A simple trip to the grocery store can sometimes seem like an elaborate maze for people living in parts of the city that are far from commercial services.
Mayor Darwin Hindman thinks residents shouldn’t have to endure a maze of traffic and intersections just to pick up a loaf of bread. With that in mind, he’s rethinking the way Columbia neighborhoods are developed.
“There should be services available within a very short drive, or even within walking distance, of most residences in the community,” Hindman said. “If you look at a map of the various neighborhoods, we don’t see a very parallel (grid). It’s hard to get from one place to the other.”
Hindman’s concern came to the forefront during a September meeting of the Columbia City Council, which was reviewing a request for rezoning of land off Smith Drive west of Scott Boulevard. The request eventually was approved, but during the debate Hindman noted the sea of uninterrupted residential development that has already occurred in the area.
Hindman said there was nothing wrong with the Smith Drive plan itself. But he noted that city planners create problems when they approve individual developments that, taken together over time, create vast residential areas. He suggested the city begin encouraging developers to set aside some land for neighborhood businesses.
The idea meets with mixed reviews.
Karen Keltner, a resident of Grant Lane in southwest Columbia, lives miles from both Schnucks and Hy-Vee. She’s comfortable with that, however, and sees no need for neighborhood businesses.
Dick White of nearby Frontenac Plaza agreed but said, “If it’s done right, I think small businesses would be a plus — especially north of town.”
Sandra Novinger, who lives in the northern part of town on Burning Bush Road, said she likes the idea of neighborhood commercial development.
Novinger’s grocery store of choice is the Super Wal-Mart in Broadway Marketplace, which she calls a “pretty long and hectic drive.”
“Neighborhood businesses would thrive, and we would thrive because we wouldn’t have to go so far,” Novinger said, adding that her family sometimes settles for a sandwich from the nearby McDonald’s when a trip to the store is too burdensome.
Karl Skala, vice chairman of the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission, noted that the commission and council recently approved rezoning for a 60-acre residential development at Brown’s School Road and Missouri 763.
“This would have been an ideal location for neighborhood commercial development, but (it) was not proposed in the rezoning request,” he said. “What I am suggesting is that we tend to plan reactively in this city because there is no binding land-use document to allow us to plan proactively.”
City Planning Director Roy Dudark said there would be “hurdles to overcome” even if commercial development were pre-planned.
“Neighborhood residents often see (commercial expansion) as an intrusion into the tranquility for the residential environment,” Dudark said. “By that I mean more traffic, parking lots, signs, lighting, noise, trash Dumpsters and all the by-products that come with commercial as being something that changes the character of the neighborhood.”
Those are just a few reasons why neighborhood and homeowners associations tend to oppose commercial development. Skala, however, said that if those groups “understood what is possible to achieve with a zoning designation of C-P (planned commercial) rather than open zoning, their fears could be replaced with walkable and well-designed neighborhood centers of activity, commerce and enhanced livability.”
From Hindman’s perspective, “a lack of interconnectivity” hinders neighborhood businesses. People who live on cul-de-sacs, for instance, have to drive long distances even to reach nearby destinations.
“In essence, you’d have to drive a half a mile to get a few hundred feet,” he said. “There ought to be an easier way people can get to all parts of the neighborhood. We have these great areas that are nothing but houses, but even if we could have commercial development, neighborhood businesses would be pretty remote even to neighbors.”
Hindman suggests more sidewalks that would “interconnect back to back” near cul-de-sacs to divide very long blocks where there aren’t interconnecting streets.
Neighborhood roundabouts — such as the one near Keltner’s home on Grant Lane — are another way to connect cul-de-sacs.
Hindman is unsure when and how hard he’ll push the expansion of neighborhood commercial uses. Still, he said, “I would love to have people come forward and say they support this idea.”