Columbia City Council fines Kroenke for zoning violation

Construction storage site at former Osco property an eyesore, members say
Tuesday, November 8, 2011 | 8:14 p.m. CST; updated 11:16 a.m. CST, Wednesday, November 9, 2011
Contractors store equipment that will be used in reconstruction of the MU Power Plant in the parking lot of the former Osco Drug, on Tuesday afternoon. Owners of the property, the Kroenke Group, received a zoning violation notice earlier this summer because the equipment is being stored there.

COLUMBIA — City Council members decided Monday night to fine The Kroenke Group for operating a temporary construction storage site that is violating city zoning codes at the former Osco Drug property.

"What we have is somebody actually being paid to violate our ordinance, which is unique," Mayor Bob McDavid said during the council's Monday night meeting.

The storage site is serving a contractor on a project that will enable the MU Power Plant to burn wood. McDavid said he supports that project, but he and other council members clearly are angry about The Kroenke Group's behavior.

Stan Kroenke of Columbia is the namesake for The Kroenke Group and one of the wealthiest men in the country. The Osco Drug store has been closed and the building left vacant since 2004.

"For me, if the university had called us and said, 'Hey, can you cut us a break?' I'd have said sure," McDavid said. "But it annoys me that this site, which is a blight in the middle of Columbia ... Maybe the people that own it are in hard financial times, I don't know. Maybe they can't afford to upgrade it. Maybe they need the money. I don't know."

"It's an embarrassing site, and it's almost like they're thumbing their nose at us," McDavid said, adding that the owner deserves to be punished.

City Attorney Fred Boeckmann told the council that the maximum fine for zoning violations is $250 per day.

"Let's do it," McDavid said.

Council members recognized the fine would be no burden on Kroenke's company.

"This is all symbolic," McDavid said. "This is about making a statement."

First Ward Councilman Fred Schmidt said he hears a lot about the property from constituents.

“Perhaps 10 percent of all the comments I have ever gotten on council have been about why is that Osco site not developed,” he said.

"It's an eyesore," Schmidt added. "They've had requests to use it for things like a farmers market that they have turned down, so let's fine them."

The site is a vacant parking lot in front of what used to be Osco Drug, at 111 S. Providence Road. The building and parking lot are zoned for C-2, or central business district, uses.

Because the central business district zoning area does not permit outdoor storage uses, the city notified The Kroenke Group of a zoning violation on July 18.

Second Ward Councilman Jason Thornhill also supported the fine. "This guy's not a newcomer to zoning," he said of Kroenke.

Community development director Tim Teddy said staff decided to suspend enforcement of the violation after the contractor asked city officials if they could continue using the site if they were able to hide the equipment and materials from public view.

"I think they realized they were letting it all hang out there on Providence," Teddy said. His staff will work with the city's law department to determine the number of days The Kroenke Group has been in violation of the ordinance.

"The council gave very clear directions last night, so we will be enforcing that," he said.

Schmidt worried that The Kroenke Group might try to dodge the fine.

"I would be sad to see the property owner, because of his impoverished state, push this off on the contractor," he said.

Project manager Bryan Meyer of McCarthy Building Cos., the contractor working on the power plant, was unable to say whether the lease would continue. He said it would definitely affect work on the power plant if the company is forced to move the storage yard. 

Council members did ask staff to draft an amendment to the zoning code that would allow for temporary construction storage sites, but they were clear that they would not issue such a permit to The Kroenke Group.

The Kroenke Group did not return phone calls seeking comment.

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Louis Schneebaum November 8, 2011 | 8:41 p.m.

I agree with McDavid 100% -- as I ride/walk past this site, especially after having read about what was going on, I have to wonder to myself if this Kroenke actually DISLIKES this town. You think of other mega-rich businessmen who gave back to their communities with large museums, edifices, or libraries. Wal-Mart money gives you blight. Classy. I propose the Kroenke Institute of Art, Columbia Missouri. Naturally, that's easy for me to say, given it's not my money. At any rate, for now, I'll just have to enjoy all the wonderfully cheap sprawl around the town's periphery, the abandoned drug store, and all that good stuff. Hopefully soon, we get something like The Links built overlooking Devil's Icebox! We could put a Cheesecake Factory down at the bottom of that neat staircase, near the mouth of the cave. I smell $$$!

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith November 9, 2011 | 3:51 a.m.

@ Louis Schneebaum:

Nice job, Louis! I particularly liked that you acknowledged the fact that it's easy to spend someone else's money. You may have a bright future in Washington, D. C. !

However, as is often the case there is another way to view the situation: the "grasping oppressiveness" of city government. What's to keep them from zeroing in on MU and fining MU for displaying those weather-eroded limestone Columns? Eyesore! :)

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams November 9, 2011 | 8:39 a.m.

