COLUMBIA — Columbia residents will soon get a chance to weigh in on dirt piles.
The city's Environment and Energy Commission, in collaboration with the Columbia Planning and Zoning Commission, has arrived at a final draft for an ordinance governing the size and placement of soil piles by developers.
The zoning commission plans to hold a public hearing to review the ordinance on Sept. 9. The ordinance is scheduled to go before the Columbia City Council on Sept. 20, with a final vote expected on Oct. 4.
Columbia has no laws regulating how developers must store or remove the soil they dredge during construction. This allows the creation of large mounds of dirt, such as the mountain across the street from Walmart on Grindstone Parkway in southern Columbia.
The proposed ordinance would restrict soil piles to a height of no more than 40 feet and a ground area of no more than 3 acres. Piles of the maximum size must be at least 300 feet from any commercial or residential structure, 200 feet from a road and 100 feet from a stream or waterway.
Smaller piles require less clearance, and a pile smaller than 10 feet in height needs only 10 feet of clearance from a stream, roadway or existing structure.
Developers would also be required to seed their soil piles with grass to prevent rain and wind from scattering dust. Runoff from the piles into the city's roadways and waterways was a major issue for architects of the ordinance.
No pile could exceed a 3-1 ratio in slope so that it could be mowed.
Piles that satisfied these requirements could remain in place for three years, but developers could apply for an extension.
Fifth Ward Councilwoman Laura Nauser sponsored the ordinance and said it was the culmination of several years of dirt piles and constituent complaints.
"Recently, a large dirt pile was placed next to a home out in the Thornbrook subdivision. Neighbors couldn't even look out their back porch because the pile was right there," Nauser said.
"I've had people from out of state contact me and ask, 'Why does your community have these big dirt piles everywhere?' " Nauser said. "So it's clearly a problem. I fully understand that developers need to have these piles, but at the same time there must be limits, so everyone plays by the same rules."
For that reason, Nauser said, she designed the task force which drafted the ordinance.
David Brodsky, the chairman of the zoning commission, said the ordinance was "flexible."
"We were trying not to limit the developers' ability to do what they need to do," Brodsky said. But, he said, rules and guidelines need to be in place.
Don Stamper, the executive director of the Central Missouri Development Council, said the regulations would harm the ability of some sites to stockpile soil.
"It won't be a problem for big sites, but it will be a burden for small tracts. You just don't have the square footage to stockpile," Stamper said. "If you've got a small tract and you've got to dig all the way down to the clay to get your foundation, you may not have anywhere to put all that soil. Under the new ordinance, we may end up just trucking that dirt away, which is an extra cost to us."
"There should be some guidelines" governing soil stockpiles, Stamper said, but "this is a lot of effort for a very minimal impact."
The chairman of the environment commission, Dan Goldstein, said he "wanted a piece of legislation that was fair and understandable to the neighborhood groups, and that both laid out their rights and the developers' rights clearly."
Bob Walters, a local developer and former member of the Environment and Energy Commission, said that because the legislation would restrict soil piles near neighboring lots, it was important that developers not be "handcuffed" if they want to develop a site surrounded by previous development.
The proposed law allows developers to submit appeals to the Board of Adjustment or to request exemptions.
"It's interesting, isn't it?" Nauser said. "Who would think dirt piles could cause such a ruckus?"