How to deal with Columbia as a growing city, both in size and population, was the focal point of a town hall meeting featuring Mayor Darwin Hindman and mayoral candidates Arch Brooks and John Clark on Tuesday afternoon.
A small crowd gathered at the Cherry Street Artisan coffee shop, 111 South Ninth St., for the meeting. KFRU/1400 AM broadcast it live, and it was moderated by the station’s talk show hosts Chris Kellogg and David Lile.
One of the most contentious issues discussed by the candidates was Columbia City Council’s recent decision to allow development on the 489-acre Philips tract. Both Brooks and Clark voiced their disapproval of the decision.
“It was in total disregard and disrespect of the citizens of the great city of Columbia and was another one of those projects that has come through city hall that was just ramrodded through and crammed down the citizens throats,” Brooks said.
Clark said the decision was premature and that the council hadn’t put enough thought into what the environmental and financial consequences of developing that land would be.
But Hindman said the Philips tract development would benefit Columbia because it would create a dense housing development that would be easily accessible by public transportation. It would also provide space to build a city park, trails and a research park for MU. Another issue raised in the meeting was how to deal with heavier traffic caused by population increases. Brooks suggested that traffic lights be synchronized so that someone traveling at a constant speed would not be stopped several times by the lights.
Clark said the traffic was a “canary in the mine,” a warning sign of the problems uncontrolled growth could cause if not planned for correctly.
Hindman said that roads will be expanded to help control traffic but that the city will have to be cautious in doing so.
The crowd was mostly a split between Clark and Hindman supporters.
Pat Kelley, a member of the Columbia Get-Out-The-Vote Committee, said she was concerned about the expansion of Columbia because of the doughnut effect, which happens when new development occurs only at the edges of a city, causing the inner city to deteriorate.
“I know John Clark; I know that he is very dedicated to these issues and that he has a very in-depth understanding of them,” Kelley said.
Lawrence Revard said he came into the Artisan for coffee and was blindsided by the forum. He said although the candidates debated on several issues that he hadn’t considered before, he still supports Hindman.
“I have heard relatively few complaints about the job he has done from the people I trust,” Revard said.
Tom Bair, owner of Cherry Street Artisan, said although the forum probably scared away more customers than it attracted, it is important for a coffee shop to be a center for the community. He also said he wished more people had attended the meeting.
“You hate to see a political system decided by a handful of people,” Bair said.