Fifth Ward candidate Helen Anthony demands better planning

Tuesday, March 29, 2011 | 8:38 p.m. CDT; updated 8:26 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, March 30, 2011

COLUMBIA — Fifth Ward candidate Helen Anthony wants to bring her planning experience to the City Council.  

Anthony moved to Columbia in 2003 from Needham, Mass., a suburb of Boston. A licensed attorney, Anthony did not set up a practice when she moved to Columbia so she would have time to raise four teenagers.

She sought a seat on the Columbia Planning and Zoning Commission and was appointed by the City Council in 2007. Her term will expire in May 2012. If elected to the City Council, Anthony will vacate her seat on the Planning and Zoning Commission, and the City Council will appoint a replacement commissioner for a one-year term.

“The quality of life we have come to expect here in Columbia comes from proper planning,” Anthony said.

Anthony is a member of both the Missouri and Massachusetts bar associations, the Assistance League of Mid-Missouri, Pines Homeowners Association and the External Advisory Council of the Public Health Program at MU.

Her treasurer is former Boone County Library Board president Linda Dellsperger.  

Anthony said she decided to seek a council seat this year because now more than ever Columbia needs someone on the council with planning experience.

Her opponent to fill the Fifth Ward seat being vacated by Laura Nauser is Glen Ehrhardt. The election is April 5.

Columbia’s zoning regulations and land-use polices have been broken for a long time, Anthony said.

“We need to go back and change some of the ways we do zoning,” Anthony said. “We need to turn what we have now upside down, evaluate it and update it to fit our growing city. What we have is just not appropriate.”

Changing Columbia’s “one zoning fits all regulations” into more flexible regulations is the first step to keeping downtown dense and vibrant, she said.   

“We need to allow for innovative development,” Anthony said.

In January, the Planning and Zoning Commission sent a recommendation of denial to the council on a request to rezone land at College Avenue and Walnut Street for a 100-unit apartment building with ground-level retail space.

Anthony voted no against Nathan and Jonathan Odle of College and Walnut LLC’s request to rezone the property from residential to commercial.

“The building itself was perfect for downtown — just the innovative development that we need,” Anthony said. “It was beautiful and multi-use. My issue was that they were asking for open zoning.”

Anthony said that she would have been open to approving it if a more detailed plan had been presented.

“The problem we have now is that once it is zoned a certain way, it is always zoned,” Anthony said. “These multi-use buildings are the kind of growth we need to see, but because you don’t have a written guarantee of what the developer will end up doing with the location, you can only go off word of mouth.”

Anthony said she voted against the proposal because “it’s not our job to trust word of mouth” and that doing so could be detrimental to the community.

“It is our job to dot 'i's and cross the ‘t’s,” Anthony said. “These zoning issues are tricky and very easy to misunderstand unless you have the planning and zoning experience.”

Despite the commission’s 3-4 vote to recommend denial, the Odle’s request was  unanimously approved by the council.

Changing our “antiquated zoning regulations” into more flexible regulations would get rid of the “one zoning fits all” problem and save the city time, Anthony said.

If elected, Anthony would also like to see “changes to our city ordinances so that the comprehensive plan is more than merely a suggestion.” 

“Right now it is a great suggestion with great principles, but it is only a suggestion," Anthony said. "We need to give this plan some teeth.”  

As a commissioner, Anthony was involved in the development of both the Northeast Area Plan and the East Area Plan designed to serve as a guide to development in those areas. Anthony said she would like to see a similar level of public input in the development of a comprehensive plan for the city.   

Anthony’s campaign is based on planning, but she said that planning is not meant to limit the city. 

“I am not anti-development,” Anthony said. “On 151 cases that have come before Planning and Zoning, I have voted yes on 133 of them.”

In March 2008, a rezoning request and plan for Landmark Hospital came before the Planning and Zoning Commission. The commission endorsed the proposal to rezone the tract from residential to planned office development on a 5-3 vote. The plan to allow for the hospital was recommended for approval by a 6-2 vote. Anthony voted no on both issues.

Despite critics, Anthony said she stands behind those votes and believes she made the right decision after taking into account the merits of each project.

“My 'no' votes as a commissioner really fall into two categories,” Anthony said. “One is lack of road infrastructure. I will not put a big development on a bad road.  And two is incompatible use. The Landmark Hospital is an example of that. The plans were great, but I didn’t feel as if it belonged in the oldest established neighborhood in Columbia. It was just not an appropriate location.”

Addressing Columbia’s aging infrastructure is another main component of Anthony’s campaign.

Proper planning will enable Columbia to grow in a way that is attractive to not only its residents but also potential employers, Anthony said. 

“I have the institutional knowledge to what is working in Columbia and what is not,” she said. “It is about balancing development and growing in a way that will bring new jobs without destroying the quality of life we are proud of and have come expect here.”

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