COLUMBIA — All of the candidates for Northern District commissioner agreed that growth in Boone County is inevitable but have different ideas about how to manage it.
Planning for future growth and development has been discussed in Columbia for years. The Downtown Leadership Council released a charrette report with plans for downtown in the summer of 2010. Columbia Imagined, a new comprehensive plan for the city, is now being written.
Currently, the Planning and Zoning Commission consults the 1996 Boone County Master Plan for directives on development.
Six candidates, four Democrats and two Republicans, are competing in the Aug. 7 primary for their parties' nominations for Northern District commissioner. Incumbent Skip Elkin is not seeking re-election. The candidates are Democrats O.J. Stone, Janet Thompson, Brian Dollar and Darin Fugit and Republicans Don Bormann and Lance Robbins.
Dollar said he supports the policy of more-developed areas on the edges of cities being annexed because city governments are more capable of providing infrastructure than the county. Bormann also said he supports annexation by cities.
Rather than being concerned about controlling development or growth with planning and zoning regulations, Dollar said he thinks some of the regulations negatively affect farmers and other people in rural Boone County. He supports the current planning and zoning system but wants to make it less difficult for regular Boone County residents.
Dollar serves on the Boone County Planning and Zoning Commission, has worked as a land surveyor for more than 30 years and was the county surveyor from 1988 to 1991.
“The big developers are sort of the target and the purpose of the regulations, but they’re skilled,” Dollar said. “We catch up people in these regulations, and it really has a negative impact on their lives.”
Dollar said the regulations are not well understood in rural Boone County and that they need to be written fairly and in a way that avoids unintended consequences.
“The biggest effects of these regulations have been unintended,” Dollar said.
Fugit said planning and zoning regulations don't need to be altered but that they could be tweaked if the need arose.
“I don’t see any huge changes that need to be made,” Fugit said. “I’m for planned development.”
Fugit added that the current process, through which the commission reviews building plans and makes decisions based on the recommendations of the planning and zoning commission, is sufficient.
“I’m for growth,” Stone said. “Everybody’s for growth. It’s how we get there that’s important.”
In addition to the current planning and zoning process, Stone said he supports more long-term planning. He said the commission should be looking at future road and bridge needs and perhaps searching for innovative processes or new techniques to save money.
Stone said one of the advantages of Boone County is the variety of industries.
“We’re not just a one-issue county,” Stone said. “I think we need to continue to move in all directions.”
Thompson said her primary concern with growth and development is protecting the variety of lifestyles in Boone County. She said people in Boone County don’t want Columbia spreading to the county's limits. .
“We can’t let it get ahead of us. We need to prepare,” Thompson said. “Because people want that smaller town lifestyle.”
Thompson said collaboration between the county and all of the cities in the county to develop a cohesive vision could start with a group retreat including officials from the county, Columbia, Ashland, Hallsville and other cities. She said she has seen the group retreat approach work before.
“If you work together, you build that commitment among the leaders. It’s not just a commitment in form but in reality,” Thompson said. “That’s the way we can move forward in a structured way that makes sense.”
Thompson said her experience as a mediator would help her to encourage a collaborative approach in planning for growth. She has a master of laws degree in alternative dispute resolution from the MU School of Law.
Bormann said he doesn't think there is a way to plan well for growth without risking infringement on individual property rights. He said no one can anticipate exactly where growth will occur.
“Development happens where you have a willing buyer and a willing seller,” Bormann said. “It’s messy, but the alternative is not having much freedom with what you do with your land.”
He said if the government tried to predict where development could or should happen and extended utilities to the area, the owner might not want to sell or develop his land.
"If you want to have less freedom," Bormann said, "you can plan for a whole lot."
Robbins said communication is important in the planning and development process. He said it makes sense to put industries in areas that are already industrial and protect residential areas.
“I believe we need to be deciding where we want what kind of growth to occur,” Robbins said.
He suggested that a way to encourage growth would be to simplify the rezoning process in areas that are prime for development.
“Maybe we can streamline that process a bit,” Robbins said.
Southern District candidates
James Pounds, the Republican candidate for Southern District commissioner, has a different take on growth. Pounds is running unopposed in the primary and will face Democratic incumbent Karen Miller in the November election.
Although he said he thinks the county needs to plan better for growth, giving the example of Battle High School, he said he doesn’t think the county will continue to grow. He said regulations and the costs of complying with them eventually will deter developers and builders from doing business in Boone County.
“To be honest with you, it is going to become very slow here in the future just because of the regulations coming out,” Pounds said.
Pounds said he blames the national government for regulations, but he also said the changes to the building code in Boone County increase costs to builders without increasing the value of a property.
Miller pointed to the joint planning work done by the city and the county with the East Area Plan and Northeast Columbia Area Plan. She said those planning efforts went beyond the basic requirements laid out in state statutes.
"We feel like that's a good model," Miller said. "It really needs to be a plan that everybody has a part in."
She said the next area for planning would be around U.S. 63 and include Columbia and Ashland.
Supervising editor is Scott Swafford.