Petitions on Regency mobile home park rezoning to be presented to City Council

Thursday, November 17, 2011 | 11:20 p.m. CST; updated 11:47 p.m. CST, Thursday, November 17, 2011

COLUMBIA — MU students are being asked to sign two different petitions in advance of the Monday night City Council meeting, when the Columbia Regency mobile home park rezoning will be considered.

Grass Roots Organizing's MU chapter organized the first petition, which opposes the rezoning. The group has collected signatures at Speakers Circle and had 1,146 as of Thursday night.

The second petition supports the rezoning. The park's prospective developer, Aspen Heights, held a contest on Facebook to collect signatures from MU sororities and fraternities. The organizations could compete to win a $500 prize for collecting the most signatures on an online petition in favor the developer's proposed student apartment complex.

The contest ended at 10 a.m. Thursday, according to its Facebook page. The petition will be presented to the council.

In September, residents of Regency mobile home park learned the park's owner, Regency of Missouri, was looking to rezone and sell the property to Aspen Heights. Residents initially opposed the rezoning, but park owners announced plans in late October to close the park and force residents to leave either way.

Aspen Heights offered to compensate residents for some moving costs, and Charlie Vatterott, Aspen Heights executive vice president of development, offered an additional $500 per resident if they signed a paper stating they were in favor of receiving the benefits of rezoning.

These events caused mixed views about the proposed rezoning among residents and supporters.

Grass Roots Organizing plans to present the first petition to the city and MU Chancellor Brady Deaton on Friday.

Curtis Edwards, a member of the MU Chapter, said his stance was set: Students cannot afford expensive student housing; all who live in Columbia should work together to find solutions for problems in Columbia; and the solution Aspen Heights offers is not the only solution that should be discussed.

He said also that although Aspen Heights spokespeople say students need the housing, that opinion is not coming from students.

Edwards has spoken to both the Planning and Zoning Commission and the City Council to oppose the rezoning. His opposition remains, even after Regency of Missouri announced the park's closure.

Fifth Ward Councilwoman Helen Anthony described students who spoke before the council as "highly articulate," "reasoned" and "involved."

Anthony also said she noticed they spoke without trying to win money, and she plans to take their opinions into account for her vote. She said she does not plan to take into account the petition from the sorority and fraternity contest as she does not know how much the members looked at the issue before signing.

MU student Kam Phillips, who spoke against the rezoning in front of the council and commission, said the issue has become complicated. Although she wishes the residents did not have to leave, she sees that rezoning would allow them to recoup some losses.

She plans to sign the MU Grass Roots Organizing's petition and help gather signatures.

Phillips, a senior in the School of Social Work, was the 2011 MU Homecoming Queen. She used the title when she sent an email to MU sorority and fraternity chapter presidents asking them and their members not to sign the Aspen Heights petition.

The president of Zeta Tau Alpha passed the email along to her sorority's members. As of 8:25 Thursday night, likes on the Aspen Heights Columbia Facebook page had decreased to 587 from from 591 at 7:20 the night before. Likes on the Delta Delta Delta entry fell from 194 to 182 and likes on the Alpha Delta Pi entry fell from 56 to 55. There was only one like on the Zeta Tau Alpha entry.

Mayor Bob McDavid said Thursday he would not comment on the specifics of the petitions as he had only heard about and not seen them.

"Obviously it's important to know the terms under which any petition is signed," McDavid said. "I'm sure the council will take that into consideration."  

Sixth Ward Councilwoman Barbara Hoppe said the council will be looking at the motives of the petition signers. She said the Aspen Heights contest surprised her.

"It seems sort of like a desperate measure," she said. "It's a little sneaky – maybe just plain sneaky." She said she would rather have people signing petitions out of genuine interest.

She, like Anthony, said the MU Grass Roots Organizing petition would carry more influence.

"We're going to have to weigh those thousand signatures a little heavier," she said.

Third Ward Councilman Gary Kespohl said neither petition would influence his vote as his mind is already made up. He said he is basing his decision on whether the residents of Regency are satisfied with Aspen Heights' offers. Because the majority of them signed papers supporting rezoning, he said, it "sounds like they're satisfied."

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