COLUMBIA — City and county leaders are trying to close a potential loophole in the county's proposed stormwater ordinance that might encourage owners of agricultural land to clear their property for development before petitioning for annexation to the city.
The proposed ordinance regulates development and construction to minimize its impact on stormwater drainage, but federal law exempts agricultural land. Property owners could use that exemption as a shield to evade the ordinance, then sell the land for development.
To reinforce the regulations, the county has drafted an abeyance regulation that would prohibit development on agricultural land for six years if it is cleared and graded. The city is drafting similar legislation.
"It's a way to ensure a developer doesn't approach a landowner that owns a farm and ask the farmer to clear the property and grade the property under agricultural premises, and then once that's done, turn around and sell that property to the developer," said Steve Hunt, Columbia's environmental services manager.
The commission asked the City Council to consider a similar abeyance ordinance so developers couldn't sidestep the regulation by petitioning for annexation to the city.
"Basically, we're trying to have a unified front," said Georganne Bowman, Boone County stormwater coordinator.
Fifth Ward Councilwoman Laura Nauser said she would like to see information about similar ordinances in other communities. She said she is concerned about possible constitutional challenges to such an ordinance.
At its Sept. 8 meeting, the council directed city staff to draft an abeyance ordinance. That draft will be sent to the Planning and Zoning Commission for comment, then to the City Council for consideration.
Hunt said city staff hadn't started drafting the ordinance. When it does, he said, they would use the Boone County draft ordinance as a model but adapt it to meet the city's needs.
Don Stamper, executive director of the Central Missouri Development Council, said the abeyance regulation would be impractical and legally questionable.
"We think it's a regulatory taking of property rights," Stamper said. "We don't think there's anything that gives the city or the county the authority to put a prohibition on people's use of their land."
Stamper said the regulation is too rigid and the six-year abeyance too long.