The Columbia City Council will not vote on what would be the largest annexation in the city’s history until it learns whether a petition that seeks to block the proposal is valid.
City Attorney Fred Boeckmann said the council would have no reason to vote at the scheduled time if the validity of the petition remains uncertain.
Residents of the Harg area plan to submit the petition on Friday. If it is validated before the council’s scheduled Feb. 7 vote, the council will drop the entire matter, at least temporarily.
Developer Billy Sapp wants the city to annex and zone nearly 1,000 acres of property east of Columbia and on both sides of Route WW. His proposal features a golf course and a mix of residential and commercial uses. The development would include about 1,800 homes.
To block the annexation, Harg Area Residents for Responsible Growth must collect and submit to the city clerk at least 1,500 signatures from registered Columbia voters. Harg is an unincorporated area of the county located at the intersection of Route WW and Olivet Road.
If the group’s petition is submitted on Friday, the Boone County clerk’s office would have one business week to check the signatures and the validity of the petition.
Renee Richmond is leading the petition effort and hopes to submit 2,500 signatures. She said she thinks Sapp will challenge the petition in some way even if it is certified.
“I have a feeling they will not let this go,” Richmond said. “I don’t know what they have in mind as to what they will do to challenge the petition.”
Harg residents have said they hope to force a vote on involuntary annexation of the property. Any such vote would require the City Council to place a proposal on the ballot. A majority of voters inside the city and in the area to be annexed would have to favor the issue for it to pass.
Boeckmann, however, said the Sapp land is ineligible for involuntary annexation under state law because less than 15 percent of the property borders existing city limits.
“Just looking at a map, I don’t think they can buy enough to make the 15 percent requirement,” Boeckmann said.
Sapp spokesman Don Stamper would not release details of Sapp’s backup plans if the petition succeeds but said they would continue to pursue voluntary annexation.
“We have a number of contingency plans,” he said. “It doesn’t stop the project.”
Stamper also took issue with the Harg residents’ strategy.
“We think that this effort is by a handful of people who are manipulating the people of Columbia for their own interests,” he said.
Mayor Darwin Hindman said if Sapp bought more land in order to achieve the required 15 percent for involuntary annexation, he would have to file a new proposal.
“If they buy more land, that isn’t included in this request. This request becomes moot,” Hindman said. “It looks to me that they would have to start all over and we’d have to look at the merits of that request.”
While Boone County commissioners have not objected to the Sapp plan, in a letter they did ask city officials to honor conditions the county placed on some of the land when it was rezoned for a different owner.