As the past several years brought an explosion of growth to north, south and west Columbia, the urban fringe east of the city quietly awaited its turn.
That wait is coming to an end. Government officials, landowners, developers and residents say the east side is bound to boom next, given its proximity to central Columbia, the extension of city sewer lines and transportation planners’ renewed push for an extension of Stadium Boulevard.
Other features of the area — namely the access provided by Route WW and the existence of large tracts of land that are easier than small lots to buy, plan and develop — also make it appealing.
“It’s not a question of if but a question of when it will develop,” Boone County Northern District Commissioner Skip Elkin said of the east side.
Southern District Commissioner Karen Miller agreed, saying development to the east will be part of a natural progression. “Once the infrastructure is in place, it will explode with growth,” she predicted.
Several developers already have projects under way, have proposed subdivisions or have at least shown an interest in building on the east side, an area identified in the city’s Metro 2020 plan as a neighborhood district containing residential subdivisions, schools, churches, parks and small commercial centers.
Mastermark Builders has begun construction of Eastport Village, a subdivision of about 250 homes on 80 acres near Interstate 70’s Lake of the Woods exit.
Prime Development is pressing county officials for rezoning to accommodate plans for 250 single-family homes and 64 duplexes on about 200 acres east of El Chaparral subdivision along Route WW. The plan was rejected by the Boone County Planning and Zoning Commission, but the company has appealed to the Boone County Commission.
Meanwhile, Billy Sapp of Con-Agg is said to be contemplating what would be one of the largest subdivisions in the county’s history: a development of more than 900 homes, complete with a golf course and accompanying commercial uses, farther east and also along Route WW. Sapp bought 640 acres from Howard Johnson Development in 1998 and in June bought the nearby 175-acre Hinshaw estate.
Sapp has not presented any formal plans to the county yet.
A prime location
Several factors are driving the interest in the east side, Prime Development President Rob Smith said, citing its proximity to hospitals, shopping centers and downtown. Infrastructure, however, is the key ingredient, Smith said.
“Development is not a secret,” he said. “It follows infrastructure, and the key ones are highways and sewer.”
The city of Columbia is doing its part by extending a sewer line north and east along the North Fork of Grindstone Creek. And a similar project, made possible by city and county voters’ approval of two bond issues in November, will see a sewer interceptor extended along the South Fork of the Grindstone by 2005. That line will eliminate a small waste-water treatment plant and a lagoon serving El Chaparral.
Roy Dudark, city planning director, believes city sewer service will trigger more interest in east-side development. Smith agreed.
“The east has significant improvements in sewer that will drive the ability to develop,” he said.
Eastern development depends on Stadium Blvd.
Meanwhile, the proposed extension of Stadium Boulevard to I-70’s Lake of the Woods interchange is coming back to the forefront. Though it will be years before the extension is built, the connectivity it would eventually bring will make the east side even more enticing to developers, Thaddeus Yonke, a county planner, said.
The Stadium extension will affect the area “significantly” because it will provide quicker access to U.S. 63, I-70 and other points in the city, giving east-side residents an easy way to commute in and out of Columbia’s core, he said. A traffic model for the proposed extension estimates Stadium would carry 20,000 vehicles per day by 2030. With that much traffic, businesses likely would prosper.
“We are certainly thinking of the extension because it’s going to help the people who live in (Eastport Village) get to work quicker,” said Noah Heaton of Mastermark Builders.
Don Stamper, former Boone County presiding commissioner and now a spokesman for Sapp, said, “The Stadium extension has been needed for a long time. It will enhance the whole community and take pressure off the 63/70 interchange.”
Plans are indefinite
The Columbia Area Transportation Study Organization — a group of city, county and state transportation planners — is trying to determine the best corridor for the Stadium extension so right of way can be purchased before development begins in earnest. That study will take about two years to finish, said Roger Schwartze, central district engineer for the Missouri Highways and Transportation Department. Even if financing weren’t an issue, it would take 10 years to complete the extension.
“From MoDOT’s standpoint, it’s not an extremely high priority compared to other corridors MoDOT has around the state,” Schwartze said. “It is much more of a regional-type project that is very important for the city, and it’s been the Chamber of Commerce’s No. 1 priority for quite some time.”
Stadium puts Eastern development in limbo
Some would-be east-side developers are in a holding pattern, waiting to plan their subdivisions until officials decide how, when and exactly where to extend Stadium.
Break Through Construction owns 40 acres in the area and plans to build single-family homes and some businesses on the land.
“It’s been in the back of our mind,” Break Through President Tom Deters said of the Stadium extension, “but as it gets a little closer, then it’s a little more meaningful as to how we want to develop. That will definitely impact what kind of commercial property will be in that specific area.”
Obstacles for eastern development
Although the east side is ripe for development, there are plenty of obstacles to overcome.
One is public attitude. Some in the area are wary of development and don’t want to see any more.
Joy Zumwalt, who owns 267 acres off Richland Road, wasn’t happy with the increase in traffic that came with Sunrise Estates. Many developers have approached Zumwalt about buying her land, she said, but she refuses to sell.
“Two of my sons built homes on this farm, and we would like keep it as a farm,” Zumwalt said.
“I’m not anxious to see the development. There was once this beautiful farm with horses, and now it’s just a mud pile,” she said of a neighbor’s property, “and they’ve done lots of blasting that shakes houses for miles around.”
Residents also worry about luring more traffic to Route WW, the narrow blacktop that serves as the area’s primary thoroughfare. And they become doubly concerned when there’s talk of a Stadium extension that would intersect with Route WW.
“Basically, without the upgrades on WW, and with the potential of just a stop sign through the Stadium-WW interchange, it’s going to be a complete mess out there,” said Evelyn Cleveland, a resident of El Chaparral and president of its neighborhood association. “We’re already having problems with fatal accidents, and with the proposed extension there’s somewhere of an estimate of up to 3,000 vehicles using that road.”
Miller said it’s clear Route WW will have to be improved. The highway, she said, “doesn’t have the infrastructure needed to handle the increase of several hundred homes without expansion.”
The big issue
Sapp and Prime Development are conducting a traffic study to determine whether turn lanes, road widening or traffic signals are warranted for Route WW. Because it’s a state highway, however, the transportation department would have to authorize any work.
“WW is a narrow, two-lane road and doesn’t have shoulders on it, “ Schwartze said. “But if we’re putting 1,200 homes out there, it would actually need to be a four-lane road.”
Financing from developers might be the only way Route WW will be improved, Smith said. “It takes development to fuel improvements. In five years, without development, WW will look like it does now.”
Beck, however, said it’s important that planners stay ahead of the game.
“If people are coming to Columbia, then it’s a matter of planning for and providing great infrastructure at the times these areas are developed rather than trying to do it later,” he said. “I’m hopeful that’s going to happen.”