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.