Nearly everyone who testified at a public hearing on a proposed stream-buffer ordinance Tuesday night agreed the bill wasn’t perfect, but with a few amendments it was good enough to win the unanimous approval of the Columbia City Council.
The council vote came in spite of concerns from residents and some council members about the prospect of trails, managed lawns and sewer lines within designated buffer zones.
The ordinance, a product of four years of work by a Stormwater Task Force that developed a similar set of proposed regulations for the county, is intended to improve the water quality, prevent flooding, control erosion, protect wildlife habitat and aquatic life and promote the recreational use of streams.
“The stream ordinance is a great thing for Columbia. It’s long overdue,” said Scott Hamilton, an urban conservationist with Show-Me Clean Streams who was the first to speak in a hearing that lasted nearly two hours. “The ordinance will benefit future homeowners by protecting them from poorly sited houses located too close to our creeks.”
Other speakers ran the gamut. Jeff Barrow, a member of the task force, urged the council to hold a work or return the ordinance to the task force for further tweaking before passing it. But Don Stamper of the Central Missouri Development Council cautioned against the “temptation to tinker,” saying task force members had already fully debated the issues that gave the City Council pause.
Still, the council couldn’t resist some changes. It accepted a suggestion from Hamilton that buffers be measured not from the centerline of a stream or from the top of its bank but instead from the “ordinary high-water mark,” a federally recognized standard used by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Mayor Darwin Hindman also pushed an amendment that would allow hard-surface trails in both the immediate streamside buffer zones and the outer zones that the ordinance creates, noting that trails can now be made of concrete or other hard surfaces that allow rain water to soak through rather than run off. The bill previously would have allowed only gravel or stone trails in streamside zones.
Columbians who live along Hinkson Creek dominated the public testimony. Although they supported the ordinance overall, they expressed concerns about having trails – particularly hard-surface trails – along the stream.
Jeanie Pagan, president of the Hinkson Creek Valley Neighborhood Association, expressed concern that the introduction of paths, particularly hard-surface hiking and biking trails, would defeat the purpose of the buffer.
“I would like to see it more in the spirit of this buffer, where the city couldn’t just come in and fill it up,” Pagan said.
Sutu Forté, who owns a home along Hinkson Creek, expressed her love for the stream but said she is concerned about the loss of her backyard due to the widening of Hinkson Creek. She adamantly opposes any sort of path or trail along either side of the creek.
“It is the one remaining sanctuary – natural sanctuary – left in Columbia,” Forté said.
Others worried about provisions for utility corridors within the buffers. Hamilton, for one, said “having a sewer line so close to a stream is asking for trouble.” But Public Works Director John Glascock said the need to lay sewer lines along stream corridors is paramount.
The council also amended the bill to exempt property for which a preliminary or final plat has been approved. Plats are documents that developers present to the city outlining their specific plans for building on a tract of land.
Fifth Ward Councilwoman Laura Nauser, sharing the concern of several speakers, toyed with the idea of removing managed lawns as an acceptable use in the outer buffer zones, decided instead to wait. The council, she said, should return to that issue after the existing ordinance is in place for a while.
Sixth Ward Councilwoman Barbara Hoppe, the founder of the Hinkson Creek Valley Homeowners Association, said her neighborhood has been longing for a stream buffer for some time.
“As a neighborhood we’ve been concerned about the effect of no stream-buffer ordinance,” Hoppe said.