COLUMBIA — The latest annexation proposal for a subdivision would expand the city's limits to the outer reaches of Rock Bridge Memorial State Park.
The proposed subdivision — 69 residences on 36 acres off of Route K — has drawn the ire of some park boosters and the support of some nearby residents. The Columbia City Council is expected to vote on the proposal at its Sept. 3 meeting.
Opponents of the new subdivision, Parkside Estates, say construction would invite invasive species, impede views, increase hazardous runoff and be built on land they argue is prone to sinkholes.
Supporters say that the owner of the land, Robert Hill, has proposed stormwater protections, lowered the amount of impervious surface — driveways, streets and roofs — and lessened residential density in a good-faith effort to compromise with the opposition.
Previous plans had more homes, more impervious surface, a smaller buffer alongside the park and less runoff mitigation. The Planning and Zoning Commission rejected the original plan. The developer later submitted a revised proposal, which won the commission's approval.
"I think what they have brought forward goes above and beyond the letter of the law, and I don't see the negative impact of that development to the park," Fifth Ward Councilwoman Laura Nauser said of the proposal.
The development falls into Nauser's ward, and she said she has heard from constituents who are both for and against the subdivision.
The proposal includes a 75-foot wide buffer of trees on the southern end of the property between the park and the subdivision, landscaping regulations to prevent invasive species, stormwater retention ponds and a buffer for the stream that runs through the property. That is twice the size required by city ordinance.
The proposal gained unanimous approval at an August Planning and Zoning Commission meeting.
A group of park boosters, many from Friends of Rock Bridge Memorial State Park, remain unmoved.
"The proposal does not address future pollution remedies," said Mark Foreman, 82, one of the 13 founders of the park. "The buffers are probably going to work effectively, but they do fill up."
Opponents are also concerned with the amount of impervious surface on the site that accelerates stormwater runoff.
The proposal lists the total amount of impervious surface at 24 percent (25 percent if sidewalks are included). In order to ensure streams inside the Bonne Femme Creek watershed are not adversely impacted, that ratio should not exceed 15 percent, said Jan Weaver, a member of Friends of Rock Bridge Memorial State Park.
If the percentage was that low, Nauser said, "Development would be scaled back considerably, and it could be cost-prohibitive to anyone who would want to buy a home."
Another concern of opponents is that the land sits on a karst topographical area, conducive to sinkholes. Over time, the acidity of rain water erodes limestone underneath and creates holes in the bedrock.
"That's what formed Devil's Icebox," Foreman said.
The Pink Planarian, a species of flatworms unique to the cave, may be negatively affected by the runoff, Foreman said.
"Organisms live or die with the water quality," he said.
Eric Lidholm, who runs Crockett Geotechnical Testing Lab and was hired by the developer, tried to ease worries of sinkholes on the property at the August Planning Commission meeting.
"I think concerns about sinkholes are unfounded on this particular property," he said.
Director of Missouri State Parks Bill Bryan also spoke at the August meeting and said the department had reviewed the plan carefully and could not support it. He said the revised plan did not fully assuage their original concerns.
Weaver and other opponents to the plan fear a "domino effect" that could lead to even more subdivisions near the state park.
Nauser, however, said the developer has set a tone for safe practices in Columbia's advancing boundaries.
"If it's setting a precedent that goes above and beyond what the city requires, I don't see how it can be viewed as negative," she said.
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