A hiking trail. A 2-acre park. A recycling center. More than 40 acres of open space. A unique storm-water filtering system that would be the first of its kind in Columbia.
Those are just a few of the features developer Aspen Acquisitions has included in its plans in an effort to win approval of the 53-acre Grindstone Plaza development proposed for south Columbia.
It’s a sign of how far Columbia planning has progressed. A developer would never have voluntarily made such proposals 15 years ago, said Third Ward Councilman Bob Hutton.
Hutton said neighbors and developers working together to create better projects can only improve Columbia’s growth.
“I’m not saying the (Grindstone Plaza) plan is great,” he said, “but we’ve come a long way.”
Despite the amenities proposed for Grindstone Plaza, concerns from both the Grindstone/Rock Quarry Road Neighborhood Association and the Columbia City Council have stalled approval of the plan twice in the past month. The proposal calls for a new Wal-Mart Supercenter along Grindstone Parkway, accompanied by a mix of retail, office and residential development.
Representatives of both the developer and the neighborhood have met several times since June but have been unable to reach an agreement. Even neighbors have failed to reach a consensus. Some worry about the size of the development and its environmental impact; others enthusiastically support it.
Addressing the council Monday night, neighborhood association president Julie Youmans was noticeably conflicted.
“We all know it’s going to be developed; we’re just trying to find the best way,” Youmans said.
Also at the council meeting, representatives for Aspen said certain aspects of the plan — including the number and height of light fixtures and the addition of storm-water filters — have been adjusted to satisfy neighbors who still refuse to sign off on the project.
“We’ve made every change suggested,” said Otto Maly, a
real-estate broker working for the developer.
Dave Bennett of Engineering Surveys and Services has also worked on the plan for Aspen and called it “the most intensely scrutinized plan I’ve ever prepared.”
Aspen Acquisitions, whose members include Stan Kroenke, has also hired experts to study and testify about the impact the development would have on traffic and storm-water runoff. Those, too, are measures developers wouldn’t have taken years ago, Hutton said.
In an interview Friday, Bennett emphasized that Aspen has even agreed to install storm-water filters on the property, something the city does not require. The filters, Bennett said, would remove trash, oil and grease from storm-water collected on the site’s parking lot before it enters the watershed. Such a system would be the first in Columbia.
“We are going to set the trend for Columbia in the future,” Bennett said.
Some council members said Monday that given the concessions the developer has made, criticism of the plan might be unfair.
“It’s so much better than it could have been,” Hutton said at the meeting. “There’s been so much public input and public concern.”
Mayor Darwin Hindman said he agreed Aspen has gone beyond what the city requires for project approval, especially when compared to other projects such as Broadway Marketplace.
“I think (the developer’s) problem is that they’re victim of previous developments that are not up to what Columbians expect,” he said.
The early phases of Broadway Marketplace, on Conley Road along U.S. 63, were built nearly 10 years ago, and the development continues to develop today. It is another project of Kroenke and his partners’ and includes the only Wal-Mart Supercenter in town.
Hutton noted that the shopping plaza has lighting and landscaping problems that the Grindstone proposal would not.
“And (the Grindstone developers) are going to do more,” he added.
If the council fails to approve the Grindstone plan, Bob Smith said Monday that he and fellow land-owner Hugh Stephenson would be forced to break up their property into smaller pieces. That, he said, would compromise the environment more than one large project.
“A small developer cannot do storm-water control in the same way,” Smith told the council.
Hutton agreed Monday night.
“I think it would be better to develop 53 acres in one plan than in 10 plans,” he said. “There is a big advantage in a big plan,” he said.
Fourth Ward Councilman Jim Loveless said Monday the project could create too much traffic in the area.
“I worry the development of this square will cause this roadway to break down,” he said of Grindstone Parkway.
Because of that concern, as well as worries about signs, lighting and parking, the council tabled the matter for a second time Monday.
Bennett said he is optimistic the council will approve the plans once those problems have been addressed.
The council is scheduled to consider the matter again Oct. 6.