Harg residents live in the county but work and shop in the city, and many residents would like to keep it that way.
Harg Area Residents for Responsible Growth needs to collect signatures from 2 percent of “qualified” Columbia voters — about 1,500 people — to prevent the voluntary annexation of Billy Sapp’s 1,000-acre developments east of Columbia on the north and south sides of Route WW.
Member Renee Richmond said Thursday the group has collected more than 2,200 signatures. Group members will continue to collect signatures at the Columbia Public Library and the downtown post office in order to obtain their goal of 2,500 signatures. Richmond said she wants to collect at least 2,500 signatures in case any are found to be invalid.
“Of the people that we speak with, I would say 75 to 80 percent sign,” Richmond said. “And one of the reasons I think that is is because you have someone speaking face to face with you. They put a face to that concern, to that opposition.”
The group plans to speak in opposition to the proposed annexation at the public hearing at Tuesday’s City Council meeting. The group has until Feb. 1 to turn in its petition, but members decided at their Thursday night meeting to turn in the petition by Jan. 31. If the issue is not tabled, the council could take final action at its Feb. 7 meeting.
If the group turns in a valid petition by the deadline, the developer would have to begin the application process again and seek involuntary annexation. However, the standards for involuntary annexation require that 15 percent of the land border the city, a guideline Sapp’s property does not meet. If approved by the City Council, the Sapp developments would mark the largest voluntary annexation in the city’s history. This is the first time someone has petitioned to stop a voluntary annexation in Columbia, said Chuck Bondra, a senior planner. After an application is submitted for involuntary annexation, the issue goes to a city vote and a vote of the residents in the area that would be annexed, he said.
In 2002, an involuntary annexation proposal was voted down by both groups. The last time Columbia voters passed an involuntary annexation was in 1969, which doubled the size of the city. Sapp spokesman Don Stamper said the developments will continue even if the petition succeeds.
“Right now, we’ve asked for voluntary annexation, and until it’s proven to us that we have to take another route, we’ll continue on that approach,” Stamper said.
Sapp has proposed a mix of residential and commercial uses for the land, including a 209-acre golf course. The two developments could include a total of 1,859 housing units.
Richmond said the group would prefer that a smaller population increase come with the developments.
“It’s his property,” Richmond said. “He’s got a right to develop it, but what we’d like to do is see less of an impact and keep the rural atmosphere.”
Donna Ross moved to her home on Cedar Grove Boulevard in 1972. Then, “you could drive out there and know you’re not going to meet anybody on the highway,” she said. “We know that change is going to happen, but we would like to have some say in the amount of development that will take place. And this way, we don’t feel like we have any say whatsoever.”
James Fairchild, who has lived in the area for 23 years, said his main concern is highway and road safety.
“This project will increase the number of cars traveling on Highway WW up to 4,000 cars per day,” Fairchild said.
Group members also are concerned about the costs that Columbia’s taxpayers could take on with the developments.
Richmond said she thinks the developer and city ultimately won’t get what they want.
“You’re going to end up with this population still stuck out in the county. It’s not going to be one pink area,” Richmond said, pointing to the pink area on her map that denotes Columbia’s land. “They seem to have this ‘growth is important at no matter what cost’ (attitude).”