Battle area to see more traffic and development

Wednesday, May 22, 2013 | 6:00 a.m. CDT; updated 8:04 a.m. CDT, Monday, August 19, 2013
Neighbors of Battle High School are bracing for the increased traffic that will come with the opening of the school. But many say the new high school and eventually new elementary school will have a positive impact on the area.

COLUMBIA — When Josh Ireland moved into a light blue house on the corner of Orie Drive and East Saint Charles Road three years ago, he saw a wide-open field just beyond where his neighborhood ended.

Now as Ireland walks down his driveway, calling to his 5-year-old daughter to put her jacket on, he turns to look at a much different sight.

“It’s been amazing to see it come all the way up,” Ireland said of the 300,000-square-foot Battle High School, which opens June 3 for summer school. The dedication is scheduled for June 2.

Living across from the new school does bring some worries, Ireland said.

"Traffic on St. Charles is a big concern," Ireland said. "A two-lane road can’t support the traffic for a school that size."

Ireland is one of several residents living near Battle who listed traffic as a chief concern.

The high school will bring unprecedented traffic to the area. Residential and commercial developments likely to spring up near the high school will add even more cars. New roads in the area are planned to help relieve the congestion, and homeowners there may see a silver lining in the coming years with increased property values.

Traffic and roads

With the expected traffic increase from both students at Battle and new residents in the coming years, road expansion and improvement is a priority in the area. Currently, new roundabouts intended to improve traffic flow along St. Charles Road are under construction at Clark Lane, Lake of the Woods Road and Route Z.

Although traffic will see a noticeable increase once Battle opens for the school year in the fall, traffic to and from the school won’t reach initial peak levels until the start of the 2014-15 school year, when Battle will have all four grades, Boone County senior planner Thaddeus Yonke said. At the start of the 2013 school year, Battle will enroll only ninth- through 11th-graders.

Other improvements to Route Z are in progress. The overpass at Interstate 70 will be widened to create dedicated turn lanes, and larger shoulders have been added to the road between Interstate 70 and St. Charles Road.

Potential road improvements in the area, as laid out in the Boone County Northeast Area Transportation Plan, include extending Battle Avenue north to Mexico Gravel Road. This will allow more access routes for students and emergency vehicles to both the high school and planned elementary school.

This new leg is the most important short-term improvement in the area, Yonke said. The expansion, though currently unfunded, will likely be built through a joint city and county project, according to the plan.

Other high-priority road proposals in the plan include an extension of Clark Lane to Route Z, which would create an area targeted for commercial development, and a southern extension of Battle Avenue that would pass over Interstate 70 and connect to Richland Road at its intersection with Olivet Road.

This would give students from the southern section of Battle’s attendance area a route to the school that bypasses highway interchanges at Route Z and St. Charles Road, Yonke said.

Residential, commercial development

During the construction of Battle, another major concern of residents was an influx of residential and commercial development, which would transform the landscape from rural to suburban. Although that shift is coming, those residents can rest easy, for now.

The rural nature of the area means development around Battle will progress slowly, similar to how the area near Rock Bridge High School grew after the school’s opening in 1973, said Patrick Zenner, development services manager for the city of Columbia.

Zenner said he expects the northeast area will build up slowly over the next five years, more quickly than the 10 or so years it took for the Rock Bridge area to develop.

"The area has a lot going for it, more than Rock Bridge did when it was built," he said.

One thing is a new sewer extension along the north fork of Grindstone Creek. The sewer will be major positive for developers, Boone County Assessor Tom Schauwecker said.

The first development will likely be residential, tapping into the demand created by both Battle High and an elementary school going in just north of the high school. Groundbreaking for the elementary school is tentatively planned for the fall.

Somerset Village, a development of mostly single-family homes to be built across Battle Avenue from the high school, is in the process of rezoning. There are other projects in the area but none so far along in the approval process.

Cathy Asbury, who moved to the Battle area about a month ago, said she is excited to be living close to the school and has enjoyed the area so far.

"We moved here because of Battle," said Asbury, whose granddaughter will start as a freshman at Battle in the fall. "It’ll be interesting to see how the school changes the area."

