COLUMBIA — The Shepard Boulevard Neighborhood Association voted 58-32 Tuesday night to sign onto a mediation agreement regarding the Crosscreek development project. The vote came just one night after the City Council voted to approve a resubmitted rezoning request for the same development.
Wielding a gavel before more than 40 attendees, neighborhood association chairman Jim Muench explained the context and rules for the evening. Association members had the chance to speak and vote on the agreement that was already signed by a developer and the Timberhill Road Neighborhood Association on June 17.
The mediation was meant to establish guidelines for a unified architectural theme, something many residents desired to keep the area from becoming like Business Loop 70. Because of reservations about the “many loopholes and exemptions in the agreement,” Muench said, the Shepard Boulevard representatives in the mediation process did not sign on at that time, instead deciding to put the agreement before the association last night.
At the meeting, John States, a partner of the developer who participated in the mediation presented landscaping and development plans.
“Things didn’t go well from the beginning,” States said. “We all agreed to draw a line several months back and start this project fresh.”
After the City Council’s March 3 rejection of the Crosscreek rezoning proposal, the developer, Stadium 63 Properties, entered into a confidential mediation on May 22 with the two neighborhood associations. Concerns over a proposed car lot in the new development along with the fear of a hodge-podge of franchises prompted the mediation between Stadium 63 and representatives from the associations.
As attendees rose to speak, a discussion that had previously been dominated by concerns over a Toyota dealership took on a more grateful, it-could-be-worse tone.
Edie Selby, a neighborhood association member, said she was mostly satisfied with the development plan.
“I’m not sure we have the right to tell them how their structures look on the outside,” she said. “It’s gotta look better than the Hollywood Theater.”
She also pointed out that the businesses could create jobs in tough economic times, and that in opposing the development, the association was “really on the wrong side.”
Chad Moller, a nearby resident of the proposed center, did not stand to speak during the meeting, but afterwards explained that he has “an interest in what takes place” on the site and that he’d like to have a part in it.
“I feel like I’m in the minority in that I was in favor of the development from the start,” he said. “Not knowing the intricacies of zoning or anything, I’m just in favor of business developments.”
Leslie Ethington, who did stand up to speak during the meeting, said that she was “furious” at first when she saw what the developers “had done to the natural beauty out there. It looked like the rape of a land,” she said.
But she has since gotten used to the idea of the development, and realizes the proposed buildings could be worse, citing the Columbia Public Library as a case in point.
“We’ve had some very ugly things put in our city, without knowing what was coming,” she said. “Perhaps we’re pioneering in this area of planning and zoning — that we’re a part of this. I appreciate all of the hours that have gone into this mediation.”
Muench also spoke before the City Council on Monday night as members considered allowing the developer’s rezoning request to be resubmitted. If a rezoning request is defeated, city ordinance requires one year before the request can be resubmitted unless it is substantially different.
Council unanimously approved the request, agreeing with the recommendation of the Planning and Development staff. The council said it had met the objective it established in March: solicitation of public opinion on the project.
But Muench conveyed his reservations to the council about loopholes in the agreement and his worry that franchises could have free-reign and that the development could lower property values in the neighborhood.
“We need to see more than just rectangles drawn on a map,” he said at Monday’s council meeting. “We need to see what they have in mind.”
Despite Muench’s reservations, Shepard Boulevard voted 58-32 to sign the agreement.
The Planning and Zoning Commission will again consider the Crosscreek project — along with the Shepard Boulevard vote — at its next meeting Thursday.