Landowners worry proposed subdivision regulation changes would hamper development

Monday, September 24, 2012 | 5:58 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — Mike Tompkins is a Boone County property owner who specializes in developing what he calls "cozy little private roads."

To create developments such as Whispering Meadows and Walden Pointe, Tompkins splits 10 to 20 acres of his property into six or seven lots strung along a private road that he builds.

His website advertises the properties' "rolling hills" and their suitability for horseback riding and "relaxing with nature."

"My clients like living in a private area," Tompkins said. "That's a lot of the charm of living in Boone County."

A proposed change to county regulations discussed by the Boone County Planning and Zoning Commission last week would prevent Tompkins from building another Whispering Meadows. If county commissioners approve the regulations, property owners would be allowed to split their land into only two properties along a private road if their property is larger than 10 acres, commission member Brian Dollar said. For properties smaller than 10 acres, no subdivisions along private roads would be allowed.

Property owners now can divide properties of more than 20 acres into an unlimited number of lots along private roads, Dollar said. For properties smaller than 20 acres, divisions continue to be allowed.

Dollar thinks the new regulations would disproportionately affect rural areas with few public roads, such as Cedar and Bourbon townships in extreme southern and northwestern Boone County, respectively.

If farmers are not allowed to subdivide properties along private roads, their land use would essentially be restricted to agriculture, which would cut their property value in half, Dollar said.

"The ability to sell large tracts in the county would become impossible," Dollar said.

The new regulations also would hurt Boone County's tax base, Dollar said, because a development of homes brings in more taxes than an equal amount of agricultural land. Most land that is developed is "marginal" woodland that doesn't have much agricultural potential anyway, he said.

Bill Florea, senior land use planner at the Boone County Resource Management Division, said that county commissioners asked the division to make the changes to improve public safety services.

Florea said that "inconsistent addressing" and "visibility issues" make it difficult for ambulances, fire trucks and sheriff's cars to respond to emergencies on private roads.

Residents of private road developments have also complained of inadequate snow plowing and poor maintenance of gravel roads, Florea said."They feel like they're paying taxes that should be fixing the road outside their house," he said.

Florea acknowledged that the new regulations would "probably" make it more difficult to build private road developments in Boone County.

Tompkins thinks that a few complaints are overshadowing a silent majority who are happy living along private roads.

"They aren't going to get calls from people saying, 'I love my private roads,'" Tompkins said.

Developers often construct private roads instead of new public roads because county standards make public roads too expensive, Dollar said. Residents of private road developments bear the costs of maintenance and snow removal.

Dollar estimates that about half of the Planning and Zoning Commission supports the new regulations. The commission will vote on the changes in October, he said. Because the commission is only advisory, the final decision rests with the three-member Boone County Commission, which is scheduled to vote on the matter in December.

Dollar worries that many residents of rural areas are unaware of the proposed changes. No one from the general public attended the most recent Planning and Zoning Commission meeting, he said.

"Lots of them don't read the Missourian or the Tribune," Dollar said. "They don't know about it."

Supervising editor is Scott Swafford.

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LN Mazuch September 25, 2012 | 3:36 p.m.

I understand the concerns about restricting land usage and limiting ability to profit from rural land. On the other hand, I also understand from very real experience how expensive it can be for owners of the houses on the developed land to maintain those private roads for the next several decades. The reason private roads are cheaper is because they are often poorly constructed and break down quickly. A home owner would be wise to consider: Do I want to pay several thousands of dollars every few years to maintain this private road on my own? OR do I want to pay a bit more for my house and demand the developers have a public road constructed? It's personal preference, of course, but it's something to be aware of when buying into a subdivision.

Personally, I will never buy a house on a private road again. It was a lot of trouble and expense. And no, I won't be calling it to say "I love my private roads," either. I actually laughed out loud at that one.

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