Proposed extension to County House Branch Trail causes controversy

Monday, January 9, 2012 | 5:41 p.m. CST; updated 6:23 p.m. CST, Monday, January 9, 2012
A proposed extension to the County House Branch Trail would intersect with Mike Onofrio's private property. Onforio, who has lived in the house for 15 years, said the addition of the trail would change the scene in the neighborhood.

COLUMBIA — For 50 years, Mike Onofrio has enjoyed the meditative sanctuary of the creek and trees between Radcliffe and Cowan drives in the College Park and County House Branch neighborhoods.

Secluded behind a bamboo hedge, his home, with its wood-burning stove, is like a temple to the nature he loves so much, his own "cabin in the woods." The front of Onofrio's house is a span of large glass windows that give him and his wife an unobstructed view of their property. 


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But he and his wife say they'll have to cover their windows and give up the privacy they love if the city approves a proposed extension to the County House Branch Trail.

Built recently, the original trail heads north from the Twin Lakes Recreation Area and reaches Stadium Boulevard at the intersection of Stadium and College Park Drive.

In 2009, the city hired a consultant to evaluate trail extensions that would ultimately connect Twin Lakes, south of Chapel Hill Road, to the Vanderveen subdivision, north of Interstate 70 near Albert-Oakland Park.

In its report, the consultant proposed three possible routes for a section of trails that would connect Stadium Boulevard to Worley Street.

The third of these proposals, which would connect Radcliffe Drive and Cowan Drive to the trails system, is the one that has upset Onofrio and some of his neighbors. Onofrio drafted and circulated a petition asking that the City Council reject that route.

Onofrio said he had "65 signatures and counting" and that he expected to have hundreds of signatures before long.


The route in question — the County House Branch Trail phase 2 section C-1 — would meander through private property and cut between two duplexes. Onofrio said that is unacceptable.

Starting at the end of Radcliffe Drive, the trail would cut through Onofrio's property into the county right-of-way on the hill bordering the north side of Stadium. A bridge would have to be installed just inside the bamboo hedge to take the trail across the creek and onto the hill.

"They're taking the trail right over my driveway," Onofrio said.

Onofrio also noted that the property where the trail would be built is treacherous and hilly, which will make it difficult to create a trail that is easily accessible to the people who would use it.

One Cowan Drive resident, Sarah Bush, has written a letter to Fourth Ward Councilman Daryl Dudley, citing multiple reasons for her opposition to the trail.

Among her arguments are problems with teenagers hanging out in the woods leaving beer bottles at the edge of her yard, which she thinks the trail would encourage.

She argues that the trail's location, being "through the woods and near the creek," would make it impossible to patrol when compared to the alternative routes.

Onofrio insisted the trail is not necessary for his neighborhood.

"The main issue is that there are alternate routes," Onofrio said. "Why would they want to go through our property to put a bike trail in?"

Eminent domain as a last resort

To build section C, the city will have to buy privately owned land between Radcliffe Drive and Cowan Drive. If the landowners choose not to sell, the city will have to use eminent domain to obtain the properties.

"Our neighbors are all against it; they’re not gonna sell,” Onofrio said.

"We strongly prefer not to use eminent domain," Mike Hood, director of Columbia Parks and Recreation, said. "It's a last resort if it has to be used. We look for all options before using it."

According to a previous Missourian article, Second Ward Councilman Jason Thornhill and Dudley both said they wouldn't support eminent domain when a section of Scott's Branch Trail was proposed on land that belonged to the Audubon Society.

At a meeting on Dec. 19, Onofrio told the council he had suggested an alternate plan, one that would connect Cowan Drive to the trails through city-owned Kiwanis Park. That would leave his neighborhood on Radcliffe Drive out of the trails — something he said his neighbors support.

At the end of the meeting, council members asked to see Onofrio's plan before making any further decisions. Onofrio has some experience with trail design. As a student intern for Columbia Parks and Recreation, he walked the original route of the MKT Trail before it was built.

As for the two other routes proposed by the consultant, route A-1 is an on-road route that would not require the construction of any new trails and should not be compared to routes B-1 and C-1/2, according to the report.

Route B-1 would head slightly west from College Park Drive and continue north, connecting to Worley Street near West Junior High School.

The report concludes that route B-1 is the preferred route for a "west alignment (of the County House Trail) and as the regional trail" after "field investigations, discussions with city staff and a review of available information."

The consultant also recommended that the city consider route C — the one Onofrio opposes — for connecting neighborhoods on the east to the city's trail system.

At the bottom of the list

Onofrio and his neighbors may not have anything to worry about. Ted Curtis, director of the GetAbout Columbia project, said that section C isn't going to be at the top of his organization's list of trails to be built. It has an estimated cost of $500,000.

"There's $10 million worth of projects and $6 million in funds," Curtis said.

According to Curtis, the city will probably take into account any controversy about the proposed trails as it makes its choice.

Hood said the trails are not finalized in any way.

“The master plan only identifies potential trail projects,” Hood said. “There is certainly no commitment by the city to build any of those.”

He said neighborhood opposition is hard to get around.