I looked at the accompanying picture and heartily agreed. How dare someone park that brick-red and white edifice with rocket launching tubes at each end in downtown Columbia!!!!

Then I looked lower and realized what we were really talking about.

There are two things that bother me about this situation, to wit:

(1) That the Osco property, including the parking lot, has been allowed to deteriorate. If the owner wishes to NOT develop the property, that is his prerogative. I will not presume to tell him how to spend his money on developments. But, he must not be allowed to flout zoning laws plus there is an ethic to not create/maintain an eyesore.

(2) Some of the council comments astound me. Like these:
"This is all symbolic," McDavid said. "This is about making a statement."

"They've had requests to use it for things like a farmers market that they have turned down, so let's fine them."

"Let's do it," McDavid said.

"I would be sad to see the property owner, because of his impoverished state, push this off on the contractor," he said.

What do we have here? A few petulant children? Assuming these are accurate quotations, I would think our council could think and behave a mite more professionally, don't you?

I'd also like to point out there are many just-as-bad sites all over Columbia. 'Tis true, tho....this one is at a major crossroads and is, hence, highly visible.

This equipment IS for a worthy cause...revamping of the power plant. Putting the equipment close by the job site is certainly a good you really want that equipment traveling a long way on our streets? Let's hear some solutions accompanying these gripes.

(Report Comment)
John Schultz November 9, 2011 | 11:08 a.m.

And yet, none of this hullabaloo arose when the University's contractors used that parking lot as a staging and storage area for the preformed concrete that came in for the new garage across from the hospital.

It seems strange to me that the council was authorizing the fine on Kroenke. Doesn't the city staff have the power to enforce fines without council approval?

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith November 9, 2011 | 11:10 a.m.

@ Michael Williams et al.:

Old Polish proverb: One man's trash is another man's treasure.

Thought for today, since it is mentioned in passing in the article: MU is preparing be able to use wood chips, as well as using coal*, for power generation; MS&T, which HAS BEEN using both wood chips and coal for power generation, will in 5 years be using neither (going geothermal). Which campus is closest to a whole lot of trees?

*- I do have that correct, don't I? They aren't going to stop using coal any time soon.

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams November 9, 2011 | 11:54 a.m.

John Schultz points out: "And yet, none of this hullabaloo arose when the University's contractors used that parking lot as a staging and storage area for the preformed concrete that came in for the new garage across from the hospital."

Hmmmmm. Didn't remember that.

I wonder if the council forgot, too?

OK, Mr McDavid and Mr to comment?

(Report Comment)
Mike Martin November 9, 2011 | 12:31 p.m.

The "solution" gentlemen is that you obey the dam- law! I have to, you have to, Kroenke has to.

Had the city enforced its regulations out at Regency Mobile Home Park, the community and the tenants out there wouldn't be in the mess they're in today. The Council is trying to step up and actually enforce similar regulations in this case, and I for one am darned glad.

If McDavid wants to make a few eye-catching comments to call attention to the problem, good on him. To do so is neither petulant or unprofessional -- it's media-savvy use of a bully pulpit the Council should use a lot more often.

It's time we stopped having two sets of laws: one for you and I, and another for the George Gradows/Stan Kroenkes of the world. On a larger scale, this two sets of laws thing is part of what's wrecking this country.

(Report Comment)
Derrick Fogle November 9, 2011 | 12:47 p.m.

Previous construction staging uses of that parking lot were absolutely nothing compared to what's going on now. Previously, it was never more than a handful of trailers with the concrete forms on them. No fencing around them.

Kronke could have applied for a conditional use permit. He didn't even bother. Residents started complaining almost immediately, while city staff responsible for enforcing zoning ordinances did nothing. After months of hearing about it from constituents, the council finally had to make a resolution to force city staff to do it's job.

I don't really mind the site. I understand what and why. There's really no better place for it. But the apparently flippant and collusive attitude between Kronke and city staff to just "let it happen" is a piss-poor way to to do business, and smacks of impropriety.

So now Kronke is gonna have to pay a $250/day retroactive license fee for the lot's use. That amounts to... what percentage of the lease payments he's getting?

As the old saying goes, it's easier to pay the fine than to ask for permission.

(Report Comment)
Gregg Bush November 9, 2011 | 2:12 p.m.

The blight's the case of
Absentee ownership - it's
Not in his backyard.

(Report Comment)
Louis Schneebaum November 9, 2011 | 8:41 p.m.

"Which campus is closest to a whole lot of trees?"

The BIOMASS burnt for power is often in the form of grass pellets or some other such thing, we wouldn't want to carry our slovenly culture on the backs of our oaks and pines...

(Report Comment)
frank christian November 9, 2011 | 9:05 p.m.

Louis S. - "our slovenly culture"? Please! Or, got a map?

(Report Comment)

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