COLUMBIA — On Monday night, the public had an opportunity to ask questions about a rezoning and annexation request for a 192-acre tract of land off Heller Road, adjacent to Ewing Industrial Park and the Columbia city landfill.
The request was submitted by Grindstone Investments LLC, which currently owns the land, so it can bring the property into the city and develop a data center on it.
“One of the targeted industries for Columbia, Boone County and the state is data centers,” said Chad Sayre, project engineer with Allstate Consultants.
A data center is a secure warehouse containing computers and servers for independent companies who don’t have the storage space to keep such large amounts of information on site. The initial construction size of the data center is estimated to be 150,000 square feet.
Patrick Zenner, a city planner, said the new data center would be “an economic enhancement” for Columbia.
Grindstone Investment has requested M-C, or controlled industrial zoning, for the westernmost 78 acres, the area designated for development of the new center. For the remaining 114 acres, the company is asking for A-1, or agricultural, zoning for future development opportunities. The entire tract is currently under county, not city, zoning; the proposal would incorporate the land into the city of Columbia.
Bernie Andrews, executive vice president of Regional Economic Development Inc., a local group that promotes development in Columbia and Boone County, said the rezoning process is an attempt to make the potential industrial site more “shovel-ready.”
“That means that the sites are properly zoned, utilities are in place, or are in close proximity to the site, and that other due diligence such as environmental and cultural assessments of the site have been made,” Andrews said in an email.
Zenner said Andrews and REDI have been coordinating with St. Louis-based company The Koman Group to try to “foster an opportunity to bring a data center in.” The Koman Group has experience developing data centers, including a $500 million Microsoft Corp. data center finished in Chicago last year.
On Dec. 30, interested parties attended a concept review meeting with relevant city departments to go over preliminary information and potential challenges in rezoning and using the tract. Zenner said one big challenge is Heller Road, which currently “doesn’t exist as a true, formal right-of-way.”
“Right now, Heller Road is little more than a 30-foot-wide gravel roadway that will not support industrial traffic,” Zenner said.
The benefits of the new site far outweigh the problem of a gravel road. Ewing Industrial Park is already a high-electricity area with a half-million-gallon water tower. The existence of fiber optic data-carrying lines and proximity to a landfill are two more reasons the site is a better use for a data center than any the city has examined so far.
“There are few sites in our area, in central Missouri and in the state of Missouri. There is no data center site like this site that could support a large number of phases,” Sayre said.
The new data center would go through as many as seven construction phases, with each phase completing workspace for an additional 15 to 30 employees. Data centers require few employees, but Sayre believes the trade-off is worth it because even though the jobs will be few, they will be high paying.
“The city, the county and the state have all identified numerous industries that they would like to get down in our county. And a data center is just one. ... Our city is very tuned in right now, and our state, to get the best jobs they can get in our area,” Sayre said.
The Columbia Planning Department will be giving a proposal to the Planning and Zoning Commission in a public hearing on March 5. If the commission decides to move forward with the project, the proposal would be presented at the March 16 City Council meeting. If there is no speech in opposition at the planning commission meeting, the item will be placed on the City Council’s consent agenda without a second hearing, in accordance with amended zoning procedures passed by the council at its previous meeting.