COLUMBIA — The City Council unanimously approved the rezoning of more than 11 acres of property just north of Woodridge Park from residential to planned office.
The council amended the rezoning bill to allow the Woodridge Neighborhood Association and the Silver Oak Senior Living Center developer SOCH LC more time to negotiate a greenspace easement, which will require council approval. First Ward Councilman Paul Sturtz did not attend Monday's meeting.
The document in question is intended to protect 2.7 acres of climax forest on the property from being developed in the future. Climax forests are stands of trees that have reached maturity.
Before Monday night’s hearing, SOCH LC revised the easement at the city’s request to make the developer solely responsible for maintaining the property. In addition, the developer also gave a city arborist, rather than the Parks and Recreation Department, the task of assessing the health of plant life within the easement.
The revised easement also mentions a walkway and bicycle path that is not included in the development plan. The plan would have to be revised to include that path, said Columbia Planning and Development Director Tim Teddy in a report to the council.
Still, the matter caused concern for the council and for residents.
“That’s a whole new ball game, and that has not been discussed with the neighborhood association,” said Scott Wright, who lives near the proposed rezoning.
Fourth Ward Councilman Jerry Wade said it was important for the city to make sure the easement was enforced.
“If we do a greenspace conservation easement to protect something from the developer, we also need to protect citizens from the city,” Wade said.
Terry Baumeister, the project’s architect and planner, said he would go along with whatever the city and neighborhood association wanted in terms of the conservation easement.
“We want to preserve these trees,” he said. “Whatever vehicle it takes to get those three things finalized is fine with us.”
However, council members couldn’t agree on whether the area covered by the conservation easement should be open to the public.
“We should not open this up to people to bring their family and their children to have a picnic in the middle of this easement,” Fifth Ward Councilwoman Laura Nauser said.
But some people might want to enjoy the area that’s being preserved, said Third Ward Councilman Karl Skala.
“People might want to walk into the woods and walk back out of the woods just for the experience,” he said.
The developer plans to construct the Silver Oak Senior Living Center, a 275,300-square-foot complex with two residential care buildings; a separate kitchen facility; and two office buildings.
As a result of the discussions between the developer and the residents, the ordinance stipulates that a city arborist and a neighborhood representative be present while the trees are harvested and that 35 red cedar trees be planted to screen nearby homes from the area.
Even with these provisions, the developer and the neighborhood association are still discussing whether the living center will be built on this site at all. For Allen Hahn, the Woodridge Neighborhood Association president, it would be ideal if SOCH LC could find another site to meet its needs and the forest could remain the way it is. In that case, he said the residents would have to find a way to pay for the property.
“I must say that these people have negotiated in good faith,” he said. “But I am reluctant to say that this is going to be wonderful because I think that the climax forest is better than that.”