GEORGE KENNEDY: Are developers only ones to benefit from eastward expansion?

Thursday, December 16, 2010 | 1:06 p.m. CST

Both newspapers reported routinely last week on the City Council’s vote to annex and rezone about 180 acres along Richland Road, just outside — or now, just inside — the eastern limit of Columbia.

The irony of the long-delayed decision only became apparent a few days later, when the Columbia Business Times revealed that the developer who had bought the land on speculation and requested the annexation has gone broke and so won’t be able to follow through on his plans.

Unaware of that, Mayor McDavid waxed enthusiastic. He praised the "diligence of the Planning and Zoning Commission" and assured that the decision is compatible with the planning document recently crafted in rare cooperation between city and county governments to guide development of the area on both sides of Interstate 70 eastward of the city's edge.

The vote was unanimous. Councilman Gary Kespohl said he was "conflicted" about the decision that will add to his constituency. But neither he nor any colleague seemed to take much notice of the low-keyed, passionate protest voiced by the reluctant spokesman for neighbors of the land in question.

That speaker, Tony Black, argued as opponents have all along that the planned development is unneeded and premature. The required roads, sewers and other infrastructure are years from construction. The city already has plenty of unsold housing and empty commercial space.

"The only people for this are the developers," he said. "We're out there to live. They're in it for the money. We beg of you, don't do this."

His plea went unheeded. Then Jacob Barker’s article in the Business Times demonstrated that Mr. Black had it right.

The landowner and intended developer, David Atkins, an MU dropout who has made and is about to lose a fortune speculating on growth, summed up the fix into which he has gotten himself:

"We were taking speculative risk based on over a decade of experience."

That experience obviously left him and his partners unprepared for recession. Already, they have lost a commercial development farther east of town to foreclosure. He told Jacob Barker he hopes the rezoning will make the Richland Road property easier to sell so he can pay off lenders.

While Mr. Atkins struggles to get out from under, Mr. Black and his neighbors are left to face uncertainty. The rest of us face the prospect that, sooner or later, we'll wind up paying for more sprawl. What is now pasture and woodland is rezoned for 700 or so housing units, plus thousands of square feet of commercial building. The extensions of Stadium Boulevard and Rolling Hills Road through the area are just two of the big-ticket items for which we'll be handed the bill.

Tim Teddy, the city's director of planning and development, told me this week that the annexation, rezoning and development plan all stand. Those decisions run with the land, rather than any particular owner. He also pointed out that before construction can begin, the P&Z Commission and the Council must approve a specific site plan.

He won't be surprised, he said, if a new owner wants changes.

Columbia's growth, we're told, is inevitable. The only real issue is how we'll grow. The school board has provided part of an answer by choosing to build the new high school on the northeast edge of the urban area. The Richland Road decision gives eastward expansion another push.

My question is the same as Mr. Black's. Who, other than the developers, benefits? We know who'll pay.

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

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Michael Williams December 16, 2010 | 1:43 p.m.

I agree. Center-city Columbia derives no benefit whatsoever from an increased city population, increased taxes, increased shopping, increased services, increased library support, increased newspaper sales, or anything else that is increased when more people arrive. The support only goes to those who live in the new development and the person(s) who developed it.

Hence, such new areas of development should pull a "Pierpont" and self-incorporate. These newly incorporated areas should set aside shovel-ready areas for commercialization so as-much-trade-as-possible can remain within the new community. Balkanization is the name of the new game. Columbia does not want you, does not want your new home, does not want your money, and you are not welcome.

You only have two choices: Either move into the central city and listen to your neighbors music, or stay the hell out. It's not a bad deal if you stay within the current borders....after all, we allow chickens. No cows, tho.

(Report Comment)
John Schultz December 16, 2010 | 2:28 p.m.

Gee George, how about the people who buy those new houses? The construction companies and their employees who build them, earning an honest wage in the process? The entrepreneurs who buy and rent the new commercial space to sell their products, employing people and paying property taxes? I don't think JUST the developers that might bail out Mr. Atkins will be the ONLY people to benefit in time. You need to read some Hazlitt.

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams December 16, 2010 | 7:37 p.m.

This very newspaper recently (yesterday?) published a fine article on the Grant farm. The article included 3 maps of Columbia that showed a "surprising" fact; as time passed, Columbia got larger.

Wow. Who would have thunk it?

So, a question to Mr. Kennedy is this: Which map would you prefer we go back to? A second question is: Upon whose original empty piece of pristine land are you squatting?

INO, I want to know when Columbia's timepiece should stop...or should have stopped?

(Report Comment)
Clara Allen December 17, 2010 | 10:25 a.m.

Eastward expansion benefits those of us who live farther to the east. :)

(Report Comment)
James Fairchild December 17, 2010 | 11:28 a.m.


How long have you lived in Wentsville?

(Report Comment)
Tony Black December 18, 2010 | 5:09 p.m.

First off, John, they won't be buying houses because they are only building apartment buildings, hence the PUD zoning. Who will build those apartments? Hopefully someone local. They would beneifit from that. But the city will pay for the infrastructure, streets, sewers, etc. Your tax dollars. And Clara, exactly how will it benefit me to have 700 apartments in my back yard? And Michael, what about the acres and acres of undeveloped land between this site and the city proper? Shouldn't infill development come before sprawl development? And how many of you live within a mile of this development? And have you driven out here to see where this is? 2 lane, no shoulders, it used to have a one lane bridge till they took down the signs. They didn't widen they bridge, they just took down the signs. Till the city can service what they have, they shouldn't be expanding. They are talking about closing fire stations, but they have enough money for this development?

(Report Comment)
John Schultz December 18, 2010 | 5:28 p.m.

Tony, please excuse my error, I was going off George Kennedy's statement of 700 housing units in the article. The city is not going to pay for all of the infrastructure if my recollection is correct. I'm fairly certain that Bill Watkins was on one of the local radio shows and said the developers would be responsible for street improvements adjacent to their property. Would they be responsible for all of Richland Road (which I have recently driven) - no. However, stating that only tax dollars will pay for any improvements belies an "I was here first, no one else should have my niceties" opinion that was apparent among the members of TARRIF during the transportation sales tax extension a few years back.

(Report Comment)
Tony Black December 20, 2010 | 8:09 a.m.

So after driving Richland recently, do you think it's a good spot for 700 apartments and 80,000 sq ft of commercial development? Of course the city doesn't pay for all of the improvements, I didn't say they would. But even if they pay half, where is that money coming from? Your tax dollars. It will cost the city hundreds of thousands, if not millions, to make this area safe and useable. How about they close, or cut staff at the fire station that services your house to fund the improvements? And if you read the development agreement, which will probably go away now, they don't have to improve the roads. the only real requirement is a traffic study. You can do that in a week. Is it a "not in my back yard" mentality? Damn straight. But not just mine. This development is a boondoggle in ANYBODY'S back yard.

(Report Comment)

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