Groups that opposed Tuesday’s city sewer bond issue are still longing for an oversight committee to eventually give the public more say in Columbia’s expansion.
That committee would oversee sewer line extensions — long regarded as the most important factor in regulating growth. By helping determine where sewers are extended, members of the Boone County Smart Growth Coalition argue, residents could have more input in development on Columbia’s fringes.
The hang-up is the committee hasn’t been formed yet. Not even close. With approval of Tuesday’s bond issues, it might take years to persuade the Columbia City Council to create such a committee, said Jeff Barrow, a member of the Columbia Planning and Zoning Committee and executive director of the Greenbelt Coalition of Mid-Missouri.
Smart Growth Coalition members are unsure whether the committee will surface as envisioned. Member Ben Londeree said other ideas might supplant the notion of a sewer oversight committee. Maybe joint planning and zoning commission meetings will work, he said, or maybe a different committee altogether.
“We have to ask where the community as a whole thinks development should go,” Londeree said.
Barrow said sewer oversight is important, if for no other reason than most other Columbia utilities are paired with resident panels. If other types of infrastructure such as water and electricity have advisory committees, he said, sewers should also.
“I think there’s a fairness issue,” he said. “Sewers are the limiting factor when it comes to development.”
City officials have argued that using sewer lines as leverage for regulating growth is irresponsible. As they campaigned for passage of the sewer and water bond issues, they repeatedly said Columbia would grow regardless of sewer expansions.
Columbia Public Works Director Lowell Patterson said he would willingly work with a residents committee if one should form, but he said he doubts that regulating sewer lines would be the most effective way to influence developers’ decisions.
“I don’t think it’s the silver bullet for stopping growth,” he said.