When it comes to annexing and rezoning, many Columbia residents find themselves interested, if not confused, by issues new to the city. Yet as Columbia’s borders expand, the city, county and public are increasingly confronted by the impact such development brings.
A bid Monday to annex and zone 118 acres along Howard Orchard Road to accommodate construction of 170 single-family homes was tabled by a perplexed Columbia City Council.
The council will reconsider the request in two weeks after a development agreement is created. While the representatives for the petitioner, George Wilson, said they had agreed to realign Howard Orchard Road, council members remained concerned that the road could not handle increased traffic.
“I think we have a flawed system,” said Fifth Ward Councilwoman Laura Nauser in regard to the request for annexation and residential zoning. “When we annex property in and then promise to deal with infrastructure at a later time, then we find ourselves behind.”
The conundrum serves as a case study for what to do when the continued growth of the city outpaces infrastructure and creates demands on county government that are not anticipated.
Opponents of the annexation, who include the Columbia Planning and Zoning Commission and the Boone County Public Works Department, believe the project is premature because Howard Orchard Road remains a hilly, curvy gravel county road that is not scheduled for immediate improvement.
And residents of the adjacent Thornbrook subdivision worry traffic from the new neighborhood will cut through theirs.
Skip Walther, a representative for property owner George Wilson, said concerns surrounding Howard Orchard Road were misplaced because it is not a major thoroughfare. He said that streets running through Thornbrook were designed to handle an increase in traffic as further development took place to the west of the subdivision. Walter said that his client was willing to enter into an agreement with the city in order to ensure any promises made at the meeting regarding paying for site work and traffic-calming measures.
Tim Crockett, an engineer hired by Wilson, said that “traffic studies conducted indicate that the Thornbrook can handle the influx of traffic that will come with any new development.”
While the city staff recommended approval of the request, other governmental bodies have expressed concern in the past over the safety of Howard Orchard Road and how any improvements will be paid for.
The Boone County Public Works Department does not have any improvements to the road listed on in its capital improvement list, and the city doesn’t currently have the funding to make the necessary improvements. It is this predicament which makes any development agreement an attractive option.
Under residential zoning, a development is not required to include changes requested by the city. The council is hard-pressed and almost obligated to approve it. In contrast, requirements for planned developments allow the city to make requests of the developer in order to alleviate any concerns it may have.
On Monday, the council settled somewhere in the middle by agreeing to allow for the request to remain for residential zoning, while using a development agreement to make promises legally binding.
Mayor Darwin Hindman said the entire situation served as an example of conflicting opinions over whether or not infrastructure should follow development.
“There is a feeling that we need to find a way to have more input,” Hindman said. “If we start adding a lot more development, there’s going to be no doubt we need to build these roads somehow.”
Residents were still not convinced, however, that traffic from construction and the 170 homes in the planned Westbrook subdivision, would increase traffic hazards.
“I’m mainly concerned about the safety of my children and my neighbors” said Gary Banks, a resident of Thornbrook subdivision. “I live off one of the entry ways into the subdivision and I can tell you that the streets are not going to be able to handle any more traffic.”