The city of Columbia has sued local developer Stan Kroenke over a 16-foot strip of land it says it needs for public improvements in southwest Columbia.
The city has sought to acquire the land, which is owned by Kroenke and his wife, Ann, since December 2002 to improve drainage along Sinclair Street, across from Woodcrest Chapel. The Kroenkes and the city failed to agree on “proper compensation,” according to court documents, and the city filed a petition for condemnation Aug. 1.
At the heart of the issue is whether condemning the land would result in benefits to the public at large. Pat Fitzgerald, civil engineer for the city, says the drainage easement is necessary to protect a residential neighborhood.
“The current drainage system is blocked due to recent tree and vegetation growth, and therefore cannot properly drain,” Fitzgerald said. “During storms, water runs over the road and creates a hazard, as well as contributing to road deterioration.”
Homes located on or near Walcox Drive will also benefit from the project, said Fitzgerald.
Gil Hoover, who lives at the corner of Walcox Drive and Sinclair Street, is frustrated by the drainage project’s delay.
“Every time it rains I have water standing in the corner of my yard,” Hoover said. “It damages my lawn and provides a breeding ground for mosquitoes.”
Craig Van Matre, attorney for the Kronekes, declined to answer questions about the land dispute.
“My understanding of the rules of ethics is that I am forbidden to discuss the facts of this case until it has been resolved,” he said in an e-mail. Telephone calls seeking comment from the Kroenke Group were not returned.
A billionaire developer married to the daughter of Wal-Mart co-founder Bud Walton, Stan Kroenke was listed as the 413th richest person in the world by Forbes magazine in 2002. He owns two ranches, including a 514-acre spread in Canada that he recently bought from WorldCom for a reported $68.5 million.
Currently, Kroenke has two large development projects under consideration by city officials. The 57-acre Grindstone development by Aspen Acquisitions Inc., of which Kroenke is a partner, has encountered significant opposition from nearby homeowners and was recently tabled by the Columbia City Council at Kroenke’s request. Kroenke is also seeking a new interchange at Interstate 70 and Stadium Boulevard for a proposed Wal-Mart Supercenter.
On Aug. 22, Van Matre asked Boone County Circuit Court Judge Gene Hamilton to dismiss the city’s condemnation suit, claiming the only beneficiary of the drainage easement would be Woodcrest Chapel, arguing in a brief that condemnation “will only serve a private purpose and is not a matter of public necessity.”
Susan Crigler, an assistant city counselor, said the city has already determined the easement will serve a public purpose and that the Kroenkes will have to prove that the City Council acted in bad faith or made an arbitrary decision to condemn the land.
“I don’t think they have much of a case,” Crigler said.
A hearing has been set for 9 a.m. Sept. 22 in Boone County Circuirt Court.