Heeding the concerns of dozens of residents who turned out to make their voices heard, the Planning and Zoning Commission voted to maintain the Russell Property in west Columbia as its owner originally intended: as a nature preserve and recreational park.
Thursday’s vote represents an about-face for the city, as all other city departments surveyed favored extending Cunningham Road through the 90 acre property, said city planning director Roy Dudark.
The departments that supported the road extension included the City Planning Department, Public Works Department and the Fire Department. But the commission voted unanimously to recommend to the City Council that the property be maintained as a park setting.
“This park could be a jewel for the city of Columbia,” said commissioner Karl Skala.
The commission also recommended that the extension of the road be dropped from all future transportation master plans.
Residents who spoke during the public forum supported the idea that the area should be kept as it is.
“We have a serious traffic problem in this city,” said Ann Gowans, chairwoman of the Parks and Recreation Commission, which last week voted in support of the same plan. “We need a transportation plan, but we don’t need to use parks as part of it.”
Many said extending Cunningham Road would serve no purpose.
“The extension is no longer needed because it was to serve homes,” said Harold Anderson of the Columbia Audubon Society. The property was donated to the city by the late F. Garland Russell in 1999. In his will, Russell said he wanted the property to remain a nature preserve.
“It’s very important that the city honor the wishes of the Russell family,” said commissioner Jeff Barrow. “Hopefully, this will encourage others to make similar gifts with the intention that their wishes will be respected.”
Before a final plan is approved, the City Council will review the recommendations made by the commissions. A public hearing will be held before the council holds a final vote on the fate of the Russell Property.