Woodridge neighborhood residents voice opinions about possible development of urban forest

Thursday, October 20, 2011 | 3:21 p.m. CDT; updated 6:22 p.m. CDT, Thursday, October 20, 2011
LDG Development plans to build an apartment complex on an 11.5 acre plot of land on Berrywood Drive but plans to leave 3.3 acres of wooded area untouched.

COLUMBIA — The construction many Woodridge neighborhood residents have feared for more than three years may happen soon.

LDG Development, a company based in Louisville, Ky., is making plans to build a $10 million senior independent living apartment complex on the neighborhood's forest.

Residents of the neighborhood held a meeting Tuesday night at the Baymont Inn and Suites on Keene Street to voice their opinions and have questions addressed by LDG representatives.

The complex would be a 60-unit gated community for residents 55-and-older, similar to Bethel Ridge Estates. An additional 40 units could be added.

The 11.25-acre forest currently consists of more than 500 hardwood canopy trees and is home to a large number of wildlife. The trees tower over the nearby buildings and muffle the sounds of the city.

"It is being designed to minimize tree removal," Tim Crockett of Crockett Engineering Consulting in Columbia said. Crockett's firm is in charge of the engineering work for this project.

“The property will hug the west property line in an effort to maximize the amount of tree preservation along the far east side of the development as a buffer up against the neighborhood,” Crockett said.

Crockett said the current plan calls for that buffer to be more than three acres of undisturbed wooded land.

A city ordinance requires that at least 25 percent of any climax forest be maintained. A climax forest is defined by the city as a woodland area more than 20,000 square feet, dominated by climax species such as oak, hickory, sugar maple or hardwood trees. With the proposed plan, more than 60 percent would be retained, Crockett said. 

Don Stamper, Columbia representative for LDG, said the project would have less of an impact on the forest than the previous project that had been proposed.

“What we’re proposing is just about a little more than a third amount of usage that it’s zoned for, so what could go there is a far greater risk than what we’re proposing,” Stamper said.

The land had been platted for a much larger project: a 175-unit assisted living facility, a separate building for a kitchen and two office buildings.

The city has not approved a reduction and intensity of use revision to this site yet, Stamper said. This will be referred to as a minor revision, which does not require a public hearing and just requires administrative approval.

During the meeting, a resident asked why this specific forest had to be the site of the new apartment complex. Stamper named a few factors.

“It's location; the fact that it’s close to health care access; the fact that it’s close to grocery stores and other assets within the community,” he said.

Many residents, including Sue Breyfogle, are worried about the effect this project will have on the aesthetics of the neighborhood. However, she said they have understood the land would be sold to someone eventually.

“Right now what they’re proposing is probably the best case, realistically,” Breyfogle said.

Some of the trees are said to be at least 200–years-old and were part of a land grant purchase, according to Breyfogle, who said she found the information in a document dating back to the 1800s.

Scott Wright, a who lives adjacent to the proposed development, has many concerns, including the overall impact on the surrounding neighborhood.

Wright said the larger issue the city hasn't addressed is the "prime piece of old growth forest in the middle of the city."

In Wright’s opinion, the best-case scenario would be if the city bought the property and retained it as an old growth forest. He said the housing association has tried to think of ways to save the area for years, but nothing has come to fruition.

“But we have to be realistic. It’s privately owned, and it has a price tag on it,” Wright said.

LDG has retained rights for the property from Legacy Bank of Oklahoma City pending funding. Should it receive funding, the project could begin sometime next year.

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Kevin Gamble October 20, 2011 | 5:41 p.m.

Disappointing to see Stamper and the Council selling out the quality of life of their own community for the sake of out-of-state commercial interests. It's become a running theme in this town for the last few years.

Have no doubt that this is just the first step in the eventual decimation of the natural landscape in the east part of town, and east of town, by commercial development.

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