"Every trail project is a challenge," Hood said. "There are usually many property owners involved. I don't know of any option that could be done without going through private property."

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Richard Saunders January 9, 2012 | 6:22 p.m.

I always love how everybody who wants to steal property "strongly prefers not to use eminent domain," unless they don't get their way, at which point they are fine with it, blaming the property owner for the conflict instead.

Why can't they just be honest and come right out and say, "Do as I say and nobody gets hurt!"?

As usual, political behavior is wholly indistinguishable from otherwise anti-social behavior. It is nothing more than divide and conquer, this time in the form of property "rights." (that are actually wrongs)

Why is it that the unproductive people in society feel so compelled to steal from the productive ones? Is it too much to ask them to earn an honest living? Or does the ideology of "fairness" somehow not allow for it?

Of all the things that people in government do, stealing property seems to be their favorite (well, that and complaining about 'work').

(Report Comment)
Bill Fisher January 9, 2012 | 7:10 p.m.

I grew up in that neighborhood. Kawanis park would be a horrible route for the trail. Seriously, it'd make zero sense to go all the way up Colege Park Dr. to the park, then pass through the park to... where? The top of Maplewood and Rollins?

When I was a kid, my friends and I spent endless summers riding a singletrack trail that's now behind the area where Onofrio built his house 15 years ago. Really, I've never understood how anyone would pick that spot for a home, considering how high the creek gets in the winter.

Also, it amazes me how so many out-spoken bicycle haters in Columbia complain about how there are too many cyclists on the roads, yet when the city tries to put trails through the city--thereby allowing us to bypass the roads--they're hit with resistance every time.

Build the trail. It'll be used by cyclists and neighborhood walkers, and be well worth the cost.

Onofrio, you built your home in a very stupid spot. It's time to come to terms with that.

(Report Comment)
Louis Schneebaum January 9, 2012 | 7:31 p.m.

Sadly, Onofrio, you live smack in the middle of a rapidly growing small city, things are "gonna" change.

(Report Comment)
Gerald Shelnutt January 9, 2012 | 7:50 p.m.

How many miles of trail does Columbia need?

Richard Saunders asked "Why is it that the unproductive people in society feel so compelled to steal from the productive ones?"

When asked why he kept robbing banks the robber replied "because that's where the money is".

(Report Comment)
John Schmidt January 9, 2012 | 8:31 p.m.

Can we please think of something even smaller and more selfish to complain about before we productively pollute our way to work where we will sit and use a computer to attempt to manipulate the opinions of the stupid once again tomorrow?

(Report Comment)
John Schmidt January 9, 2012 | 8:38 p.m.

Because I just know some greedy thieves are really going to make a lot of money off of buying a few feet of rough land from the productive. (There's oil underneath it. Doncha know? It's why the stream has rainbows!)

(Report Comment)
terry Bura January 9, 2012 | 9:07 p.m.

north trail, south trail ,trails trails trails,can we drive our automobiles on them? Seems like Columbia hunts for places to spend money... lets get some one in there to design a 4 story parking garage.

(Report Comment)
Derrick Fogle January 9, 2012 | 10:16 p.m.

What is the actual property value impact of other similar trails? Contrary to Sarah Bush's perception, these trails are actually incredibly boring. Teenagers throwing beer bottles?!? It would be a story they could tell their grandkids!

It's possible, but... not very likely. Any record of how many of these incidents there have been on existing trails?

This kind of recreational infrastructure is incredibly valuable to the community as a whole, and I believe it's an overall positive value to adjacent homeowners as well. The biggest complainers now will probably get the most enjoyment out of trail watching once it gets put in, but perhaps the landowners really should be able to deny themselves that satisfaction.

I don't have any real problems with the existing route, except that it's easy to get confused on all the twisty roads if you're not familiar with the area. But... the hilliness is a cycling masochist's dream!

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith January 10, 2012 | 7:24 a.m.

Here is an answer to the question of how many miles of trails we should have.

How many miles of trails can we reasonably afford to MAINTAIN? That's the answer to your question. I don't know what that number may be, but that should be a major consideration in determining the extent to which more trails are built.

This is something that covers far more situations than just walking, jogging and bicycle trails. It covers situations like streets, highways, buildings on university campuses, etc.

Americans are (or have to this point in time been) great at building things, but not so great at planning and budgeting for their maintenance. Some of us, possibly due to our professions, are more aware that maintenance is a major consideration. I think that walkers, joggers and cyclists would agree that they don't want to have to contend in the future with deteriorating and possibly even unsafe trails.

(Report Comment)
mike onofrio January 10, 2012 | 9:12 a.m.

I think what I got out of this article was the fact the city council and city officials are respectfull of neighborhood activism and will not use eminent domain unless absolutely necessary. Personal property and ownership is valued and honored is what I read in this article. Unless there is no other option would the city or city council even concider taking a resident's property away from them. This "proposed" trail thats being writen about is just a green space that along a creek that really would go to nowhere. It would have included 3 major bridges and a big expense. I have renewed faith in our city structure that they can recognize what the priorities should be. I, for one, believes that the Parks and Recreation Dept. uses it funds very appropriately. The Trail they want to build are from federal funds that are part of a project that only 4 cities in the USA are Participating. I think a better question is: "does the federal government have the funds to have grants like this" Our federal government is trillions in debt.

