Council considers 'city certified' development sites

Friday, June 5, 2009 | 4:56 p.m. CDT; updated 6:32 p.m. CDT, Friday, June 5, 2009

LAKE OF THE OZARKS — Columbia city officials are looking to create criteria that would let developers know, without a doubt, that their projects will meet the City Council’s expectations.

At the council’s annual retreat being held at the Lodge of the Four Seasons at the Lake of the Ozarks, Fourth Ward Councilman Jerry Wade raised the idea of creating “city-certified sites,” similar to the program already in place by the Missouri Department of Economic Development.

“What developers want is certainty,” Wade said. “What we want is certain criteria to be met.”

The idea is, essentially, a branding for projects that developers could be certain would win approval from the council, Wade said. It would allow a developer to come into the city and get a site that truly is “shovel-ready,” meaning the developer can, in effect, begin construction immediately.

Columbia is home to Missouri’s first “certified site,” a designation that signifies the property has all the necessary utilities and zoning and also meets state and federal regulations. The classification serves as a kind of marketing tool to show potential tenants that all the necessary due diligence has been performed up-front, said Bernie Andrews, REDI’s executive vice president..

However, Columbia’s “certified site,” a 148-acre industrial park in northeast Columbia, might have all the infrastructure necessary for a prospective tenant to begin building and meet state and federal regulations, but it is not truly “shovel-ready.” The City Council still has to approve final building plans.

City Manager Bill Watkins said the city should minimize the hoops developers have to jump through to get certified.

“What you really want is a piece of property that, if XYZ company comes in, you can get a building permit the next day,” he said.

Wade said creating “city-certified” sites would involve meeting all the necessary ordinances and priorities beforehand. That way, he said, the city and the developer won’t have to go through the cost of reviewing all the plats and plans for an individual site.

Andrews said that kind of designation would “give our city added attraction to companies.” The Office of Protective Inspections and the Planning and Development Department would have to coordinate with the council on what types of criteria would be included in the certification, Andrews said, but it would go a long way toward promoting Columbia to businesses.

“Those location sites are really about speed,” he said. “By the time a company makes a decision to expand, they’re already at capacity. So an extra three or six months just costs them money.”

Members of the council and staff make no official decisions at the retreat but informally agreed to move forward on implementing the idea.

“Then that process is already under way, starting today,” Wade said.

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