Opponents of the Philips development fear the Columbia City Council has spent far too much time doing public business — in private.
At its meeting Monday night, as the council adopted a series of amendments to developer Elvin Sapp’s plans for the 489 acres in southeast Columbia, the public got its first chance to voice its opinions on the changes. Sapp wants the council to annex and zone the land to allow for nearly 2 million square feet of homes, businesses and office buildings.
Most of the changes, including details about payments for road improvements, were the result of discussions between city staff and Sapp’s representatives over the past few weeks. The council also held a televised public work session on the changes last Monday.
But opponents said Monday that’s just not enough public input. They have fervently opposed the project for fear it might compromise the environmentally sensitive Gans and Clear Creek watersheds.
Concerned resident Elaine Hartley said she’s “appalled” by the city’s process, which included Mayor Darwin Hindman’s attempt to limit the developer and opponents speaking times to 30 minutes each.
“This is going to be rammed down our throats and we don’t get to talk,” she said.
The plan faced further scrutiny Monday as mayoral candidate John Clark said the potential purchase of part of the Philips farm for a new regional park is just a “bad idea.” If the council approves Sapp’s plans, the city would buy 77 acres for about $1.2 million and receive another 63 acres, including the lake, as a donation. That lake will be used as a storm-water basin and for recreation.
Clark also warned that arrangement could subject the city to further scrutiny from the Missouri Department of Natural Resources.
“They’ll be looking for the city, and I’m not sure we’ll be able to hide,” he said.
The DNR recently put a hold on land-disturbance permits in the Hinkson Creek watershed because it considers the creek impaired. Clark, along with Ken Midkiff and Johann Holt of the Sierra Club worried Monday that Gans and Clear Creek could become another Hinkson Creek if Philips is developed without water quality standards in place.
City staff has said determining those standards could take up to five years. Meanwhile, Sapp’s representatives have repeatedly promised their development will include layers of barriers that will protect the creeks and control storm-water run-off.
Sapp attorney Dan Simon said the amendment is nearly “100 percent” satisfactory. He was adamant no other changes be made.
“This is as good as we can do,” he said. “There’s no further concessions we can make.”
The council will hold another public hearing and then vote on the amended annexation and rezoning proposal on March 15. It will be the fourth public hearing on the matter since January.
— Missourian reporter Sara Semelka contributed to this report.