Zenner anticipates a gas station or convenience-type store at the intersection of St. Charles Road and Battle Avenue will likely be the first commercial development in the area.

Residential development, however, is progressing slowly because the area is split between the county and the city. Most of the land around Battle available for development, not to mention the school itself and the city-run Lake of the Woods Golf Course, is outside city limits. This means developers must go through Boone County’s zoning process, which is often more costly than the city’s, Yonke said.

Much of the land in the area, including the high school, is under annexation agreements that will bring it into Columbia once city limits reach the borders of the properties. This chain reaction would open up the area under the city zoning process, which is more accommodating for large-scale, rapid developments, likely speeding up residential development, Yonke said. 

However, all of that is dependent on extending the city limits to the point they trigger the annexation agreements.

"Once the first domino falls, it could go very fast," Yonke said.

An influx of homes and families will bring in commercial developers, Zenner said. The Route Z corridor and the south side of St. Charles Road are target areas for commercial development, according the Northeast Columbia Area Plan.

Once the residential development has progressed and more people move into the area, a new grocery store would be a good fit for the area, Yonke said. Currently, the nearest groceries are located near the I-70 and U.S. 63 interchange.

Michael Fernandez is one resident who thinks the increased development will revitalize the area. Fernandez has lived in the area since 2005 and will teach social studies at Battle in the fall.

"As people and businesses move into the area, Battle will give people something to rally around," Fernandez said. "This portion of town didn’t really have an identity before. This is something that can bring us all together, even if just for Friday night football games."

Fernandez said his biggest concern about the new high school are the roads surrounding it.

"Many of the roads don’t have sidewalks," Fernandez said. "Construction is fixing up some of the roads now, but a lot needs to get done."

Property values rising

Although some residents were worried Battle would bring troublesome traffic and disruptive development, the area also has seen an increase in property values.

Within the school’s attendance area, the average sale price of homes rose by 5.3 percent in the first four months of this year compared with the same time period last year, compared with a 0.6 percent jump prices over the whole Columbia Public Schools district, according to statistics provided by the Columbia Board of Realtors.

Over the same period, price per square foot jumped 4.2 percent in the Battle area, topping the 1 percent increase seen over the whole district. The area did see a decline of 1.4 percent in the number of homes sold, but this still outperformed the district as a whole, which saw a 6 percent decline in sales, according to the same data.

Jessica Kempf, a broker at Crane and Crane Real Estate and president of the Columbia Board of Realtors, who provided the statistics, said it’s difficult to tell whether the price bump is related to Battle opening.

"There has been a lot of new construction on the east side of town, which would’ve helped these numbers tremendously," Kempf said. "And, there was probably more room for improvement on the east side of town since the prices tend to be lower."

Schauwecker said gauging changes in property values in the area directly around the high school is difficult because there have been few sales in the area, but enhancements to roads and sewers would raise home prices.

"Infrastructure improvements alone improve the property values," he said.

Third Ward Councilman Karl Skala said Battle is the perfect opportunity to achieve real infrastructure repair and enhancement. It will take collaboration between the city and county, he said.

Skala, a resident of the Meadowlands, has lived in northeast Columbia for 32 years. He said he has seen the area change from sleepy roads between pastures to traffic-filled roads between neighborhoods of retail property.

"With the growth we’ve had, we haven’t seen a lot of relief for traffic or stormwater overflow," Skala. "Now with the new high school, it’s an opportunity to focus in on the needs of our sector of town."

Culturally, the northeast part of town has been less vibrant, with more of a rural feel, Skala said. As Columbia grows and adapts around Battle, that may change.

"I’ve always loved this quiet part of town, but I see Battle as a positive influence," Skala said. "Five or 10 years from now, I think our piece of Columbia will be better because Battle is here."

From 2003 to 2013, Columbia Public Schools experienced a decade of continuous enrollment growth, and the district grew from 16,076 students to 17,722 students. Graphic by Christina Trester and Travis Hartman

Supervising editor is Elizabeth Brixey.

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