Latest Philips debate focuses on park

Concerns about potential runoff into a lake and watersheds are voiced over the proposed sale.
Tuesday, February 3, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 12:33 p.m. CDT, Thursday, July 10, 2008

While Columbia officials want to make an offer to buy part of the 489-acre Philips tract for a new regional park, council members still have questions about the land.

Developer Elvin Sapp, who wants to put a mix of homes, offices and shops on the Philips land, has already offered to sell park land to the city. The targeted land, which city officials have been eyeing for almost a year, consists of 153 acres of the Philips farm, including the 40-acre Bristol Lake. That land would possibly be combined with 320 acres across Gans Road owned by Sue Crane to create the park.

The council used its public hearing Monday on the rezoning of the Philips farm as an opportunity to quiz Sapp’s representatives on his plan to use the lake as part of a storm water filtration system.

Third Ward Councilman Bob Hutton said he was worried about the long-term care of the lake. Mayor Darwin Hindman seemed concerned that the lake should be protected so that it could be used for swimming.

While Sapp engineer Jonathan Jones did his best to address those concerns, he couldn’t promise that the lake would be maintenance-free without further study. He added that the lake would probably not be suitable for swimming even if Philips weren’t developed.

“That lake needs work,” he said.

Trent Stober, a storm water expert hired by Sapp, concurred.

“I wouldn’t like to see my young daughter swim in it after a rain event,” Stober said.

Opponents of the development project emphasized that the city shouldn’t purchase the park if the lake will be used to filter storm water. They have fervently opposed Sapp’s plans since they were proposed last summer because they fear development of the Philips farm could compromise sensitive watersheds and pollute Rock Bridge Memorial State Park.

MU biological sciences professor Fred Von Saal said if the city buys the park, it’s forcing Columbia residents to pay to clean up runoff from Sapp’s parking lots and buildings.

“The taxpayers will have to pay to maintain Sapp’s storm water treatment facility,” he said.

Von Saal insisted that there are no storm water management techniques that can sufficiently protect Gans and Clear creeks and Bristol Lake. He said materials commonly used in construction inevitably generate organic contaminates that will get into runoff and eventually dump toxins into the watershed.

Von Saal said even if Sapp’s engineers could remove 95 percent of the pollutants from the runoff, the toxic levels in the remaining 5 percent could still be enough to threaten wild life and public health. Holding a sample of water from a Wal-Mart parking lot in the area, Von Saal challenged members of the development team to drink the water.

“Jonathan Jones has said repeatedly he would drink the water off of this site,” Von Saal said. “This water is not nearly as polluted as (the Philips development) would generate.”

Sapp’s representatives repeatedly assured the council Monday that their development plans are sufficient to protect the area, including the park land.

The park purchase would be significant for Sapp: If the city buys the land for a park, it will be largely preserved as green space, sparing Sapp the hassle of adjusting his plans to meet city standards on impervious surfaces in the environmentally sensitive watersheds.

City Manager Ray Beck said Friday the council believes the Philips and Crane properties combined could accommodate a new park with athletic fields and other recreational facilities. It would also fit in with the city’s master plan, which calls for a 300- to 500-acre regional park in the area.

The council will vote on both Sapp’s annexation and rezoning requests on Feb. 16. Hindman said it might allow more public comment at that time.

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