Columbia Regency mobile home park rezoning passes, 5-2

Tuesday, November 22, 2011 | 12:08 a.m. CST; updated 4:45 p.m. CST, Tuesday, November 22, 2011
Columbia residents attend a City Council meeting on Monday night where the council decided on the rezoning of Columbia Regency mobile home park. Attendees who supported the current mobile home residents wore yellow bands on their arms. The council voted 5-2 in favor of the request to rezone the area.

COLUMBIA – The decision is in: Columbia Regency mobile home park has been rezoned to accommodate plans by Aspen Heights to build upscale apartments for college students.

The debate about Columbia Regency, which began in September when news first broke of the Churchill Group's plans to sell and close the park, ended Monday night when the Columbia City Council voted 5-2 to approve the rezoning. Fifth Ward Councilwoman Helen Anthony and Sixth Ward Councilwoman Barbara Hoppe dissented.

The council's vote came after more than three hours of public input and more than a half hour of deliberation by the council. It approved not only the rezoning, which will allow up to 8.5 apartments per acre, but also a final plat for the 39.5-acre property at Bearfield Road and Nifong Boulevard.

Aspen Heights plans to build 330 apartments with a total of 936 bedrooms.

Dozens spoke to the council. An overwhelming majority of them opposed the rezoning.

Speakers included residents of the park, MU students and residents of Columbia.  Most cited concerns about affordable housing in the city; others worried about the impact the apartment development would have on traffic, stormwater runoff and sewer capacity.

In September, residents of the park teamed up with Grass Roots Organizing to fight the rezoning. Although they originally intended to preserve the mobile home park, Churchill — doing business as Regency of Columbia — notified residents in late October that it would close the park and require residents to move by Feb. 29, 2012.

Aspen Heights followed with a community meeting Tuesday during which Charlie Vatterott, its vice president for development, told residents that if the rezoning were approved the company would give them until April 30 to leave and until May 31 if they have school-age children. It also offered financial assistance of $1,800 for single-wide mobile homeowners and $3,000 for double-wide mobile homeowners to help with the cost of relocating their trailers. It tacked on an extra $500 for those who signed forms saying they would accept the money. 

The final plan presented the $500 to all residents, which Vatterott said was because some residents were unable to attend the meeting at the park and wanted to sign those forms. On Monday, he had some signatures in a spiral notebook from residents unable to sign earlier. 

During the meeting, many speakers called the $500 "coercion."  But Vatterott said it was a method of getting a true indication of the number of residents who supported it.

At the council meeting, residents of Grass Roots Organizing and its MU branch, GRO Mizzou, presented a petition to the council bearing more than 1,200 signatures. Several MU students spoke against the rezoning, prompting gratitude from the council for their involvement and pleas that they remain involved in affordable housing issues.

GRO member Mary Hussmann spoke against the rezoning. "This is a test for Columbia, and it's one we dare not fail," she said.

James Mace was one of the park residents who spoke in favor of the rezoning because of the money he would not otherwise receive.

"I'm not living no fairy tale here," he said in reference to the possibility other speakers had mentioned of the park being saved.

Anthony began the council's deliberations by saying the proposed apartment development was too dense, particularly given the amount of traffic already flowing through the area on Ponderosa Street, Bearfield Road and Grindstone Parkway. She also said she agreed with the Planning and Zoning Commission's unanimous vote against the rezoning in September.

Third Ward Councilman Gary Kespohl called the entire situation "a debacle." He said Regency residents, Churchill and the city all deserve some of the blame for the condition of the mobile home park.

"If we vote no, the residents lose," he said of the Feb. 29 deadline for relocating that Churchill had imposed. "If we vote yes, the residents gain something, but they lose in the end. So what do we do?"

Hoppe also cited traffic as a major concern and said mixed residential use would be more appropriate for the area. She also pledged to try to raise money to help residents relocate if the rezoning were rejected and the Aspen Heights' assistance were lost.

Mayor Bob McDavid joined Kespohl and councilmen Fred Schmidt, Jason Thornhill and Daryl Dudley of the First, Second and Fourth wards, respectively, in supporting the rezoning. He reasoned that a vote in favor of the rezoning would ensure Regency residents received at least some help with relocating expenses.

