Columbia job advocates seek zoning for industrial site

Friday, May 29, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT

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.


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“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.

Yonke agreed.

“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.

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Charles Dudley Jr May 28, 2009 | 7:51 p.m.

We need more assembly type jobs in this area from everything big to small in size that anybody and everybody can be hired into where the jobs have different levels of access.

(Report Comment)
Jimmy Dugan May 29, 2009 | 8:34 a.m.

Glad to see this, but of course this highlights the rediculous location for the new High School. That high school should never have been moved up there. It's too close to the highway.

(Report Comment)
Ayn Rand May 29, 2009 | 9:13 a.m.

Assembly jobs that anybody and everybody can do usually are low-wage and easily shipped overseas or to Mexico. (3M anyone?) I doubt that Columbia wants to court those kinds of employers, especially if it means tens of thousands of dollars per job in incentives that might not be recouped anytime soon, if ever.

(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr May 29, 2009 | 9:31 a.m.

Ayn Rand there in is the root problem of this issue that our screwed up politicians who are on the take from these corporations are allowing to happen to American Citizens who need those types of jobs to at least have a chance at some kind of a life.

They might not pay much but they are jobs that should be right here at home supporting the citizens of this country and not of some foreign land.

In out sourcing jobs you deny the average citizen the right to earn their living doing those lower wage jobs they might actually enjoy.

Not everybody wants the higher stress of a hi tech job as you seem to believe.

The basic assembly jobs are what this country was built upon. Just look at history itself.

(Report Comment)
Mike Martin May 29, 2009 | 10:00 a.m.

Possibly a good idea but ONLY if the county assessor re-assesses the land from agricultural to commercial after the rezoning.

Developers shouldn't be able to have it both ways: commercial or residential zoning when it comes to usage and sales prices; agricultural zoning when it comes to property taxes (ag land is taxed MUCH lower than any other kind of land).

For more information on the problem, read this story:

(Report Comment)
Allan Sharrock May 29, 2009 | 10:23 a.m.

Thats just what I would do. I would raise the taxes before any businesses start breaking ground. That is a sure fire way to eliminate shovel ready sites. Lets go ahead and increase the overhead.

(Report Comment)
Ayn Rand May 29, 2009 | 11:30 a.m.

If those lower wage jobs are so enjoyable, why do employers have so much difficulty filling them? I've worked plenty of them, and they're not considered enjoyable, judging by the turnover and the constant complaints from my co-workers. Companies often say that they reason why they hire immigrants, legal or not, is because most Americans won't do those jobs at those wages.

Plus, this is a college town, filled with ~30K students willing to do anything for next to nothing. They put a lot of downward pressure on wages, even for highly skilled positions.

(Report Comment)
John Schultz May 29, 2009 | 11:55 a.m.

Chuck, no one has a right to a job except maybe if they are an entrepeneur and own their own company. If companies want to outsource their operations, they are free to do. I've been laid off by Big Business, landed on my feet at a better job (which has seen an increasing employment at its Indian office), and recently left that for a startup company with a promising future. I also worked a warehouse job for five years during college and had no desire to continue with that, no matter how much I liked my coworkers. Ayn is right, I saw quite a bit of turnover in my five years there.

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