Greenbriar Trailridge residents fight rezoning request in neighborhood

Wednesday, April 4, 2012 | 8:41 p.m. CDT
The Pinball Company, an Internet business that sells pinball and arcade amusement machines, has requested to rezone the area shown below from residential to planned business. The area is 1.45 acres, and the owners said they plan to build a showroom and offices for the company. The surrounding area is residential.

COLUMBIA — Residents of the Greenbriar Trailridge neighborhood are fighting a request by owners of The Pinball Co. to rezone residential property for planned commercial use.

Nic and Brooke Parks, who have a contract to buy the the 1.5-acre tract from Rock Bridge Christian Church at 301 W. Green Meadows Road, hope to build on the land and use half the building for their business and lease the other half as offices.

Residents in the neighborhood, however, argue there is plenty of available commercial space in the area and said they don't want businesses encroaching on their neighborhood.

The matter will be the subject of a public hearing at a meeting of the Planning and Zoning Commission at 7 p.m. Thursday at the Daniel Boone City Building. City staff is recommending the request be rejected, citing concerns about traffic and whether the use is appropriate in the area.

The Parks' current store, the Game Room, is located at 1020 E. Green Meadows Road. Brooke Parks said she and her husband believe the property at 301 W. Green Meadows Drive is a good fit because they are looking to focus on the Internet sales aspect of their business, not a physical retail one.

Traci Wilson-Kleekamp, president of the Greenbriar Trailridge Neighborhood Association, said there is no reason to rezone the land.

"They could go over on the other side of Providence and Green Meadows where there's all that commercial land, with no fight," Wilson-Kleekamp said, adding that commercial zoning is inappropriate for the area and could lead to an influx of more business and office use.

The Pinball Co. refurbishes used pinball and other arcade machines and then resells them, mostly online. Nic and Brooke Parks said that their business would generate very little foot or automobile traffic.

"No one locally would have any need to come in unless they see something online," Brooke Parks said.

Nic and Brooke Parks have told city planners that they would expect to receive and make several large deliveries of pinball and arcade machines each week, which is one of the things neighbors worry about.

There is no specific designation for Internet businesses in the city's zoning code, so The Pinball Co. must be considered like any other retail operation, said Patrick Zenner, the city's development services manager.

In an email Wilson-Kleekamp obtained through a public records request, Department of Community Development Director Tim Teddy suggested to planning staff members that if Internet sales are the only retail use requested, a Planned Office District zoning designation might be better.

Wilson-Kleekamp questioned whether it's appropriate for the planning staff to make such a suggestion, particularly when the staff remains unconvinced that commercial use is a good idea for the property.

Zenner said that although Internet businesses generally are home-based and in residential areas, The Pinball Co. is unique.

"It's an Internet business even though they have retail components where you have walk-in traffic coming in," Zenner said. "It may be very minor, but nonetheless, historically their type of business operation where you have customers coming to your store and products for display would fall under our general retail district."

The building would also include a showroom and a workshop.

"I think that this request raises the issues of how should our code, or should our code, deal with this type of business operation?" Zenner said.

Zenner said that the Community Development Department will look at the city's zoning ordinances and identify deficiencies as an outgrowth of the Columbia Imagined comprehensive planning effort. That could lead to a future change in how to address Internet-based retail businesses.

Wilson-Kleekamp also said she was concerned about the professionalism of the Community Development Department in this particular case.

Specifically, she said that employees from A Civil Group, a consulting firm, forwarded emails from the Protect Green Meadows email list, used by the neighborhood association, to Zenner and Teddy. Teddy then forwarded them to Nic and Brook Parks.

"They're not sending us all the correspondence that they're getting from the applicant, so why is it appropriate for them to be sending our correspondence to the applicant?" Wilson-Kleekamp said. "It's just unacceptable." 

Along with its report on the proposal, the planning staff has provided the commission with several letters from residents of the Greenbriar Trailridge area who oppose the rezoning.

One of the letters, from Roy Dudark, a resident who lives a few blocks away from the tract of land, said "the overwhelming wish of the neighborhood is that the commission will deny any change in zoning."

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Glenn Rice April 5, 2012 | 2:24 p.m.

The article might have mentioned in the last paragraph that Mr. Dudark is not just a resident in the area, but also former Planning Director for the city (Tim Teddy's predecessor). I strongly suggest that anyone interested in this issue read the PDF linked near the end of this article. In his letter, Mr. Dudark offers many detailed, informed objections to the proposed zoning change, clearly drawing on his experience as Planning Director -- not just as a stereotypical "angry neighbor".

The PDF is eye-opening in other ways: the forwarding mentioned by Ms. Wilson-Kleekamp, for example, is shown beginning on page 125. The chummy "I'm just trying to help you City guys out" tone of Jay Gebhardt's intro (see also page 168) highlights a pervasive problem with the planning/zoning process: City staff work directly with developers, often the same ones over and over, to the point of collusion, or at least the appearance of collusion. Is it any wonder that neighbors are angry, and cynical about development, when they see stuff like this?

City planner Matt Lepke complained to Mr. Teddy that Ms. Wilson-Kleekamp was "on the offensive from the start" of a meeting (page 181) and that she "didn't seem interested in listening" to him. Mr. Lepke went on to describe other neighbors' comments/questions in pejorative terms. City staff doesn't understand that neighbors WILL get upset about inadequate information or notification about plans that will adversely affect them -- especially when they perceive an advantage paid to staff's "friends" in the development community.

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