"At the end of the day, this is a painful situation," McDavid said, adding later that "there is a rule of law working here that none of us here has any control over."

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Phil Wilkinson November 22, 2011 | 5:22 a.m.

This is just not right no matter how you look at it! The developer should not be entitled to any tax breaks either since these apartments wont be open to all the people.

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith November 22, 2011 | 6:10 a.m.

"Upscale apartments for college students." Granted, some college students these days appear to be "well heeled," but how big a market is there for "upscale" apartments?

Several decades ago private developers built an "upscale" high-rise dormitory, complete with cafeteria and outdoor swimming pool, at another University of Missouri System campus. "If you build it, they will come." They didn't come! It wasn't because they disliked the facility: they couldn't afford it.

The developers went bust. An attempt was made to make the facility a retirement home; that project also tanked.

Enter the state and University of Missouri. They bought the facility at a cut price, and it is now operated as just another dormitory. A plus was that it came with the outdoor swimming pool, useful for that campus' summer camp programs.

The campus' recruiting literature says, "One-third [of our students]are first-generation college students; 32% are from household incomes under $40,000*. Given those credentials, one would not think many "upscale apartments" would be required.

*- We can assume the same student might qualify under both categories.

(Report Comment)
Gary Straub November 22, 2011 | 9:18 a.m.

"Dozens spoke to the council. An overwhelming majority of them opposed the rezoning. ...petition to the council bearing more than 1,200 signatures."

Another example of how the desires of big business takes precedence over the will of the people. Bribes and coercion are once again rewarded.

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams November 22, 2011 | 10:20 a.m.


In a community of Columbia's size, the word "dozens" and the number "1200" do not necessarily reflect the "will of the people" of this community. They only reflect the will of those who gathered at the meeting, and your own.

Your post is hyperbolic and exaggerated.

(Report Comment)
Jimmy Bearfield November 22, 2011 | 11:24 a.m.

Define "upscale." So far, I haven't seen any renderings or heard Aspen Heights say what the rents and amenities will be aside from gates at the entrances. The Cottages of Columbia is across the street from Columbia Regency and has gates. Is that upscale? If so, then there's clearly a demand for that level of housing because that place appears to be completely rented, and a lot of students live there.

MU's dorms are a hell of a lot nicer than they were when I was a student in the late 1980s and early 1990s. For example, only one dorm -- Mark Twain -- had AC when I was a freshman. Now they all do. The new ones also have amenities that were tough to find even in apartments back then. Why did MU build them? Because enough parents and students were willing to pay a premium for that lifestyle. Ditto for the student rec center and new Brady Commons.

Aspen Heights and other developers wouldn't have built or be building rentals a couple of notches above the dorms and other apartments if their research didn't indicate a significant addressable market.

(Report Comment)
Ray Shapiro November 22, 2011 | 12:10 p.m.

("She also said she agreed with the Planning and Zoning Commission's unanimous vote against the rezoning in September.")
Why even have a Planning and Zoning Commission if money talks and what's best for ALL of Columbia walks?
This almost 1,000 student attraction will greatly impact rentals throughout our town as incoming students will move to the most brand spanking new housing units.
Current rentals will go the way of abandoned homes, section 8 and questionable income renters.
This 1,000 apartment complex could become the next Pruitt-Igoe, as more future uneeded "student housing" complexes get approved by our so-called public servants.
I smell palm grease.

(Report Comment)
Hannah Spaar November 22, 2011 | 3:17 p.m.

Jimmy, Aspen Heights's website has some renderings here:

Also, if it helps anyone, a more precise number on how many spoke is nearly 60. My tally wasn't perfect, but it was somewhere in the mid-to-upper 50s.

-Hannah Spaar, reporter, Columbia Missourian

(Report Comment)
Jimmy Bearfield November 22, 2011 | 4:03 p.m.

Thanks, Hannah. Those look almost identical to The Cottages of Columbia. I wonder how many people would consider The Cottages of Columbia to be upscale.

