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.