Plans to develop Philips resisted

Opponents worry the development will drain money from downtown.
Friday, December 19, 2003 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 12:48 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Developer Elvin Sapp’s lawyers want Columbia residents to know that rezoning is only the first step in a long process for determining the future of the Philips farm — site of the largest and one of the most controversial development proposals in Boone County history.

Sapp wants to put a mix of homes, apartments, businesses and office buildings on the 489 acres outside the southeast border of Columbia.

At a meeting of the Planning and Zoning Commission on Thursday, Sapp’s attorney Dan Simon emphasized that the commission’s potential endorsement of the plans would be only one in a series of hurdles the developer would have to face in the planning process. As of press time, the commission hadn’t decided whether to recommend the rezoning to the City Council. The council will have the final approval on the rezoning.

Simon said decisions about hotly debated issues such as storm-water management and traffic problems could be worked out later.

“We’re not here to plan this development,” Simon told the commission and a packed chamber of concerned residents. “We’re not here to answer every question. We can’t.”

Sapp’s representatives appeared frustrated that their proposal has faced such scrutiny to date. Some neighbors and community groups have fervently opposed the development since it was proposed this summer. Because the property drains to the sensitive Clear Creek, Gans Creek and Little Bonne Femme watersheds, they believe much more study needs to be done before the area could be developed.

After a parade of experts assured the commission that traffic and water quality won’t be a problem on the site, Simon said those matters should be kept out of the rezoning discussion.

“We ought to quit talking about that at this stage,” he said.

Simon’s assurances did little to appease opponents Thursday night.

Tony Davis from the Clear Creek Neighborhood Association said the traffic impact will cost the city dearly and that all necessary traffic studies should be done before any rezoning request is granted.

He noted that while Sapp’s plans include the study of a potential interchange at Highway 63 and Gans Road, they don’t address impact to local roads such as Bearfield Road and Ponderosa Street. Davis has estimated the cost of all road improvements needed for the development could be as much as $42 million.

John Ikerd, a retired professor of agricultural economics at MU, said that while Sapp’s development might bring new jobs and tax money to Columbia, it will drain resources from the Columbia Mall and downtown.

“If this development is not built, people will continue to live and shop in places where sewer and water lines are already in place,” he said. “We simply can’t afford the cost of this economic dislocation.”

Simon said Sapp’s development would bring more than $9 million a year in tax money and generate 600 new long-term jobs.

Randal Clark, an environmental chemist, said he worries about storm-water quality on the site. He said there are no “best management practices “ — barriers that filter runoff — that could protect an area as environmentally sensitive as the Philips farm.

Also Thursday, Planning Director Roy Dudark said the city staff recommended the commission endorse Sapp’s rezoning request, provided he meet some conditions. Dudark said the staff wants Sapp to conduct detailed storm-water and traffic studies to determine impact to the area. While Dudark noted the commission could make its recommendation conditional to completion of those studies, he said that would be an unusual move.

Dudark emphasized that even if the city rezoned the property, the City Council would still make a final decision on Sapp’s development plans. Currently, the proposal outlines nine tracts for residential, office and commercial use but does not specify where the buildings would go or even what they would be.

“The city is well within its rights to deny the development plans,” Dudark said.

The city is considering purchasing two of the tracts from Sapp for a new city park if the property is rezoned.

Missourian reporter Chase Davis contributed to this report.

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