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Candidates address downtown, zoning issues

Chamber hosts first forum for City Council contenders
Thursday, February 10, 2011 | 8:24 p.m. CST; updated 9:12 p.m. CST, Thursday, February 10, 2011

COLUMBIA — Candidates for the First Ward seat on the Columbia City Council focused largely on downtown issues during a forum hosted by the Columbia Chamber of Commerce on Thursday, while those seeking the Fifth Ward seat said planning and zoning issues are among their priorities.

The chamber forum was the first of the 2011 council campaign season. Four candidates for the First Ward and two candidates for the Fifth Ward attended, along with about 30 other people.

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In the First Ward, Darrell Foster, Pam Forbes, Mitch Richards and Fred Schmidt are competing to replace Paul Sturtz, who is not seeking re-election. Helen Anthony and Glen Ehrhardt are facing off in the Fifth Ward to replace Laura Nauser, who also will step down after the April 5 vote.

The First Ward forum touched on several issues, including the city budget and efforts to improve downtown. Persephone Dakopolos of the Special Business District asked the candidates to explain their priorities for downtown.

Richards said he wants to support small businesses and to address downtown's status as a "food desert," meaning it lacks a large grocery store.

Schmidt, too, said that's important. “In the long term, we need to bring in a medium-size grocery store. ...”

Foster said safety is a big concern, and he thinks improving employment downtown is the way to improve it. Foster encouraged small businesses downtown to employ young people who have just gotten out of school.

“If we want them to be safe, we need to practice inclusion,” Foster said.

Forbes said she supports the planned apartment complex at Walnut Street and College Avenue, which was approved by the City Council on Monday. The developers plan to build 100 apartments along with retail space.

“If the infrastructure can support it, ... it is going to be a big stimulus downtown,” Forbes said.

Schmidt said he supports downtown improvement in general. “It’s good to encourage projects in downtown, and it has a bright future,” Schmidt said.

Fifth Ward candidate Ehrhardt also weighed in on downtown, saying he wants to see it improve. The more businesses thrive there, the more jobs will become available, he said.

Ehrhardt and Anthony emphasized city planning and zoning, specifically what’s broken about it.

“We need to simplify the process, so it’s easier to do development,” Ehrhardt said.

Anthony said streets and other infrastructure have failed to keep pace with the growth of the city. “If we don’t have them in place, we are not that welcoming to businesses,” she said.

Anthony said zoning classifications are broken, too. “We need to incorporate more flexible rules.”


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Comments

Luna Paydon February 10, 2011 | 9:46 p.m.

Yes! Please bring a grocery store downtown! Those of us who live downtown can't afford cars because parking is ridiculously pricey. There are no grocery stores within walking distance. I usually end up going to walgreens, the root cellar, middle eastern market, and oriental market. Which are all great but spread out and don't have many options.
Plus the bus routes don't make sense. The only route to walmart takes 45 min from downtown, because it takes a stupid route that goes all around town first. but bus routes are a whole other story

(Report Comment)
Corey Parks February 10, 2011 | 10:14 p.m.

How would these people bring a grocery store downtown? They look to be city council candidates not businessmen specializing in food service.

I am willing to bet that they will not have a full grocery store downtown until they complete the process of moving section 8 to the outer limits of Columbia and converting the current area to upper living condo's close to the down town area.

(Report Comment)
Mark Foecking February 11, 2011 | 3:14 a.m.

THe problem with a grocery store downtown is, in the presence of cheap fuel and ubiquitous automobiles, a downtown store will find it hard to compete when it's so easy to just drive to Schnuck's, Gerbes or Wal-Mart. I would love to see a store go in the old Osco, for example, but I don't think any savvy grocer (or bank) will take the risk, at least not until it's not so easy and cheap to just jump in the car.

DK

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith February 11, 2011 | 6:01 a.m.

Well, Mark, maybe Hy-Vee will decide to lease the old Osco store as yet another Hy-Vee location. They're slowly taking over the grocery business in Columbia. "There's a helpful smile in every aisle."

Iowans are not to be trusted. :)

(Report Comment)
Mark Foecking February 11, 2011 | 6:03 a.m.

Luna Paydon wrote:

"There are no grocery stores within walking distance."

There are, however, several within cycling distance. A small trailer can easily carry a weeks worth of groceries, and the cycle and trailer can be stored in an apartment.

DK

(Report Comment)
Jack Hamm February 11, 2011 | 6:51 a.m.

@ Luna

I feel your pain; I have wanted a grocery store downtown for years. I don't see it happening though until there are a significant number of people who use bikes/buses to get around. DK nailed it on the head when he said that cars will keep any downtown store from competing.

"Plus the bus routes don't make sense."

I have been saying this too for years. The Columbia buses really are not that bad; they are just so horribly mismanaged. I have never understood why the city did not fire the management there and put in people who are least somewhat competent. The schedules make no sense (not that they ever run on schedule). Half the routes are pointless and most of them are far too long. The staff is unprofessional and undisciplined and management seems to not care at all about safety concerns or customer services.

(Report Comment)
Delcia Crockett February 11, 2011 | 7:09 a.m.

Some people already consider the Forum Shopping Center close enough to downtown and the campuses, because walkers/bikers/runners can take the trail at entrance across the street from MU campus, into behind the shopping center and buy their groceries, get a haircut, see a movie, eat at a restaurant, etc. They state reason as avoiding traffic/parking congestion downtown. They shop the District, and they take the trail to Forum - but they make both places a part of their exercise time routine.

(Report Comment)
Gregg Bush February 11, 2011 | 8:31 a.m.

We need a Trader Joe's in the old Osco place.
If only The Cartel would allow competition.

(Report Comment)
Corey Parks February 11, 2011 | 9:39 a.m.

Trader Joe's is a private corporation and you can not purchase and start one up. KC does not even have one. It is up to the Pres and VP and Marketing to decide where they want to expand and they really do not like to expand.
I have contacted them in the past. Basically said our numbers and our location at this time is not a good fit for there business model. Whatever in the hell that means. I think all the granola eaters in town would overwhelm the store.

(Report Comment)
frank christian February 11, 2011 | 11:00 a.m.

Jack H. - Look for a Benito Mussolini. He made the trains run on time all over Italy.

(Report Comment)
hank ottinger February 11, 2011 | 12:10 p.m.

TJ's is opening two stores in Kansas City this year, according to news reports.

(Report Comment)
Ryan macker February 28, 2011 | 2:08 a.m.

I'm all for an overhaul of the bus system. The routes are awfully laid out, and take long buses through roads that they can't move around on. It's no wonder why buses are so frequently late. And it would be better if the buses were going somewhere people actually wanted to go to, but some routes will take you through the middle of nowhere before getting you were you want. Plus, the operation times are a complete joke; who the hell ever heard of a last bus before 6:30pm? And what, no Sunday service? I do work on Sunday, you know.

If Schmidt is dedicated to fixing this issue among others, then I'll gladly give him my vote.

(Report Comment)

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