COLUMBIA — In an effort to bring more businesses and jobs to the area, the Columbia Area Jobs Foundation is seeking to create an employment center site on 210 acres off Route Z east of Columbia.
The groups foundation and current owners of the property, Green Acres Estates LLC, are asking that the Boone County Commission rezone the agricultural land for light industrial use. Early plans for the employment center site call for major office and industrial users that generally would employ 100 people or more, said foundation President Paul Land.
“Employers are looking for places where large land tracts could be available and where proper infrastructure is available,” Land said.
Land said that with 210 acres the property could accommodate either one large company or several smaller ones. Either way it’s important for Columbia to have this area available for interested employers, he said.
“I know it will enable us to have a chance at (recruiting major employers), and if we don't pass it we will have a reduced chance,” Land said. “We’re trying to increase odds in this community of attracting a major employer to the area.”
The commission will hold a public hearing on the request during its monthly planning and zoning meeting at 7 p.m. Tuesday in its chambers at the Roger B. Wilson Boone County Government Center. Although the Boone County Planning and Zoning Commission recommended approval of the request on May 21, the staff at the county Planning and Building Department recommended against it.
Planner Thaddeus Yonke said in a staff report to the zoning commission that planned zoning, which would allow more government control over the development, would be better for the area.
“It would be premature under our regulations because adequate infrastructure does not exist,” Yonke said. “We have additional vacant industrial property that already has infrastructure in the immediate area.”
If the request is approved on Tuesday, the area will need significant infrastructure development, including roads and water and sewer lines, said Planning and Building Director Stan Shawver.
“Part of the issue, at least in the presentation the applicant made, is that they are pushing for a need in the immediate future, and the information they gave us and the information we found is that it’s going to take at least a couple of years before a sewer line can get out there to them,” Yonke said. “If there is no sewer there is no building, and if there is no building there is no company and no jobs.”
Land said the jobs foundation has an agreement with the city to get sewer to the site within a prescribed period of time following the construction of the area high school. There is also a working understanding that if an employer is interested in building sooner, the city might be able to expedite the sewer extension.
Yonke’s report encouraged the applicants to look for a site that already has infrastructure in the area. But Land said the configuration of the site and the size of the area make it more appealing for major employers that the foundation is trying to attract.
Yonke and Shawver also said that the application for rezoning stated that the property will be restricted by private covenant and contract. But the staff report stated that those “are not suitable replacements for governmental safeguards.”
“They can say they’ll voluntarily do something,” Shawver said, “but if they change their mind they don't have to go through with that.”
The Columbia Area Jobs Foundation is a nonprofit organization whose board members are appointed by the Columbia Chamber of Commerce, Regional Economic Development, Inc., Columbia City Manager Bill Watkins and Boone County Presiding Commissioner Ken Pearson.