BTW, remember all of the fuss a couple of years ago about CPS moving the Bearfield program to Field? The complaint was that doing so would hurt property values in that area. Yet The Cottages of Columbia didn't suffer with Bearfield next door -- or with Boys Town & Girls Town next door. The Cottages of Columbia appeared to be fully rented as soon as it opened.

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith November 22, 2011 | 11:54 p.m.

Amazing! In at least two Missouri counties at present ANY new housing would be welcome. Neither county is located in a metro area (well, possibly, if we are allowed to count deer and raccoons as well as people.)

Wonder if any of those FEMA trailers are still available.

(Report Comment)
frank christian November 23, 2011 | 8:00 a.m.

"(well, possibly, if we are allowed to count deer and raccoons as well as people.)

Wonder if any of those FEMA trailers are still available"

Did you mean FEMA or PETA?

(Report Comment)
Sally Willis November 23, 2011 | 8:36 a.m.

I had hoped this would not have gone through. Maybe just because I feel like we were played and fooled by big business. But I guess with enough money anything is possible :(

(Report Comment)
Aden Coggshell November 25, 2011 | 8:54 p.m.

As a citizen of Columbia (and MU student) who has actually attended city council meetings and read local press, I am very dissapointed in how the Missourian has reported this story, especially the lead reporter. The University undergraduate population has expanded 8.4% a year since 2007. Student housing in Columbia is nowhere close. Many pundits have called this "expensive living." Bottom line, this complex rivals the similar complexes in the area in terms of pricing. I have a vested interest in Columbia with the two student organizations in which I am involved with, and when I heard that if it were not for Aspen Heights the residents would be evicted with NO pay in the dead of winter, I considered this continuous coverage from this newspaper as irrelevant. I have looked at both sides of the issue, and wish our local media would be objective and not advace their own personal agenda. This is a heartbreaking situation, but what this article failed to report is that about 3/4 of protestors at the City Council meeting protested against the mobile home owner, not the housing company. The real person to blame is Regency Park Management.

(Report Comment)
Ray Shapiro December 8, 2011 | 2:02 p.m.

There's plenty of blame to share.
The city of Columbia failed to protect the residents from the neglect of the park's management.
Our churches and nonprofit agencies failed to help the lower income residents which included children, the elderly and disabled.
And I blame the city council members who voted to rezone the trailer park to sanction a private development deal and cause even more upheaval in the lives of our most vulnerable.
Merry Christmas.

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams December 8, 2011 | 2:22 p.m.

Ray opines: "Our churches and nonprofit agencies failed to help the lower income residents which included children, the elderly and disabled."

Well, since the government decided it was better at charity than the hoi polloi, many hoi polloi simply quit donating.

Unintended cause/effect caused by not paying attention to human nature. Things like this tend to happen when folks are demonized for decades-on-end.

(Report Comment)
Ray Shapiro December 12, 2011 | 3:55 p.m.

When Joplin was hit by a natural disaster, government, churches, United Way, nonprofits, the media and others joined together and worked independently to help those displaced by the tornado.
Regency Trailer Park was a man-made disaster as living conditions of lower income residents worsened with little to no intervention from outside sources.
I guess the elite of Columbia just did not find it in their hearts to help Columbia's perceived trailer trash and chose to pursue a bigger money making opportunity to make Columbia even prettier for perspective MU students.

(Report Comment)
sandy lexington January 15, 2012 | 11:13 a.m.

I think it is terrible that the owner of the park is the one who gets the heat for all of this. Management of these parks receive a generous monthly amount as well as money for emergency funds and every other year 20k or more for upgrades. The tenants in the parks are responsible for cleaning their yards and upkeep of their trailers. What was the manager doing with the money? Why do tenants think they can live in a mobile home park and not pay lot rent and not clean their yards and allow their homes to fall apart? Everyone needs to take a closer look.... this is very one sided. I know first hand how tenants can be in these parks & if they think they can continue to not pay lot rent and collect trash on their lots and allow their homes to fall down around them; maybe this will be a wake-up call!! The owner of any property has every right to sell out; TENANTS don't give him a reason to want to sell!!

(Report Comment)

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