COLUMBIA — The trees, grass fields and old concrete that characterized 185 acres along U.S. 63 in south Columbia are mostly gone, replaced with heavy machinery and dust clouds.
The prime real estate is being graded and prepped for a mixed-use development of stores, office buildings, houses, apartments and townhouses. The retail and office space alone adds up to half the size of Columbia Mall.
The land, which surrounds A. Perry Philips Lake Park on three sides, has seen plans come and go for nearly 10 years.
Trittenbach Development submitted its initial plans at a meeting with city officials in May and was given permission to clear the site. Almost three months later, scaled back plans for the first phase of construction call for fewer residential spaces and more retail space.
The newest plans eliminated 39 apartment buildings and added 115 smaller townhouse units accompanied by 10 single-family houses. Retail and office space totals 368,000 square feet.
The downsized housing plans reflect, in part, changes in the Columbia housing market, said Mike Hall, principal engineer with Columbia Civil Engineering Group, which has been hired by Trittenbach Development.
In addition to housing, a 24-store shopping center would be built on the east edge near U.S. 63. The backside of the largest store and other shops connected to the same building would be visible from the highway.
Developers will turn in final subdivision plans to the city on Tuesday, Hall said. Construction will begin "as soon as possible," Hall said, though he wouldn't say when.
Bruce Odle owns the land. His sons, Jonathan and Nathan Odle, run Trittenbach Development, the local company behind Brookside student housing downtown.
City staff has asked developers to respond to a list of 11 suggested changes before the plans can go before the city Planning and Zoning Commission. Most of the staff's comments involved technical issues such as the way lots are divided.
Another issue was the lack of specific percentages of impervious surfaces in the development such as roofs and parking lots that accelerate stormwater runoff.
When Trittenbach submits its final plans, the amount of impervious surface for the site will be laid out, Hall said.
The site has strict controls on stormwater to protect nearby Gans Creek.
"There are specialized stormwater provisions, impervious requirements and specialized standards that go beyond the Land Preservation Ordinance," said Pat Zenner, development services manager for the City of Columbia.
Neighbor takes notice
Bob Feldwisch, who owns 17 acres on Gans Creek, has started noticing earth-moving machinery on a portion of the Odle property on the south side of Discovery Parkway.
“They’re taking out huge oak trees,” he said, pointing to a downed tree with withered leaves.
Although there has been clearing, the developers are meeting city tree preservation requirements, Chad Herwald, city arborist, said.
Shane Creech, building and site development manager for the city of Columbia, said some clearing on the south side is necessary because developers are planning on unloading dirt from the northern part of the property onto the southern end.
Water from the southern part of the property drains into Gans Creek, which has a high level of protection as an Outstanding State Resource Water. Part of the Bonne Femme Creek watershed, Gans Creek runs through a future city park and Rock Bridge Memorial State Park.
The creek also runs through Feldwisch’s property. His worry is that with heavy rains some of the moved dirt will end up in and harm Gans Creek.
Creech said developers had to demonstrate that they could manage possible runoff before obtaining the site clearance permit.
"We're going to meet all requirements," Hall said.
Jan Weaver, member of Friends of Rock Bridge Memorial State Park, said that the Bonne Femme Creek watershed has been studied and that impervious surfaces greater than 10 percent of the land could adversely impact the watershed.
Despite the stormwater protections, Creech said there would always be the potential for runoff during a big storm.
More than a decade of plans
The debate over what to do with the land has lasted more than a decade. In July 2000, a citizens group — six-dozen members, according to City Council minutes — came to the City Council meeting to protest designating Gans Creek Road as an arterial roadway.
Some residents feared potential development could have a negative effect on the watershed as well as Rock Bridge Memorial State Park. They also worried then that their quiet section of Columbia would be turned into something similar to a bustling Nifong Boulevard.
Since then, the city has annexed and rezoned the old farmland that marks the site of Discovery Park. A Catholic high school, A. Perry Philips Lake Park and other amenities have sprung up along with new subdivisions in the area.
Kristie Wolfe, principal of Fr. Tolton Regional Catholic High School, said the debate over whether the area should be left untouched has long been over.
“The place where they’re putting in the development — to me it’s no different than any other development in town,” she said. “And that’s just the way it is.”