COLUMBIA — A group of homeowners along Rock Quarry Road is petitioning against a rezoning request by 8 Ball Commercial Properties LLC, which has formed a partnership with MFA Oil Co. to build a 24-hour Break Time gas station that would serve a large student population nearby.
Residents of the area submitted a formal protest petition to the city on Sept. 20. By doing so, they raised a legislative hurdle for the rezoning request. It now will require a super-majority vote of five members of the Columbia City Council to be approved. The council is scheduled to hold a public hearing and vote on the request at its Monday meeting.
Several residents are asking the council to reject the request to rezone the property at 3407 Rock Quarry Road for planned commercial use. An old farmhouse, a small orchard and what appears to be the foundation of a former brick silo now occupy the land, which is zoned for agriculture. The property is at the intersection of Rock Quarry Road and Grindstone Parkway.
Residents oppose the rezoning because Rock Quarry is a designated scenic roadway with nearby parks and single-family homes. They think a gas station and convenience store would be ill-placed in the neighborhood.
"It doesn't seem like it makes sense... that you would put a convenience store/gas station, (and) increase traffic, right next to a family center," Keith Simon, a pastor whose church, The Crossing, is adjacent to the proposed Break Time, told the Columbia Planning and Zoning Commission on Sept. 6.
In a staff report to the commission, city planners agreed the scenic nature of Rock Quarry and the presence of family homes in the area make the Break Time an inappropriate choice of development for the corner property.
City Planner Matthew Lepke acknowledged that plans to build the store do not violate the city ordinance on preserving scenic roadways.
At a recent meeting of the planning commission, some members agreed the rezoning request should be denied, as stated in the meeting minutes.
"The Grindstone corridor was initially designed to be a relatively limited-access roadway... and slowly, but surely... there's been kind of an incremental density," commissioner Karl Skala said at the Sept. 6 meeting.
"I do not think (the Break Time) is an appropriate use of that piece of property, primarily because of this incremental density concept," said Skala. "So I cannot support the kind of commercialization to make this just another commercial corridor."
The commission nevertheless voted 6-3 to recommend the City Council approve 8 Ball and MFA Oil's request. That vote was a surprise, Lepke said, given that three similar requests to rezone the land have failed or been withdrawn.
Extensive development along Grindstone Parkway, including a recent rezoning of the Red Oak property across the street from Wal-Mart and Kohl's, created a sense of inevitability among several of the planning commissioners about the fate of the Rock Quarry-Grindstone intersection.
"I don't think (the rezoning) is an individual neighborhood decision as it is a city of Columbia decision," commissioner Rusty Strodtman said in an interview. At the Sept. 6 hearing, he said he foresees the remaining three corners of that intersection becoming commercial.
Planning commissioner Ray Puri said at the hearing that it's unlikely Rock Quarry can be preserved in its current state.
"One day Rock Quarry is going to be a four-lane street... It’s going to be scenic; it’s going to be four lanes. I think it’s just a matter of time."
MFA Oil has met with neighbors several times in an attempt to address their concerns, spokesman Tom May said. Toward that end, the Break Time plan includes a fence and tree barrier to reduce noise and light spilling into neighboring properties. The convenience store also would include LED lighting and at least 16 security cameras.
"The Grindstone-Rock Quarry area has evolved dramatically in the last few years, including a large boom in apartment complexes that has increased the traffic flow in the area and the need for a convenience store," May said.
Several such businesses exist east and west of Rock Quarry, within a mile of the proposed Break Time.
Resident Jan Pritchard has lived on Rock Quarry for about 20 years. She said she would rather see a daycare or an office development on the property.
A business that operated normal hours would not attract crime, she said, and office uses could prevent further congesting the Grindstone-Rock Quarry intersection with frequent traffic.
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