GUEST COMMENTARY: We need city leaders that understand and support planning

Thursday, January 31, 2013 | 12:17 p.m. CST; updated 12:40 p.m. CST, Thursday, January 31, 2013

George Kennedy's column on Jan. 25 — Council still needs to address big questions of city growth — was informative and insightful. And ultimately, in light of what he did not write, it illustrated city hall's accountability problem.

Kennedy focused on council pugilists, Barbara Hoppe and Bob McDavid, but he failed to note the tag-team arguments on either side. In this fight, that's where the blood is. Kennedy comes closest to the punches when reporting his conversation with Donnie Stamper and in his own assessment of the “substantive” political issue at stake.

The fact is, three members of the council oppose growth planning by government. Ideologically, perhaps, they don't believe in it and instinctively (and largely nonreflective of the implications) oppose policy that would further city planning efforts. And if outright opposition doesn't work, then foot-dragging and can-kicking will suffice, which is largely what's been happening for three years.

Distrust of planning also permits misreading of both citizen intent and the documents that intent produces (through charrettes, visioning and similar public processes) and allows McDavid, Daryl Dudley and Gary Kespohl to ignore the resulting recommendations. Instead of viewing these results as cautionary, failure to take seriously widespread public dismay in the city's lack of growth policy allows status quo development. In the case of uncontrolled C-2 development, that tends to overwhelm transportation, parking and infrastructure and destroys the residential value of adjoining residential property.

During the Jan. 22 council meeting, McDavid “danced like a butterfly” around the central issue in downtown redevelopment and revealed, in his misreading of the H3 Studio's charrette report, his antipathy to planning. After assuring us he'd read the report “four times,” he called it “robust,” by which he means that anyone can take from it what they want. McDavid pointed to increased student enrollment as an example of the failure of planning, saying, “they didn't anticipate it; it's impossible to plan for it.” If this is his punch, it certainly doesn't “sting like a bee.”

Does the mayor really believe MU didn't anticipate increasing enrollment as the “baby boomlet” grew to adulthood? The university's increased recruitment efforts and decades of additional classroom and dormitory construction are just lucky coincidences? Far from being an example of planning failure, it was exactly planning that allowed the university to anticipate such needs (convincing the legislature to let go the purse strings is another matter). And if he means that H3 Studio didn't anticipate it, they did; he just doesn't like the recommended limits for addressing such growth.

Kespohl was at least honest about the situation at city hall, notwithstanding the illogical conclusion he draws. He flatly admits the city paid for plans it isn't following, not even in its own projects. It is, in short, money wasted. His conclusion — that because we aren't following the recommendations now, we shouldn't in the future — is like saying because the cow is out of the barn we shouldn't try to corral it. It wastes both the milk and the cow.

Kespohl also notes that since first running for office form-based zoning code, widely endorsed by city residents, hasn't been adopted. “You'd think, in five years, we could adopt a form-based code.” I agree, but I have to point out that for three of those years Kespohl has been in a position to advance that position. I don't think he has advanced it.

Dudley mentioned the need to inventory historic properties, something the Historic Preservation Commission would endorse (I think they've already done such an audit), but there are two problems with Dudley's statement: Without legislation that gives greater power to the city to preserve historic buildings, his statement is a waste of breath and, secondly, he did not move that such an inventory be done. Short of these actions, his observation is just hot air.

I agree with Kennedy that Stamper got it wrong — this is not a “wedge” issue. City growth and redevelopment are the substantive issues for April. Columbia has in the coming election (and in February's special election) an opportunity to decide if it will continue to have wasted money on plans some of its leaders have no intention of implementing. Or, alternatively, we could elect leaders who believe that planning is not only legitimate but also, if done with sensitivity and erudition, beneficial. Citizens have repeatedly endorsed, by their participation and money spent, city growth-planning efforts; I'll leave it up to them to decide which candidates in the upcoming elections will best serve this endorsement.

Daniel Cullimore, a graduate of Hickman High School and MU, holds leadership positions within CiViC (Citizens Involved and Invested in Columbia) and the North Central Columbia Neighborhood Association.

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