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GEORGE KENNEDY: New vision for Columbia's future, but whose vision?

Thursday, May 17, 2012 | 5:36 p.m. CDT

Remember the Sasaki plan? That was delivered in 2007. Remember the charrette? That was just a couple of years ago. And Visioning? Now we’re “imagining” Columbia again. I haven’t even mentioned the granddaddy of all those plans, Metro 2020. That one was adopted way back in 2001.

The point is that when it comes to thinking, dreaming, even planning for the future of central Columbia, we’ve got no shortage of guidelines. Like many of you, I’m sure, I’ve been impressed, even inspired. All the plans I’ve mentioned envisioned a strong, vibrant downtown with high-end apartments and condominiums attracting young professionals and affluent retirees to patronize restaurants and retailers.

Then came the Odle brothers.  You don’t need to visit a website to see their notion of what downtown should be. Just stroll up Tenth Street from the university parking garage toward Broadway. Or jog to the northeast a few blocks, to the intersection of College and Walnut.

While consultants’ dreams mainly exist on paper and in cyberspace, the Odlerian reality is hundreds of units intended to house the flood of students who’re swelling university enrollment to record heights.

If you’re the owner of a downtown bar or late-night restaurant, this no doubt strikes you as a wonderful development. From the university viewpoint, its residence halls can only hold about 6,300 students, so the rest of the rapidly growing enrollment (35,000 or so expected this fall) has to live somewhere. Where better than within walking distance, not only of the bars, but of the campus?

For the rest of us, though, the citizens who value the vision of downtown outlined by all those consultants and want to preserve the city’s core, is this eruption of apartments what we want? More to the point, is there anything we can do?

In search of one set of answers, I sat in Tuesday night on the North Central Columbia Neighborhood Association board of directors regular meeting. More than most of us, the residents of the swath of Columbia between Broadway and the Business Loop, College Avenue west to Providence Road, have their property values and their piece of mind affected by forces mainly beyond their control.

The Odle apartments loom over the modest houses that line those narrow streets just north of Walnut and west of College. Much of North Central was to be designated “blighted” in the first map made public by promoters of the much-debated Enhanced Economic Zone. Another tax abatement program, this one called a TIF, may be proposed as a way to finance infrastructure improvements by luring more businesses.

Already, under the soft-spoken but persistent leadership of Pat Fowler, the NCCNA has scored some notable victories. After negotiation between residents and developers broke down, the Planning and Zoning Commission voted to deny the rezoning requested by the Odles for an expansion of their apartment project. The City Council, under citizen pressure, rescinded the first missteps in the EEZ process. The “blight map” is being redrawn to cover a much reduced area. A new advisory board seems likely to include neighborhood representatives.

Ms. Fowler reported on her meeting this week with the city manager. Her goal, she said, was above all to make sure the association is at the table as plans shaping the neighborhoods' future are discussed. I’ll be surprised if that doesn’t happen.

She also wants to meet with the board of the recently created Community Improvement District, which represents the heavy hitters of downtown commerce and abuts North Central.

I wondered what, if anything, those neighbors have in common and how that conversation might go, so I called Carrie Gartner, executive director of the CID (and until recently a resident of North Central herself).

Ms. Gartner reminded me of the obvious — that there’s no guarantee consultants’ dreams will translate into bricks and mortar. The plans are largely “inspirational,” she pointed out. Actual development is driven less by vision than by the market.

Much of downtown commerce is “tailored to students,” she said, but when it comes to residents, the CID goal is “balance” between student apartments and rentals or condominiums appealing to their elders.

Downtown business people want strong neighborhoods in the central city, Gartner said. “We recognize the problem; we’re limited by the tools we have.”

One of those tools, as recent developments demonstrate, is the passion of the citizens. It’s a safe prediction, I think, that we’ll be hearing a lot more from the citizens of North Central. No longer overlooked, they just might become role models for the rest of us.

George Kennedy is a former managing editor at the Missourian and professor emeritus at the Missouri School of Journalism. Questions? Contact Opinion editor Elizabeth Conner.


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Comments

Ellis Smith May 18, 2012 | 6:40 a.m.

When our city is so dominated by a single business entity we should expect to have what we have.

How many retired residents really want to live cheek by jawl with college students, and how many college students really want to live cheek by jowl with retired residents? I'm not suggesting the two groups couldn't get along, but only what each group would obviously prefer.

(Report Comment)
Mike Martin May 18, 2012 | 11:07 a.m.

Finally, the truth about all these phoney planning exercises.

Most of the plans, as Ms. Gartner says, are little more than "inspirational."

So why does City Hall spend so much money on them, luring citizens to waste so much time on them?

Call me cynical, but these planning exercises are mere ruse, designed to give the appearance of citizen involvement in major decisions when appearances -- i.e. "inspirations" -- are all the plans represent.

Citizens in affected neighborhoods are rightly sick of this charade, and are emerging en masse just as City Hall's leaders are becoming more insular and isolated.

Excellent, balanced editorial, btw.

(Report Comment)
John Schultz May 18, 2012 | 11:10 a.m.

Imagine that, lots of government planning that sits on the shelf gathering dust. Instead of trying to force innovation through consultants and plans, maybe Columbia should make it somewhat easier for people to innovate themselves. Amir Ziv's cottage development is one such example of unique infill that has been bogged down by city regulations. Quinton's balcony kerfuffle is another.

(Report Comment)
Justin Thomas May 18, 2012 | 4:30 p.m.

Why would college students and retired residents not want to be neighbors?

(Report Comment)
Richard Saunders May 18, 2012 | 4:31 p.m.

@Mike, they've nothing better to do than to keep the facade looking shiny and new. Otherwise folks might figure out the scam.

(Report Comment)
Justin Thomas May 18, 2012 | 4:34 p.m.

Mike, I too like the editorial. Not sure that you can call the planning exercises phony or a ruse if people don't show up to participate in them, though.

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams May 18, 2012 | 5:16 p.m.

Justin Thomas: "Why would college students and retired residents not want to be neighbors?"
_______________________

One word answer:

Noise.

(Report Comment)
Monta Welch May 19, 2012 | 1:20 a.m.

This Monday, May 21st, come to the most important Columbia City Council meeting of the decade!

At this meeting, the Columbia City Council is poised to appoint an
EEZ/Blight Board, which will decide whose home/property/neighborhood
is to be legally labeled "Blighted", even if the properties and neighborhood are in good condition.

The City and REDI want to establish "Enhanced Enterprise Zones", (EEZs), which must be placed inside officially "Blighted" areas. Businesses can then move inside the EEZs in which their tax bill will be greatly reduced or eliminated for up to 25 years.

Labeling a property "Blighted" is also the first step toward eminent domain, whereby the city can force owners of a property to sell against their wishes.

Come to this very important City Council meeting on Monday, May 21st,
7 pm at City Hall, 701 E. Broadway. For more information, go to
comocivic.org.

(Report Comment)

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