COLUMBIA — The City Council often relies on advice from its staff and from boards and commissions to help dissect complex issues. But when the council receives conflicting recommendations, making a decision becomes more challenging.
This will be the case when the 271-acre Richland Road annexation and rezoning request comes to the council for a final vote on Monday night. City staff is recommending the request be approved, while the Columbia Planning and Zoning Commission is advising the council to reject it.
To compound the challenge, the Richland Road request also conflicts with a proposed East Area Plan that has the support of both the staff and the commission.
The Richland Road development proposes more than 100 acres of commercial development, along with 700 residential units that include single-family homes, duplexes, townhouses and apartments.
The request has been modified since it was first introduced in November 2008 to include lower residential densities.
One of the commercial areas calls for 360,000 square feet of retail space, more than the East Area Plan recommends.
The commission denied the Richland request in October 2009. The city staff approved the request at that time and will not revisit its decision, even now that the East Area Plan is complete.
The staff recommendation was approval of the proposed plan with the development agreement, and that’s where that recommendation stands, Development Services Manager Pat Zenner said. “The recommendation hasn’t been asked to be changed and, at this point, won’t be.”
The council, however, doesn't need to ask the Planning and Development Department to review its recommendation. The staff can do that on their own, City Counselor Fred Boeckmann said.
First Ward Councilman Paul Sturtz said the simple fact that it's been a year since city planners issued their initial recommendation "would be sufficient grounds to revisit" it.
Planning and Development Director Tim Teddy said that if the council agrees with the levels of development proposed by the Richland Road plan, then he and his staff stand by their recommendation.
“If it’s not then, yeah, there’s another analysis we can bring to them, based on the (East Area) Plan, and that would reach a different result,” he said.
The recommendation from the commission also is a year old. It voted 5-3 in October 2009 to recommend that the council reject the Richland request.
Commissioners cited the intensity of the proposed commercial development, the uncertainty surrounding the Stadium Boulevard extension and high residential density as their reasons for denial. Those reasons are consistent with the East Area Plan's conclusions, which call for maintaining current development density and preserving the area's rural character.
“The majority of us didn’t think it would have been appropriate before we had the (East Area) Plan,” Commissioner Ann Peters said. “It wasn’t a good idea then. Nothing has changed.”
When an advisory body and the staff’s recommendations agree, it can give the council a clearer picture to make its decision easier. But if they conflict, thecouncil has to sort out the debate.
“When there is a conflict, then it comes down to our personal philosophies, I believe,” Fifth Ward Councilwoman Laura Nauser said. “Everybody on the council is going to have a different belief to some degree, so how that meshes on this issue will be interesting.”