Listen to Columbia residents talk about growth and development in the city, and you might get the impression they’re running for City Council.
Several residents who spoke with the Missourian about their vision for future development in the city echoed the sentiments of newly elected council members Karl Skala and Jerry Wade. They’d like to see the city’s roads and other infrastructure get ahead of the growth.
Phyllis Nichols, an insurance agent who has lived in Columbia all her life, said the city is growing too quickly.
“I kind of wish maybe we wouldn’t grow so fast,” Nichols said. “Everyone wants to jump on the bandwagon, though, right?”
Nichols likened the growth to “a double-edged sword.” While it creates increased opportunities, she said, it threatens to turn Columbia into a major metropolitan area.
“I like the availability and the choices we have, but I also like that we had a small-town feeling,” Nichols said. “I like that we still have a taste of rural living. I think that Columbia is starting to lose it, and if you’ve lived here all your life you can definitely tell. The face of Columbia has changed.”
Nichols said growth and development is outpacing infrastructure, particularly streets.
“I want to make sure that the infrastructure can handle the growth,” she said. “My main concern is that the roads and the roundabouts can handle all the growth that they’re projecting in the next 20 years.”
Her solution is patience.
“You’re going to have to get used to a short wait,” Nichols said. “Patience is going to be a big player. You’re going to need lots of patience if you’re going to weather the storm.”
Youssef El-Tayash, the owner of Campus Eastern Foods, who came to the United States from Libya in 1979, shares Nichols’ sentiments about preserving Columbia’s character as it grows.
“I want to keep Columbia growing but not change its atmosphere,” El-Tayash said. “If it expands, it needs to keep the small city feel.”
Janice Harder, a local attorney, said roads are an integral part of the sort of planned development she’d like to see Columbia embrace.
“As the town grows you really need to make sure that you have the roads there,” Harder said. “They have talked about extensions of Stadium to (Interstate) 70 that I think probably would be good. We need to make sure that there is not a lot of traffic congestion with the roads filling up with all of the developments that are likely to happen.” Another attorney, James Rutter, thinks money — more than visioning — will drive the expansion of the city.
“If there is one thing I have learned ... (it’s that) the growth is going to be where the money takes it,” Rutter said. “No amount of planning and promising by politicians is going to stop the growth. It is going to go where the money goes for the most part.”
Steve Mellis, a former University Extension educator who was enjoying time at Cooper’s Landing by the Missouri River south of town, doesn’t think Columbia measures up when it comes to development regulations. Specifically, he thinks the city gives developers too much freedom to clear and grade land before having a permit to build on it.
“Mostly when you strip and grade, you’ve got stormwater concerns, erosion that occurs. You’ve got the filling of streams with sediments and nutrients,” Mellis said, suggesting Columbia look to cities like Madison, Wisc., and Boulder, Colo., to learn how restrictions on development can protect the environment.
When dreaming about Columbia’s future, Mellis actually looks to the past. He wishes Columbia could go in reverse, returning to the boundaries and environment he came to appreciate when he moved here 30 years ago.
He knows that is impossible but hopes city leaders will at least be responsible about managing growth.
And “I’d like to see the city stay the heck away from the Missouri River,” he said.