Foes upset after delay on Philips

Opponents accuse the City Council of rushing a decision on the Philips tract and excluding the public.
Wednesday, February 18, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 4:21 p.m. CDT, Friday, July 18, 2008

The Columbia City Council’s agreement Monday night to table its vote on the proposed annexation and zoning of the Philips farm has opponents crying foul.

The council, which after months of discussion was scheduled to take a final vote on the proposal, tabled it instead after attorney Dan Simon presented a 10-page memorandum detailing last-minute changes in the proposal from developer Elvin Sapp. Simon also warned that Sapp would withdraw his plan if the council failed to approve it by March 15.

A City Council work session has been scheduled for 6 p.m. next Monday at City Hall.

On Tuesday, opponents of the development and others accused the council of excluding the public, operating in secret and rushing its decision on the future of the 489-acre property.

Tony Davis of the Clear Creek Neighborhood Association said the city manager’s office potentially circumvented public input by withholding Simon’s memorandum, which it received Friday, until it was presented to the City Council immediately before Monday’s meeting.

“Now more than ever, everyone needs to know what discussions are taking place,” he said.

City Manager Ray Beck could not be reached for comment Tuesday evening.

Davis said he thinks that the city manager’s office is working more closely with the developers than with the community and that Beck is pushing hard for the annexation and development.

“Is the goal of the city manager’s office to get an interchange on Gans Road and the development as quickly as possible worth the repercussions of moving too quickly?” Davis asked. He said two weeks is not enough time to bring the right people in to make a decision, given the extensive changes to Sapp’s plans.

The memorandum explained by Simon outlines proposed agreements between the city and Sapp regarding financing for road improvements and the development of a regional park by the city. The proposal calls for Sapp to donate 63 acres of the area known as Tract 3, which includes the 40-acre Bristol Lake, to the city. It also calls for the city to buy the rest of Tract 3 and 10 acres of Tract 4 at a total cost of about $1.28 million. The city wants to combine the parkland with adjacent property south of Gans Road that is owned by Sue Crane.

The proposal also calls for the developer to pay up to 50 percent of the cost for new streets and other road improvements, such as a Gans Road overpass at U.S. 63, other changes to Gans Road and improvements to Ponderosa Street. The city, and perhaps the county, would finance the balance. All the parties would recoup their expense through the establishment of a Transportation Development District, in which a special sales tax would be charged to finance the roadwork.

Davis said a March 15 deadline is too soon to allow a thorough financial analysis, a review of storm-water policies and an evaluation of the TDD proposal.

Johann Holt, conservation chairman for the Osage Group of the Sierra Club, also criticized the process in a written statement Tuesday.

“The citizens of Columbia mistrust the developers and our city staff’s ability to truly represent (the) public interest,” Holt said. “There must be citizen involvement in the planning process, so more than money interests get represented. ... Their voices must be heard.”

Toward the end of Monday’s council meeting, mayoral candidates John Clark and Arch Brooks accused the council of failing to be open with the public in its motives and decisions.

“We need a whole lot of involvement and real discussion of the issues,” Clark said. Brooks recommended that the council table the proposal and accused the council of failing to follow the state Sunshine Law.

Council members defended themselves against allegations that they had excluded the public. Second Ward Councilman Chris Janku noted that Simon’s memorandum was discussed in a brief, public work session before Monday’s regular council meeting.

“Nothing has been behind closed doors,” Mayor Darwin Hindman said.

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