Philips developer seeks leeway

Elvin Sapp wants to exceed a standard that aims to reduce storm-water runoff.
Wednesday, January 28, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 10:19 a.m. CDT, Saturday, July 5, 2008

Would-be developers of the Philips farm don’t think they should be forced to comply with the city’s policy on impervious surfaces.

The policy, intended to limit potential pollution from storm-water runoff in environmentally sensitive watersheds, suggests developers should limit the proportion of impenetrable surfaces on projects to 30 percent.

Elvin Sapp wants to put a mix of homes, offices and shops on the 489-acre Philips farm just southeast of Columbia. If approved in its current form, the plan would represent the largest single development in Boone County history. Under city policy, however, only 30 percent of those 489 acres could be impervious surfaces such as parking lots, rooftops and sidewalks.

Sapp’s attorney, Dan Simon, told the council Monday that’s just not enough.

“It’s causing us major problems,” he said, claiming the city’s guideline is “one-size-fits-all” and doesn’t take into account the individual characteristics of a piece of land.

Instead, Sapp spokesman Mark Farnen said, the city should give Sapp a break. Sapp plans to use numerous storm-water management techniques such as barriers and detention ponds to control any runoff and, therefore, shouldn’t be held to the city’s “arbitrary” 30 percent standard.

Instead, Sapp wants to develop the Philips tract with up to 37 percent impervious surfaces. Plans submitted to the council reflect that desire.

But Farnen said Tuesday that the actual amount of impervious surface on the property really depends on whether the city decides to buy more than 130 acres of the Philips land for a park. The council might consider that matter in a closed work session on Thursday, Farnen said.

“If the city buys the park, we’ll stay at the 30 percent,” he said, “but we still think (the impervious surface limit) is wrong.”

Because the Philips property straddles two environmentally sensitive watersheds — those of Gans and Clear creeks — opponents worry there’s no way to protect the creeks using storm-water management techniques. Members of the Boone County Smart Growth Coalition and a string of environmental experts have maintained the Philips tract could be developed safely only if held to a much higher standard for impervious surfaces, such as 10 percent.

Farnen said Tuesday that’s “just not true.” Citing a study by Sapp engineer Jonathan Jones, as well as an independent study done for the city by CH2MHill, Farnen told the council Monday that developing the Philips property won’t pollute the watersheds at all.

Farnen emphasized that development already complete in the watersheds of Gans and Clear creeks is made up of 10 percent to 20 percent of impervious surfaces and that 20 percent of the rain that falls on those developments runs off into the creeks.

Special strategies planned for the Philips tract, however, mean it would generate only 30 percent runoff, even if it is developed with up to 50 percent impervious surface, Farnen said. Sapp has to figure out how to manage 10 percent more runoff than other developers in the area. Sapp’s plans include more than enough precautions to accomplish that, he said.

“That’s lost in the discussion,” Farnen said. “It’s as much about politics as it is about science.”

The council will have a public hearing on the rezoning of the Philips property Feb. 2 and will vote Feb. 16 on whether to annex and rezone the land.

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