Opponents of the largest voluntary annexation in Columbia’s history made their voices heard before the City Council in a heated public hearing Tuesday night.
Now it is up to the council to weigh these concerns and decide whether to annex and zone almost 1,000 acres into Columbia.
Developer Billy Sapp wants the city to annex land east of Columbia on both sides of Route WW and apply zoning to accommodate a golf course and surrounding residential and commercial development. His early plans for the property call for as many as 1,800 homes. City staff and the Columbia Planning and Zoning Commission have already recommended that the council approve the zoning request.
Most of the residents attending the hearing oppose the annexation and had hopes of influencing the council’s vote, which is scheduled for its next meeting on Feb. 7. This initial hearing gave residents the opportunity to voice their opinions directly to the council.
Among the concerns was the impact the annexation would have on the emergency-response system.
“Unrestrained development has also pushed our emergency services past the breaking point,” Columbia resident David Wolfe said. “Police who always use the buddy method on patrol have been forced to cut back to one officer per car during routine patrols. We saw the consequences of that policy a little over a week ago when one of Columbia’s finest was left in the street for dead with no partner to back her up.”
Sapp’s property is immediately east of an unincorporated area known as Harg. Members of the Harg Area Residents for Responsible Growth have collected about 2,000 signatures from people who oppose the annexation. If they acquire a minimum of 1,500 certified signatures, they can force an involuntary annexation process that would require voter approval of Sapp’s request, both in the city and in the area to be annexed.
The Harg residents’ petition cites complaints about urban sprawl, high city costs and traffic problems. Two Harg-area residents, Willis and Renee Richmond, addressed the council Tuesday night about these concerns.
“Sapp is going to build this property up to a density that would make Route WW more dangerous to drive on,” Willis Richmond said in an interview before the meeting.
Other residents were concerned about school crowding and the amount of high-density housing to be allowed.
“To put a city the size of Centralia on Columbia is a big difference,” said Columbia resident Dennis Bettenhausen in an interview before the hearing.
Bettenhausen, who lives a mile from the proposed annexation area, argued that his community would be better represented if the county had more involvement in the process, not just the city of Columbia. If the plan continues as proposed, he said, it would “represent a radical change to land use in the area.”
Sapp’s lawyer, Bruce Beckett, was present at the hearing and argued the annexation was in the best interest of the city.
“When a city has the opportunity to annex and zone 1,000 acres at a time, that’s an ideal situation as a policy matter,” he said.
Beckett said the annexation would give the city a chance to plan for a large area of land, not just “patchwork.” He also argued that the proposal fits the Missouri statutes’ requirements that the plan be reasonable and necessary.