Just because Columbia is able to build doesn't mean it should

Thursday, December 11, 2008 | 10:00 a.m. CST; updated 11:53 a.m. CST, Thursday, December 11, 2008

While the "visioning" of Columbia continues in a meeting room, the reality of Columbia is taking shape out along the city limits.

Wednesday's Missourian had a pair of stories about the next steps in the visioning process and the lawyer/mediator who has been hired to direct them. Interesting stuff, I thought. Maybe even important. We should all pay close attention over the next few months.

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With the new year ahead, change is likely to be on our minds. Some of us think about changes promised by newly elected officials. Some of us ponder how to change ourselves for the better through resolutions. The civic-minded among us are likely to contemplate how to change Columbia and Boone County for the better.

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The report that got me moving, however, appeared a few days earlier. The Planning and Zoning Commission put off until Jan. 8 discussion of a rezoning application that would allow up to 1,300 residential units and 755,000 square feet of commercial space on 270 acres just east of town.

The day being sunny and gas prices being down, I hopped in my pickup and headed out to Richland Road. I made a right off St. Charles Road onto the two-lane blacktop, crossed the one-lane bridge and there on the right were the notices of proposed rezoning.

What I could see from the road looked to be an abandoned farmstead, with several tumble-down buildings and a decaying rust-colored combine in the weeds. Cedar trees are pioneering the forest reclamation of former pastures. More or less in the center is a nice house overlooking a small lake. At the eastern end of the property there's a sign on the fence offering hay for sale. Round bales await a buyer.

Across the road to the north is a new-looking subdivision I'd never visited, called Bay Hills. One of the interior streets is Pebble Beach. I looked in vain for a bay or a beach.

I also looked in vain for a rationale for another 1,300 residences or another three-quarters of a million feet of commerce. That's short-sighted of me, I'm sure. The would-be developers understand that, sooner or later, Stadium Boulevard will come through and Rolling Hills Road will be extended up from Route WW. They want to be ready.

If I owned the land, I might feel the same way. What I do own, instead, is one citizen's share in the future of our community. So I'm more inclined to agree with the only neighbor who showed up at last week's P&Z hearing.

"I think there's plenty of vacant buildings and houses around Columbia," said James Candrl. "I don't see a need for more."

No doubt the developers behind Richland Road Properties LLC, and plenty of their peers, would disagree. They'd surely also disagree with another sentiment I share with Mr. Candrl: "It seems like as a society we have come to a point where we just build stuff because we can," he said.

The community visioning process, as I understand it, is supposed to produce a description of what we want Columbia and Boone County to be. It is supposed to include a variety of mechanisms for making sure the vision comes true.

So far, the process has produced a very nice document. The committee that's now under construction will be charged with tracking implementation.

One beneficial consequence of the recession is that the reshaping of reality has slowed down, giving the vision at least a chance to catch up. I hope our deciders don't let this project and others like it render the vision document and the about-to-be Vision Commission irrelevant.

P&Z Commissioner Ann Peters put it pretty well: "If we make a bad decision and this becomes a bad development, like Scott Boulevard, then everyone who lives there ends up paying a price, including the citizens who have to pay for the roads."

My only amendment would be that it's not only the future residents of Richland Road who'll pay; it's all of us.

George Kennedy is a former managing editor at the Missourian and professor emeritus at the Missouri School of Journalism.

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Charles Dudley Jr December 11, 2008 | 1:13 p.m.

Oh but isn't that the American way to just keep on building and abandoning everything that is considered as too old or unusable ie: The Old Osco Building comes to mind.

I agree with your commentary. We do not need more "urban sprawl" but what we do need is one hell of alot better management by our P & Z and our City Council.

Also where is the money going to come from to hire more police officers and EMS personnel and the equipment they will need to patrol these new areas of all these proposed future "urban sprawl" zones?

CPD/CFD can barely patrol effectively what it has to deal with now.

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