Columbia, Boone County present plans for area near new high school

Tuesday, September 22, 2009 | 9:50 p.m. CDT; updated 11:43 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, September 23, 2009

This story has been modified to correct the estimated cost of the new Columbia high school and to clarify that city and county planning officials were represented on a committee that studied prospective high school sites.

COLUMBIA — At a Tuesday night meeting concerning development northeast of Columbia, attendees heard that, like it or not, the city is coming.

The city of Columbia and Boone County presented the final draft of a plan for development of 3,104 acres north of Interstate 70 and mostly west of Route Z. The area in question is mostly rural, undeveloped and out of city limits.

Many attendees expressed concerns about what increased traffic and commercial development would bring to the area.

The Columbia Public School District plans to build a new public high school in the area outside of the city, off of East St. Charles Road. Officials have a document intended to guide future development.

The Northeast Columbia Area Plan contains goals and strategies to guide decisions on land use, transportation, infrastructure, and residential and commercial development.

The plan calls for owner-occupied and single-family housing, commercial development along Route Z and south of St. Charles Road and campus-style employment centers along the I-70 corridor. The plan defines employment centers as light manufacturing, research and data call centers, and any other developments that employ a large number of people.

The plan also emphasizes the need to make road, sewer and electrical improvements before any development, and it advises Columbia Public Schools to consider problems with open lunches in an area served primarily by rural, two-lane roads.

Many of the roughly 100 attendees live in the area covered by the plan.

Marci DeVier has lived on 105 acres near the intersection of Route Z and Mexico Gravel Road since 1971. She appreciates the consideration that went into the  commission's report.

"In order to keep the quality of our environment up, it helps to plan it," DeVier said. She pointed to other places in the city she doesn't think have been developed thoughtfully. "Planned development and progress is so much better."

Some in attendance weren't wild about the effects development will bring.

Mark Gilmore, 51, an electrician, lives adjacent to the site of the new high school. Gilmore worries the road will become a major thoroughfare. "If I had my way, I wouldn't see it happen," Gilmore said.

His neighbor is less concerned. David Mason, 53, works in construction management and plans to move in two years. He believes the planned development might raise property values in the area.

"That was kind of why I bought it," Mason said. "I thought the property value would go up. But with this down economy, who knows?"

Pending a $120 million bond issue slated to be on the ballot in April 2010, construction of the new high school is slated to begin in the summer of 2010 with an estimated completion of fall 2013. The total cost for the high school would be more than $80 million.

According to an e-mail invitation to Tuesday night's meeting, the area plan is the first combined planning effort of its kind. City and county planners expect to revisit the plan every five years as development progresses.

David Brodsky, the vice chairman of the Columbia Planning and Zoning Commission, said the location poses problems for planners.

"If it was up to us as a commission, we wouldn't have put it here," he said. "The (school) district chose the location."

Columbia Development Services Manager Patrick Zenner said the project is intended to ensure coordination. He agreed the district's chosen site posed challenges, but "ultimately the city and county don't control public schools."

City and county planning officials were represented on the site selection committee. Northern Boone County Commissioner Skip Elkin, and Columbia Planning and Development Director Tim Teddy served on the 23-member committee in 2007.

Brodsky and Zenner stressed that public input would be taken into consideration for a revised plan.

The commission could vote on the project as early as a joint planning meeting in early October. The plan would then go to the County Commission and the City Council, which will each vote on whether to adopt it.

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