Ready or not, the eastward expansion of Columbia is beginning.
The process will begin with small steps, the first of which will probably be the annexation of 96.6 acres owned by Roger and Mary Bumgarner. The Bumgarners in late April filed for voluntary annexation of their farm and are seeking agricultural zoning.
Mary Bumgarner said she and her husband simply decided that “there is a time when it makes sense to annex. We are very much in favor of orderly growth of the city. Pockets left in the annexation cause problems for orderly growth.”
Assistant City Manager Bill Watkins agreed. “The Bumgarner annexation makes sense in and of itself. It fills in a little gap there.”
The Bumgarner property is adjacent to a 155-acre tract recently acquired by Billy Sapp, which in turn abuts an 821-acre tract that Sapp owns on the north side of Route WW. The larger property is destined to become a golf course community featuring single-family homes, apartments and a commercial zone. All totaled, he plans to develop about 2,000 homes in the area.
Annexation of the Bumgarner land would tighten the city noose around the El Chaparral neighborhood, which remains an unincorporated area of the county. It would also make Sapp’s properties contiguous to the city and therefore eligible for annexation.
Don Stamper, a spokesman for Sapp, said he would most likely file for annexation and city zoning before any homes are built. “We see our development as a logical form of municipal growth,” he said.
Watkins said the city would prefer that the property be annexed before development begins. “Our experience has been that once the project is built and you have separated the lands into hundreds of lots owned by many individuals, it’s hard to annex,” Watkins said. “It’s logical to annex before all of that happens. It’s much easier to develop that way.”
Watkins cited the differences between city and county development standards as another reason he’d rather have the land in the city before building begins.
“We believe that the standards between the city and the county are close, but there are some differences, mostly dealing with storm water and land disturbances,” Watkins said. “It would be advantageous to go through the city’s process with this development.”
Sapp is aware of the differences, however, and plans to comply with city regulations. Stamper also has met with city officials to discuss the development and its potential inclusion in the city.
“We have shown them plans and drafts,” Stamper said. “They have given us advice and input. It seems to be that they are providing the information that we need to move forward.”
Watkins said Sapp’s development would be a unique addition to the city. “From what we saw, there would be more normal residential lots and also some more upscale kinds of condos,” Watkins said. “It’s a good combination of a lot of different lifestyles and resident opportunities.”
Both the developer and the city concede, however, that there is a long road ahead before any building can be done.
“I do know that one of the difficulties is that they need to do the grading for the golf course in advance, but you don’t want to dig it up for the sewer line,” Watkins said, referring to the city’s extension of its sewer services out to the South Fork of the Grindstone. “The sewer is the technical issue.”
The land Sapp bought from Prime Development on the south side of Route WW already has proper zoning. Stamper said sewer service is all that stands in the way of progress there. “That property is basically ready to go,” he said
Stamper also acknowledged that government bureaucracy, public hearings and other obstacles could stall progress. “The timeline can go from 18 months to five years,” he said. “The day that you file the rezoning request, you’re looking at at least six to nine months to get it through. We are going to have to zone a majority of the land.”
Community sentiment will be key, Stamper said.
“This is not a development friendly community,” he said. “They do not have policies that allow you to move quickly. This is a community that cares an awful lot about its growth. There are few things that go unquestioned. You can languish for months just answering questions. It’s not wrong, just inefficient.”