(Report Comment)
Sarah Bush January 10, 2012 | 9:32 a.m.

Derrick - Here is the full quote regarding beer bottles from Sarah Bush's letter to Robert Dudley: 'We already have problems with teenagers hanging out in the woods back there. They leave empty beer bottles and (not empty) condoms on the edge of my yard where my children play. Our house was broken into and the police themselves said it was probably youths who came through the woods. Nobody will be policing this bicycle trail, especially at night when the problems are most likely to occur. The problem isn't that cyclists who use the trail for legitimate purposes will be committing crimes; the problem is that the trail will serve as an invitation to people who are looking for an isolated place to loiter. Unlike the alternative routes that have been proposed for this trail, the route through the woods along the stream cannot be effectively policed.' The Missourian reporter left out the condoms. Do you want this in your backyard?
The proposed trail goes THROUGH a drainage ditch and crosses a flood plain. It would be washed out every time we have heavy rain. Who is going to pay to repair it several times per year?
To justify allowing the government to take private property, there should be no adequate alternative available. In this case, there are two better alternatives that do not pass through flood plains and have much lower price tags.

(Report Comment)
Mitchell Moore January 10, 2012 | 12:40 p.m.

To answer Mr. Fogle's request regarding crime on existing trails we the top of my head I can remember murder and rape...but no crimes any worse than those.

(Report Comment)
Ray Shapiro January 10, 2012 | 12:42 p.m.

Connect the trails with tunnels.

(Report Comment)
Derrick Fogle January 10, 2012 | 1:05 p.m.

So, the teenagers and the beer bottles and the crime are already there, *before* the trail gets put in. Sounds like we should be worrying about whether this is a safe place to put the trail because of the crime already present, not worrying about what crime the trail might bring.

It's quite likely a trail would actually do wonders to chase the teenagers out, not make the problem worse.

For every cited murder or rape on a trail, there are dozens more of the same crimes committed in other, and more conventional, settings. For a sense of irony, look at our annual auto death toll.

(Report Comment)
frank christian January 10, 2012 | 3:05 p.m.

Some with a political twist demand the right of privacy for each individual. Except, of course, in the case of a manicured "trail" bordering their front yard upon which a bicycle may ridden, day or night. In that case, we must assume they will enjoy the newly acquired art of "trail watching".

Whatever it takes to clear Our conscience!

(Report Comment)
Mitchell Moore January 10, 2012 | 3:13 p.m.

Mr. Fogle, bicyclists do nothing to chase away loitering teenagers. Right now, Mr. Onofrio can deal with loitering teenagers on his property with a phone call to the police. If the city takes his private property and gives the loitering teenagers a right to be on the previously private property then Mr. Onofrio's privacy and security are effectively destroyed.

Who among us would want to have our back yards taken from us and handed over for the use of multitudes of strangers?

People who value their own privacy, security and property rights should have the same regard for the privacy, security and property rights of their neighbors.

And Mr. Fogle, respectfully, the last sentence in your comment does make me wonder if your comments on this issue are meant to be taken seriously. The Onofrio's privacy, security and property rights, and by extension all citizens' privacy, security and property rights, are serious matters.

(Report Comment)
Derrick Fogle January 10, 2012 | 6:03 p.m.

I think 30,000+/yr US highway deaths is serious. Driving is dangerous. Speed kills. If you stick around for a while, you'll get used to me bringing this up every so often in the context of making rational risk and safety assessments.

Just to be sure you understand where I'm coming from: I think the existing roads are fine. I do not need the proposed new trail, I am not asking for the proposed the trail. Furthermore, I think that last underpass on the existing trail is a bit crazy already.

My point is, that it sounds to me like the property owners have long since abandoned any real ownership of their neighborhood. To suddenly cry foul when the city tries to come and do something to an area residents have already given up control of is disingenuous.

If the city came in and put in a trail, it would still make the area easier to patrol than the unimproved woodland, and it might just give the residents something that would rekindle their collective ownership of the neighborhood.

Nah, screaming "MINE! MINE! MINE!" while each one clutches their own little piece of property, and blames the city as they watch their neighborhood continue to decline, is a much better option.

For the record, I support the property owner's rights to exercise that option.

(Report Comment)
John Schmidt January 10, 2012 | 8:00 p.m.

I'm sure that everyone was happy to give up the property that you drive on every day when you go to work, to school, to visit friends, and to conduct your business. Of course, now that you have all that which was already taken from someone somewhere, why should you be asked to contribute an inch? And especially when it is likely to increase the value of your property. They should make everyone who isn't from your neighborhood have to drive a couple extra miles just to get in there. And those of you who's property lines aren't going to be changed, you are entitled to say what goes on outside of your property lines. Right? People just shouldn't be allowed to have a say about YOUR property which is outside their property lines. Etc...

(Report Comment)

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