[Note: this story has been modified since its original posting to correct errors.]
A developer’s request that would add much of the unincorporated Harg community to Columbia has met fierce opposition from some Harg-area residents, threatening to delay or stop the largest proposed annexation in Columbia’s history.
Developer Billy Sapp, who is planning more than 1,000 acres of homes, condominiums, shops and a golf course in the area, wants his development to receive city services such as police protection and street lights.
“We are developing a plan that is a city type of subdivision,” Sapp’s spokesman Don Stamper said.
But neighbors opposed to the development fear it will change the rural setting of the area and cause dangerous traffic on nearby Route WW.
Led by organizer Renee Richmond, about 50 residents are circulating a petition that would stop or at least delay the annexation process by forcing a citywide vote and approval by Boone County Circuit Court.
“This is the one thing we’ve discovered to try to affect the development,” said Richmond, a medical technologist at Boone Hospital Center. “We moved out here to live in a rural setting. What (Sapp) does affects my life. It affects where I live.”
Richmond said this rural setting, with one home for every 10 acres, would change when the development brings one home for every two acres.
The resident’s goal is to switch the annexation from a voluntary to an involuntary annexation.
Under Missouri law, a voluntary annexation would happen if 100 percent of Harg property owners made an annexation request to the Columbia City Council, which would then decide whether to annex the property.
“Voluntary is a very simple process,” Columbia City Attorney Fred Boeckmann said.
If at least 2 percent of Columbia residents sign a petition against the annexation, it would be considered involuntary. In this case, the city must first prove it can provide municipal services to the area. Then, the annexation must be approved by a majority of residents in Columbia and the Harg residents living on the land to be annexed. It must also be approved in Boone County Circuit Court.
Boeckmann said the process can take months or years.
Richmond, the neighbor’s organizer, said her group has collected about 1,000 signatures on itspetition against annexation. It needs about 500 more to meet the 2 percent minimum but aims to collect as many as 3,000.
The tactic could be especially effective in this case because, Stamper said, only a small point of the property touches city limits. Involuntary annexation requires that at least 15 percent of the developer’s property touch city limits.
Boeckmann said Sapp could have as much as 15 percent of the property touch the city by either buying property that borders the city or persuading adjacent property owners to join his annexation request.
Stamper said he has contacted the neighbors, but they are not interested in talking.
“My impression is that their only goal is to kill the project,” Stamper said.
Stamper said the company is investing $1.5 million to add two traffic signals to Route WW and make it a safer road.
He said the company is focusing on voluntary annexation but has backup plans he refused to describe.
Richmond said she does not think Sapp can make enough improvements to negate the development’s effect on the roads and neighborhood when so many people move in.
“That’s like putting the city of Centralia out there,” Richmond said, referring to the Northern Boone County city with a population of 3,774.