The Planning and Zoning Commission is no place for developers

Thursday, June 18, 2009 | 5:13 p.m. CDT; updated 8:13 p.m. CDT, Thursday, June 18, 2009

One of the pleasures of returning home after a couple weeks in the frigid north is rummaging through the papers to catch up on the news. A couple of things caught my attention, and probably yours.

The first is the issue of how to fill the vacancy on the Columbia Planning and Zoning Commission. Usually, of course, that isn’t an issue at all. The vacancy is posted, public-spirited citizens apply and the City Council picks. The first two of those steps have taken place this time, but the council is delaying.

That could be because the only two applicants, as I read in the Missourian, are Donnie Stamper and Rusty Strodtman. Mr. Strodtman, whose name wasn’t familiar to me, is an executive with Jose Lindner’s Forum Development Group. Donnie, whose name is familiar to everybody in the county, is the executive director of the Central Missouri Development Council.

It’s easy to see why both gentlemen, and their employers, would covet a seat on the city’s most important advisory board. It’s not so easy to see why the appointment of either would be in the public interest.

Let me be clear. I don’t question the integrity or the civic mindedness of either man. Donnie served us well during his lengthy tenure as a county commissioner.

The only question I have is why we’d want to give such an important role in shaping the growth of our city to somebody with such an obvious conflict of interests. That point was raised in a Missourian report of June 14, and Donnie opined that he would see a conflict only if he had a direct financial stake in a P&Z proposal.

In his case, at least, that’s not especially likely because his employers do most of their developing outside the city limits. My definition of a conflict – and, I’m sure, that of at least some council members – is a little broader.

The livelihood of both applicants depends to a considerable extent on the ability of their bosses to turn pastures into patios. See, for example, that sprawling collection of high-dollar homes out Route WW called Old Hawthorne. And remember that when Jose Lindner bought hundreds of acres down toward the river, he probably didn’t intend to reopen the old hatchery. You may even recall the Development Council’s efforts to influence recent City Council elections.

So it seems, at least to me, that either appointment would be placing on a body charged with weighing public versus private interests someone predisposed toward the latter. The tired old metaphor of foxes and chicken houses comes to mind.

And speaking of development, do you suppose the escalating pressure on our city government to rezone and refocus public policy to lure manufacturing companies will be affected at all by the expert’s prediction this week that we’ll be one of the first six cities in the nation to emerge from the recession?

No? I didn’t think so, either. That’s despite the fact that the main reason cited for Columbia’s likely speed of recovery is that we don’t have many manufacturing jobs and do have an economy based on higher education. That’s true of most of the cities expected to fare the best in these troubled times.

That assessment by the economic forecaster IHS Global Insight follows our Top 5 ranking in Forbes magazine’s list of best small places for business and careers. You might read those reports as endorsements of the education- and health care-based economy we have.

I’m going to go out on a limb, though, and predict that our local Cassandras won’t be much influenced by the conclusions of unbiased outsiders. Anybody want to bet to the contrary?

George Kennedy is a former managing editor at the Missourian and professor emeritus at the Missouri School of Journalism.

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John Schultz June 18, 2009 | 11:55 p.m.

If the royal we don't want developers on P&Z and other boards and commissions, shouldn't we also turn away those who call for smart growth, no Wal-Marts on Broadway, and wish to deny the ability for people to develop their own property?

(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr June 19, 2009 | 5:22 a.m.

Problem is we need people on these types of boards that do not have their faces buried in their pocket books but need to be thinking about the citizen first and foremost.

(Report Comment)
Mike Martin June 19, 2009 | 10:03 a.m.

@John Schultz:

What George is saying here is that placing a powerful development honcho on a board like P&Z would be inviting, not philosophical, but financial conflicts of interest.

I think there's an enormous difference. The Smart Growthers are arguing against certain types of development for mostly philosophical reasons. They gain nothing financially if a development they oppose goes down in flames.

But Stamper and Strodtman could frequently stand to benefit their employers directly and financially.

Stamper mentioned at one point that he thought P&Z chairman Jeff Barrow had a conflict of interest because he works for Missouri River Relief and related groups.

In a sense, Don is right. Jeff Barrow does have a philosophical conflict of interest with many developments. But it's not financial, and that's a big difference.

Instead of Stamper and Strodtman, a better pick for a "pro-development" person would be a retired developer who is no longer active in that business but still has a pro-development philosophy.

(Report Comment)
Rusty Strodtman June 19, 2009 | 10:41 a.m.

Please let me know where in the qualification section of the P&Z does it state that an employee of a development company can not participate on this commission? According to the City of Columbia's website, I meet the requirements to be on this commission. ..."Members of this nine member commission must be qualified voters and residents of the City at least one year immediately prior to appointment and cannot hold any other office or position in City administration. The length of terms is five years, with openings occurring in May."
I think it is time to look at the process of how willing citizens are chosen for the different boards within the City of Columbia.

(Report Comment)
Joe City June 19, 2009 | 10:42 a.m.

Conflict of interest is good !

Need some of that on the Council too !

(Report Comment)
John Schultz June 21, 2009 | 9:23 p.m.

If the concern is that a developer or their staff could profit based on an agenda item, then have them refrain from participating in that particular agenda item. Members of the city council have done such in the past and judges recuse themselves from cases. I sit on the county Board of Adjustment and we'll have such a situation at this month's meeting. If the county decided that certain professions (developers, surveyors, etc.) could not sit on the BoA, that would definitely result in a loss of knowledge and possibly result in less-than-suitable rulings.

(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr June 22, 2009 | 4:54 a.m.

Rusty Strodtman didn't you know that Bill Watkins and City Council only likes certain "Bob the Builder" types of citizens.

In all seriousness though you are correct but in reality we need people on that commission who are for "smarter development" not sprawl with looking at the future and "less over all maintenance" as the long term goals.

I feel also we need commissioners who will make the future developers "install parks in their developments" that are up to City P & R code/standards and then those parks can be deeded over once the development is annexed into the city. Also the tax base in those new developments stays in that development zone for the maintenance of the parks in those respective developments.

This community deserves to know exactly where the tax base monies are being used instead of monies going into a general type of fund. There needs to be more accountability in the entire process.

This will go a very long way into the city not having to pay out of any city tax funds for the development of those parks.

Other cities do this so why the hell not Columbia unless Bill Watkins and City Council are afraid their friends "Bob the Builders" will not be able to get work.

(Report Comment)

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