Columbia City Council to take up Fairview Park, renewable energy, radon, permits

Sunday, January 5, 2014 | 6:00 a.m. CST

COLUMBIA — On Monday, the Columbia City Council is expected to expand Columbia's renewable-energy requirements, strengthen its radon control measures, and give the events committee more control over approving permits.

The council will also hold a public hearing on improvements to Fairview Park and Fairview Elementary School, as well as the annexation of nearly 15 acres of land that will be the site of a new elementary school and park in southwestern Columbia.

Here is a brief background for each of those issue:

Renovations at Fairview Park and Fairview Elementary School: Funded through the 2010 Park Sales Tax, specific improvements at the park include replacing an old park shelter, building a 2,000-square-foot playground and paving two new walkways. The school would receive a new 20-car parking lot. The budget for these projects is $175,000 and construction is planned to be completed this fall.

Annexing land in southwest Columbia for new elementary school: The council proposes annexing 14.36 acres and combining it with adjacent land to make a 30-acre lot for a new elementary school and a potential park. The land, purchased from the Sapp family for $2.8 million in 2013, is occupied by a single house that will be torn down before development. Responsibility for fire protection will transfer from the county to the city. The school is expected to open in 2016.

Amending the City Code's renewable energy standards: According to Columbia Water and Light's 2013 Renewable Energy Report, 7.94 percent of Columbia's energy came from renewable sources, almost 6 percent more than the required 2 percent. The council will vote to increase its renewable energy requirements for the future. It plans to generate or purchase 15 percent of electricity from renewable energy sources by the end of 2017, up from 10 percent; 25 percent by the end of 2022, up from 15 percent; and 30 percent by the end of 2028, a new addition to the city's standards.

The energy standard, which was passed by popular vote in November 2004, requires renewable energy so long as it does not increase the overall cost of energy more than 3 percent of what it would if it used 100 percent nonrenewable energy sources. Authorized forms of renewable energy include wind, solar, biomass and others that meet standards approved by the council after review from the Environment and Energy Commission and Water and Light Advisory Board. Renewable energy sources produced in Missouri are favored over others.

Amending the City Code's radon control methods: New one-and two-family homes would be required to install a passive radon mitigation system, which consists of a pipe that funnels radon from the ground and releases it through an opening in the roof. The mechanism would cost around $150, said Tim Teddy, Columbia community development director. Homeowners would not have to retrofit their homes, but if they chose to, it would cost between $800 and $1,000 and possibly up to $1,500, Teddy estimated.

According to the Bureau of Environmental Epidemiology, Boone County has an average residential radon test value of 3.9 picocuries, which is a moderate amount. The odds of dying from cancer from a lifetime of exposure at that level, according to the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, is the equivalent of dying in a car crash.

Because only 25 percent of Columbia homes have radon levels in excess of 4 picocuries, Fred Malicoat, chairman of the Building Construction Codes Commission, thinks that the new passive mitigation systems would be a penalty for 75 percent of new homes. In a letter to the council, he wrote that the system may not solve homeowners' radon issue and maintained that free radon testing was the best option to determine the best course of action.

In a separate letter to the council, Lawrence Lile, chairman of the Environment and Energy Commission, said that radon is a "major cause of lung cancer" and that "new homes with tighter home construction may have increased radon levels."

A passive mitigation system is inexpensive during new construction and cheap to upgrade to an active system if necessary, he said, but retrofitting a home that has a high level of radon is costly. 

Amending the City Code related to special events permits: Last fall, the council nixed Harpo's Bar and Grill's proposal to shut down one block of Cherry Street to expand its bar for four home football game weekends after four other bars also requested street closures. In the aftermath of the scheduling controversy, the council will consider a bill to make the event permit process easier.

The ordinance will allow the city event committee to recommend closure of any public street. Permit applications will need to be submitted 90 days in advance of the event, and the committee will need to make a decision to close a street at least 45 days before. Further, all neighbors abutting the property be notified and 50 percent of them must give consent for the event.

Supervising editor is Zachary Matson.

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