City reviews request for 270-acre development east of Columbia

Wednesday, November 26, 2008 | 4:49 p.m. CST; updated 9:50 a.m. CST, Wednesday, November 18, 2009

COLUMBIA — A Columbia developer hopes its request for zoning and annexation of 270 acres east of Columbia will translate into good planning and creative ways to pay for infrastructure.

The Columbia Planning and Development Department is reviewing a request from Richland Road Properties LLC and East Richland Road Properties LLC to rezone and annex land east of Columbia on Richland Road near Grace Lane. The companies are requesting zoning adequate to provide for up to 1,300 residences and 755,000 square feet of total commercial space.

The request asks for planned commercial zoning in most of the northern portion of the property and planned unit development zoning in most of the southern portion. The request also asks that the commercial zoning be for all uses allowed under general business district zoning.

Planned zoning would require that the Columbia City Council sign off on the specifics of any development plans.

The tract now has Boone County residential and agricultural zoning. The rezoning request by David Atkins and his partners already has sparked a second request from Bette Weiss to annex and rezone for planned commercial use on another 22 acres on Richland Road immediately to the west. That request came after a Nov. 10 public meeting held to discuss the proposed 270-acre development.

An opportunity for long-term planning

Robert Hollis, a Columbia attorney representing Atkins' companies on the 270-acre request, said the proposal is a proactive planning effort to acquire zoning before sufficient infrastructure is in place so they can attract businesses. Hollis said potential businesses look for large tracts with appropriate zoning already in place; if they don't find them, they move on to other areas.

"We have the rare opportunity to engage in large-scale, long-term planning," Hollis said.

Many times the city annexes and zones small parcels in piecemeal fashion, Hollis said. But later, as the area develops, the differing zoning of the smaller tracts isn't always configured in a way the city would have preferred.

If these portions were zoned and annexed as a larger portion, he said, then it would allow the city more input on the layout of the development.

Atkins said he would like to see the community work harder to attract good development to east Columbia.

"We all collectively — the city, property owners, neighbors, the public — need to get really serious about preparing some good master planning for those good users," he said.

Third Ward Councilman Karl Skala met with Hollis and a representative of the project's engineering firm in early November to discuss the proposal. Skala said he appreciates the developers bringing their plan to the city early, even though it could be years before the project breaks ground.

Having a working plan for a development this far in advance allows for tailoring infrastructure improvements to benefit both the city and the developer, Skala said.

The property already has city sewer access but will need significant infrastructure to accommodate the density of residential and business space requested.

In particular, Skala said, the developer should be responsible for a sufficient monetary "contribution to off-site road improvements that directly benefit the upzoned property."

Skala reasoned that if the city grants the zoning request, which in effect increases the value of the land, then the developer should be expected to shoulder a portion of the infrastructure costs.

Atkins said he understands that any developer in Columbia needs to share in  infrastructure costs.

"We'll have to do our part with off-site improvements," Atkins said.

Atkins said he doesn't have any particular instruments for helping shoulder the cost of improvements. But, he said, developers would be open to using transportation development districts, community improvement districts or tax increment financing districts. The first two can charge extra sales taxes to help pay for infrastructure; the latter allows developers to put some of the increased property taxes they would pay toward infrastructure.

Skala, however, said the extra lead time should allow the developers and the city to find some other mechanism for sharing the cost of road work.

"I don't think we need to go that route," Skala said.

Atkins has already been involved in establishing special sales tax districts in Columbia. In December 2005, another company in which Atkins is a partner petitioned for the establishment of the Blue Ridge Town Center TDD at Blue Ridge Road and Range Line Street, where a major commercial development is in the works.

A Missouri search yielded no petitions filed by East Richland Road Properties LLC or Richland Road Properties LLC to establish a transportation development district for the Richland Road property.

Stadium Boulevard extension

The applicants attached a draft development agreement to the zoning request that allows for the proposed extension of Stadium Boulevard to run through the western portion of the property.

But city and state planners haven't settled on a final alignment for the Stadium extension, which also would be a "restricted-access" road that encourages smoother traffic flow by prohibiting multiple access points within short stretches, such as those shown in the rezoning proposal.

There also is no money budgeted for the extension, which would cost an estimated $132 million.

The Richland Road proposal calls for up to 1,359 dwellings on three tracts totaling nearly 170 acres and a total of 755,000 square feet of building floor space on the two commercial tracts, which total 100 acres. The request outlines 675,000 gross square feet of building floor area for the larger, western commercial tract and an additional 80,000 for the eastern tract.

The city's Metro 2020 plan recommends guidelines for large developments such as neighborhood marketplaces, which include grocery stores with additional smaller shops in the area.

Skala said he doesn't worry as much about the extent of the possible commercial development as he does about the high density of residential development proposed. The latter, he said, could be too much for Columbia, which already has a "high number of redundant commercial and multi-family rental developments citywide."

Commercial zoning is in place at two corners at Grace Lane and Richland Road. The intersection would become a four-way interchange if Rolling Hills Road were extended to join Grace Lane, in accordance with the city's Major Roadway Plan.

City planner Steve MacIntyre said commercial zoning usually is appropriate at arterial intersections.

Hollis said the development agreement submitted to the city calls for the companies to donate right-of-way along Rolling Hills Road. In exchange, the city would agree to certain access points that are yet to be decided.

City department heads were scheduled to hold an informal meeting this week to further review the request, and the Columbia Planning and Zoning Commission will hold a public hearing on the request at its Dec. 4 meeting, which begins at 7 p.m. in the council chambers of the Daniel Boone Building, 701 E. Broadway.

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