Disturbance and Land Preservation,” submitted to the City Council by the Columbia and Boone County Environment and Energy Commission, summarizes problems and solutions about land disturbance and preservation. The following is a summary of the information in the report. Actions recommended by the report: -The report should be expanded upon by a collective of city and county stakeholders. -The council should address immediate issues, including the fact that the Greenbelt plan has no standing authority. -A Green Infrastructure plan should be developed based on community input. This plan would include a framework for ordinances that “both preserve and enhance” the lives of Columbia and Boone County residents. -The city of Columbia and Boone County should work together to implement policies that “mirror and complement” each other. -The council is encouraged include the following in its plan: education, engineering, encouragement, evaluation and enforcement. Issues, problems and questions brought up by the report: -The term “detailed development plan” has two meanings in different places in the city ordinances. -What can be done to include site development plans as part of the land disturbance permit process? -What is done to maintain the 25 percent of climax forest that is set aside for tree preservation? Is it actually permanently preserved? -There is no citizen commission with the responsibility of reviewing of land disturbance permits. -City staff do not have the tools to determine the preservation status of property or sub area of a property before, during or after development.

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Land disturbance is when the topography of the land or trees or vegetation are changed, said Dan Goldstein, the author of the report.

“The goal of land preservation is to preserve land that helps provide natural amenities to the citizens of Columbia,” he said in an e-mail. Land that is preserved often has features such as old growth forest or special topography. Land preservation also includes setting aside agricultural land in an area of development or land for trails, parks and nature areas.

“These areas are important for maintaining the character of the land, for allowing birds and animals and trees to flourish and also to provide access to nature in a way that makes neighborhoods desirable places to live,” he said in the e-mail.

At the retreat, the council agreed that ordinances need to be changed, but they did not come to any conclusions.

Fourth Ward Councilman Jerry Wade said he hopes to move further with this and other related issues before this fall.

Wade said land development has been a big issue in Columbia and the council hopes to address several issues about land development in the future.

“A lot of people have been very concerned,” he said.

Sixth Ward Councilwoman Barbara Hoppe said one of the main problems that led to the report was the Crosscreek development.

“It had huge, beautiful trees,” Hoppe said. “The land was rolling and hilly.”

It was also a sensitive ecological site, which was largely cleared and flattened without public knowledge, she said.

It was after the developers flattened the land that they asked the council for permission to develop it.

Wade said one of the questions the council wanted to ask was how extensively land can be developed before developers have decided what to do with it.

One of the problems, according to Goldstein, is that citizens and developers oftentimes do not work together.

He cited the Silver Oak Senior Living plan in east Columbia as a good example of a developer working with citizens.

“Why isn’t this the default?” Goldstein said. “Not all development is bad.”

Green infrastructure, a main focus of the report, refers to the idea that things such as parks, greenbelts and trails are as necessary to new development as things such as roads and sewers, which are called gray infrastructure.

According to a report from the Conservation Fund, green infrastructure is defined as “an interconnected network of green space that conserves natural ecosystem values and functions and provides associated benefits to human populations.”

“It’s what people want,” Goldstein said. For example, he said the Columbia community would not be the same without the MKT Trail.

He also said most of the issues in the report, including a plan for more green infrastructure, have already been raised in plans such as the 1935 Metro Greenbelt/Trail Plan, a set of paths and greenbelts through Columbia that have not been created, and the Metro 2020 plan, a guide for land-use decisions. The problem is that the plans were underfunded and there were no ordinances to enforce the plans.

Hoppe said there is currently no funding for the Greenbelt plan.

While these plans address green infrastructure, they do not include a framework for the plans to become ordinances, which leaves them ineffective.

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