COLUMBIA — Questions about downtown infrastructure and updates to zoning policies were key topics at a First Ward City Council candidate forum hosted by the Boone County Muleskinners on Friday.
Candidates Ginny Chadwick and Bill Easley answered questions from an audience of more than 30 people. Tyree Byndom, the third candidate, was not at the forum because he has said campaigning, in which he includes forums, is against the policies of his Baha'i faith.
The following are paraphrases of questions asked and the candidates' answers:
How would you vote on additional student housing downtown?
Chadwick: Chadwick joked that she couldn't fit her answer into the one-minute time limit. She said the whole community sees the intense growth of student housing downtown and is hesitant to accept more. She said it was important to reduce the environmental footprint of the increased transportation downtown. Any more growth needs to be thoughtful because currently the infrastructure cannot support more.
Easley: Easley said he wasn't sure what should be done about more student housing, though he thought the issue needed to be studied more by the council and city administration.
"There ain't much space down there," he said.
Are you comfortable with making planning and zoning decisions based on the current city plan (Columbia Imagined)?
Chadwick: Chadwick said she was excited by many aspects of the Columbia Imagined plan, which was approved in October 2013 by the council. She said as she was learning more, she was wondering why the city hadn't adopted the plan as policy.
"It's time to actually implement this," she said.
Chadwick also said the city's current zoning codes were in desperate need of revision. The city has hired Clarion Associates to review and update Columbia's current zoning and subdivision codes for council approval.
Easley: City planning needs to stop, sit down and look at all the facts, Easley said. He said he felt city planning didn't listen to people and shouldn't take people's homes.
"City planning think they run the city," Easley said.
There is a lot of concern with the rush to develop before the city's zoning policies are revised. How can the city hold back this development rush before new rules are in place?
Chadwick: Chadwick said that the current zoning ordinances have not been updated since 1964 and that there was a clear zoning issue in the center of the city in particular.
"Clearly our zoning ordinances for the city are way out of date," she said.
If elected, she said, she would be a strong voice in requesting that the city look more closely at the central city's zoning and would not support downtown development that did not follow the outline of development in the Columbia Imagined document.
Easley: Easley said common sense should be used and new developments shouldn't kick people out of their homes. He didn't suggest any specific ways in which the city could hold back the development rush.
What is your solution to downtown infrastructure problems?
Chadwick: Chadwick said she has read the proposals being discussed to solve the problems.
"Nobody is paying enough for infrastructure, and we want developers to pay their fair share," she said.
She said current development plans have shown that the developers are paying different amounts and "the math doesn't come out equal." One developer with 200 beds could end pay up paying $450,000; another with 350 beds paying $150,000; and another with 700 beds paying $350,000, she said. The information she referred to is contained in the supporting documents for a special council meeting on Wednesday.
Community Development Director Tim Teddy said those costs are dependent on the development's location, sewer and water demand and the conditions of the infrastructure in that location, not the just on number of beds.
"We need a level playing field," Chadwick said.
Easley: Easley said the city shouldn't ask for money from people. He said he thought the city should look into using taxes to get more funds to fix the infrastructure but did not offer his opinion on the current proposals.
Gordon Rogers, a 35-year resident of the First Ward who attended the forum, said he was sorry he could not hear more about Byndom's goals, plans or proposals, though he understands the third candidate's reason for not attending the forum. Gordon said that in the past, he has listened to Byndom's radio shows on KOPN/89.5 FM.
"I support him observing his religion. I would think there would be some things he could do that might not contradict with his religion in terms of getting out his plans or proposals ... or goals, even, that wouldn't be campaigning," Rogers said.
After the forum, Rogers said he was leaning in support of Chadwick. The needs of the ward are "legion," but the problems with the infrastructure is the most important issue, Rogers said. He said he hoped the elected candidate could persuade city administration to change priorities and spend less money on growth and focus on infrastructure.
Steven Skolnick, a Muleskinners member, lives in the Second Ward but said residents of that ward are interested in the First Ward election. He said that property values are decreasing in the Second Ward because of Business Loop 70 and that the ward wants to know how committed the next First Ward council member will be to addressing the problem, including his or her opinion on a proposed Community Improvement District in this area.
Supervising editor is Allie Hinga.