COLUMBIA — The public debate over the Grindstone trail spilled into the Parks and Recreation Commission meeting Thursday as neighborhood opposition pilloried the threat of eminent domain and supporters cited the citywide benefits of additional trails.
The commission heard public comment on the trail and discussed a plan to shift funds from the Grindstone trail to other projects. The funds shift idea was broached at an Oct. 1 Columbia City Council meeting and has been working its way through various advisory commissions.
Two of the homeowners, who would be under threat of eminent domain if the city were to move forward with the trail as currently proposed, spoke at the meeting; both were against the trail — which would run adjacent to the East Pointe subdivision.
Jackie Baker, one of the homeowners, listed a handful of reasons she opposed the trail in addition to the use of eminent domain. She included the lack of an environmental study, the existence of more popular alternative trail projects and an engineering oversight.
"The plan doesn't even include access to the trail from our neighborhood," she said.
Other residents of the East Pointe neighborhood spoke up against the trail, citing their own distaste with the use of eminent domain as well as environmental, safety and privacy concerns.
Allan Rodgers, the original developer of the East Pointe subdivision, said he also opposed the trail.
"It would be a shame, and I echo shame, on anyone that would use eminent domain for this purpose," Rodgers said.
Dan Harder, who also lives in the East Pointe neighborhood, said he supported the trail and thinks it is an important connection for the city. He pointed to the fact that the trail was already approved by voters.
"When I saw this trail was in jeopardy, I couldn't sit back and not say anything," Harder said. "There are a lot of benefits from this trail for Columbia."
Ian Thomas, executive director of the PedNet Coalition, said the PedNet board of directors approved an official position that all the trails on the city's master plan and especially those trails directly approved by voters should be built. In cases of neighborhood opposition, Thomas said the trail's "non-controversial" sections should be built first.
After hearing the public comments, the commission discussed the funds shift and the Grindstone trail specifically. Commissioners conveyed mixed opinions over the situation, citing the importance of trail connections and fulfilling a commitment to the voters, but also expressing concerns with eminent domain and the need to fund more popular projects.
Commissioner Bill Pauls said he does not support the trail as currently proposed but thinks a Grindstone connection is critical for the future.
"The Grindstone trail needs to happen," Pauls said. "This is not a trail to nowhere."
Another commissioner, Daniel Devine, was concerned alternative projects would also face opposition and trouble.
"We shouldn't be trading one set of problems with another set of problems," Devine said.
The commission voted to table a vote on an official recommendation to the council until its next meeting, which is tentatively scheduled for Nov. 8.
The plan to defer the Grindstone trail and shift the funds to other projects was first considered at the Oct. 1 council meeting. The council discussed possibly combining the Grindstone money with the federal funds left from the GetAbout Columbia initiative and instructed city staff to take the plan to various advisory commissions for recommendations.
The Bike and Pedestrian and Environment and Energy commissions both voted unanimously to keep the Grindstone project moving forward at their last commission meetings. Both commissions cited concerns that the Grindstone project was specifically identified in the park sales tax that passed on the November 2010 ballot.
The park sales tax, which passed with 64 percent of the vote, included $12 million in parks spending. Specific projects on the ballot included land acquisition, existing park improvements, new park development and annual maintenance costs. The Grindstone trail was the only trail project identified on the 2010 ballot.
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