Council candidates differ on growth-management philosophies

Sunday, April 5, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT

COLUMBIA – City Council candidates have a number of different philosophies about how the city should approach growth, some of which they agree about, and others not so much.

The debate on growth has revolved around arguments for and against increased regulation and guidelines on new development. Each side of the debate maintains that its approach to handling inevitable growth in the city is the best way to create a positive economic climate.

Often cited as a proponent for increased regulation, the Boone County Smart Growth Coalition has lobbied for conserving open space, reducing “leapfrog development” and shifting the cost of creating and maintaining roads from taxpayers to developers who choose properties away from established infrastructure, according to its Web site.

Frequently given as an example of the antithesis of the Smart Growth Coalition, the Central Missouri Development Council lobbies for “effecting legislative and regulatory change for balanced growth policies” and “improving the development climate” of Columbia, according to its Web site.

Sixth Ward candidate Barbara Hoppe is clear on how she stands. She founded the Boone County Smart Growth Coalition.

“Smart growth is business interest,” Hoppe said. “… I think there are special interests in Columbia that are really seeking to roll back any controls on development whatsoever. … They are the willy-nilly, we-want-to-do-anything-we-want-to-do people.”

Hoppe said there are members of the development community who share the values of the Smart Growth Coalition, and she believes there is a misconception that the coalition is nothing but anti-development. She said the town of Dubuque, Iowa, is an example of a city that has embraced developing with Smart Growth principles and was able to attract IBM’s attention for its new data center.

Hoppe’s opponent, Rod Robison, said he likes the ideas behind smart growth, but he has qualms about the organization that bears the label.

"They certainly don't appear to favor development,” Robison said. “That's kind of an impression from what I've heard of the group.”

Robison said he would listen to his constituents’ views on developments and commit time to looking at each proposal.

“I'm more of a hands-on, I-kind-of-have-to-see-it kind of guy,” Robison said.

Robison believes that people are ultimately going to build where they want and that, while infill development is a good idea, it’s really up to developers to decide.

Second Ward candidate Jason Thornhill said he is not opposed to smart growth. He also said the council cannot “rubber-stamp any project presented to them” but “it’s pretty dangerous to allow a dozen people to shut down a largely viable project.”

Thornhill said he thought the city has over-expanded in the past and wants to push infill, though he understands that's harder to accomplish than developing open land.

Developers should be motivated to be good neighbors instead of just working for money's sake, and they should strive to meet more than just minimum requirements, Thornhill said. He added that he would expect developers to “have gone above and beyond that minimum” and to "have worked with neighbors and folks in the surrounding area."

His opponent, Allan Sharrock, said he doesn't think “it’s the role of the councilman to dictate what will be put up and where.” Instead, Sharrock said, it should be up to planning and zoning and market forces to make those decisions.

“I’m an avid hunter. I love the outdoors,” Sharrock said. “(But) if somebody wants to build a house — I own a house — who am I to deny them the American dream?”

Sharrock also said that the Planning and Zoning Commission should follow the visioning plan and take developers' input as well.

Foremost, he said, the commission needs to “set the standards and be consistent."

Missourian reporter Andrew Van Dam contributed to this report.

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John Schultz April 5, 2009 | 11:05 a.m.

For those candidates who favor in-fill growth, I hope they will listen to some of the developers and the pains that they have encountered while trying to redevelop downtown properties. If the city and its departments make it too hard to redevelop existing properties, is it any wonder that development gets pushed to the city limits?

(Report Comment)
Tim Dance April 5, 2009 | 10:57 p.m.

Hmm i have to agree with John on this. The city council should make it easier for those to infill. Waive some requirements or allow cheaper alternatives. It can be done. We have subsidized the sprawl on our city edges, many we should now focus on the inner city more

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