Even though two-thirds of Elvin Sapp’s proposal for developing the 489-acre Philips farm won approval from the Columbia Planning and Zoning Commission, it’s only the first step.
The proposal is one of the most complicated and controversial development plans in Columbia’s recent history.
The next and potentially most important test for the zoning aspect of the plan comes Feb. 2 before the Columbia City Council, when it will decide — based on the commission’s recommendations — whether to give Sapp the zoning he wants to start his project.
The commission, although influential, does not actually approve or reject zoning plans; it only provides recommendations to the council. The parts of Sapp’s plan the commission rejected were all decided on close votes, which Sapp’s supporters said makes them hopeful.
For zoning purposes, the Philips farm was divided into nine tracts, six of which the commission endorsed in votes Thursday night and early Friday morning. Commissioners narrowly rejected proposed zoning for two of the tracts – Nos. 3 and 9 – because they were unsure whether the city wanted to buy the land for a regional park. Barely a majority rejected another one, No. 8, saying the requested open commercial zoning would be too lenient.
The commission probably would have approved zoning for Nos. 3 and 9 if the parkland issue were decided, Sapp spokesman Mark Farnen said. The council has received appraisals and has met behind closed doors to discuss the potential purchase of land. No formal plans, however, have been announced. Farnen said he hopes to hear what the council plans to do by early January.
Sapp probably will not change his stance on open zoning for Tract 8, Farnen said, because changing to the more restrictive planned zoning designation could cost him time and money as he tries to find new businesses to set up in the area.
“People are concerned that we’ll put up a bunch of signs ... or a machine shop,” Farnen said. “But nobody would want to put that kind of thing there. It’s not in the cards.”
“It’s like if you make a rule not to hit yourself in the head with a hammer,” Farnen said of the reluctance to go with open zoning. “We’re not going to do that anyway.”
Opponents of Sapp’s plan have said they are concerned that the proposed development would hurt the environment of local creeks and push traffic to unmanageable levels.
Tony Davis, of the Clear Creek Neighborhood Association, said he and other opponents of the project were furious with Planning and Zoning Commission members for not tabling the issue.
“Holding a vote like that after midnight when they had so much new information was as immature and irresponsible as any public decision I’ve ever seen,” Davis said. “They should have at least given it one more meeting.”
Ben Londeree of the Boone County Smart Growth Coalition said he was surprised the commission recommended any of the tracts for approval, although he expects the city council will approve the plan regardless.
“If the (Planning and Zoning) Commission is going to pass it, I can’t imagine the council will turn it down,” he said.