COLUMBIA - Approval to rezone an area off Route Z has the Columbia Area Jobs Foundation hoping to bring business to the region.
The approval to change the approximately 210 acres from agricultural to light industrial was passed unanimously by the Boone County Commission in a public hearing at Tuesday night’s meeting.
The change was approved as an open-zoning site by the commission, something the staff report stated was uncommon for an area of this size. The report presented at the meeting and at the Boone County Planning and Zoning Commission on May 21 did not support the open light industrial zoning and recommended planned industrial zoning for the area. The unplanned rezoning was also a concern for several of the neighbors present.
“This is the first time I can remember a proposition coming before the body asking for a complete open zone without anything more than ‘we’re going to have a covenant and we’re not going to do anything injurious to the neighbors,’” resident Harriet Francis said.
Paul Land, president of the Columbia Area Jobs Foundation, presented the request.
“In the last 15 years this community has failed to recruit a major employer,” Land said. “There is a reason for that — the lack of shovel-ready sites.”
Land and supporters of the rezoning — including John John, the real estate agent for the owners of the property, Green Acres LLC — stressed the importance of having a large land tract available for interested employers.
“I have been with clients who have bypassed Boone County because they would not wait for a planned development,” John said. “They want to close within their time frame and work when they’re ready to work.”
John also discussed the appeal of the affordability that accompanies an open-zoned site.
“It’s partly our ability to hold a price that will make it attractive,” John said. “We have to have low price land here and it’s got to be ready.”
Opponents from the area also expressed concern with the private covenant approved as part of the proposal.
“I have concerns with the private covenant, those are historically hard to enforce and they seem to change over the years,” resident Chris Beckett said.
Several members of the community who came forward in opposition to the rezoning also wanted more information regarding situations with the roads, water line and the sewer line that would come out to the site with the installation of the new high school in the area.
“I would like to see more planning and more information,” resident Jan McAdams said.
District 1 Commissioner Karen Miller discussed the issue of the sewer line, which is scheduled to come about in about three years, as a way for control to be exerted on the site.
“The city has the upper hand, they have the sewer,” Miller said. “If this development wants the sewer they’ll have to work with the city.”
The Columbia Area Jobs Foundation is made up of various city leaders, including City Manager Bill Watkins and Presiding Commissioner Ken Pearson. People on both sides of the argument discussed this issue. Phillip Popham questioned “what hat” Pearson was wearing – that of commissioner or that of a Columbia Area Jobs Foundation board member. Miller, when discussing her support of the rezoning, discussed the board of directors as being a “quasi-governmental body” and as such would serve the best interests of the public.
“The people that serve on (the board of directors) have to answer to the community,” Miller said.
All three commissioners spoke in favor of the issue before the final vote and discussed the importance of the community working together to bring business to the area and the need for change, especially in light of the economic climate.
“Things have changed for us in this community,” Miller said. “This kind of opportunity comes in once in a lifetime. It is a very long-term thing.”