Blue Ridge Center proposals inch on

Thursday, May 24, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 11:00 p.m. CDT, Sunday, July 20, 2008

Residents of north Columbia will have to wait a little longer for the grocery store they’ve been wanting for years, but a plan to provide that and other retail and commercial uses is in the works.

Two separate proposals by Rampart Investments to develop the Blue Ridge Center on 45 wooded acres at Range Line Street and Blue Ridge Road will be the subject of public hearings before the Columbia Planning and Zoning Commission tonight. Michael Heckman is the primary investor in Rampart.

Excitement about a grocery store on the tract has been building since April 2005 when the developers won commercial zoning for the property. Robert Hollis, an attorney and spokesman for Rampart, said that while it’s possible the store and surrounding development on what he calls Phase One of the overall project could go forward quickly, it probably will wait until the state widens Range Line Street to fully develop.

“Once (Range Line Street) is completed, I think it will greatly accelerate the process and really make this development boom,” Hollis said. “I also think some of the big-name companies look at this development and say, ‘Improvements are coming, we’ll just wait.’”

But Hollis says now that these improvements are a certainty he thinks these businesses will be much more likely to want to be a part of this development.

The Missouri Department of Transportation plans to begin the $29.8 million widening of Range Line between Big Bear Boulevard and U.S. 63 this fall and estimates the project will take two years.

Second Ward Councilman Chris Janku agreed the improvements to Range Line Street will help the development greatly and called them a very important step.

Hollis said Phase One of the Blue Ridge Center, which would comprise about 26 acres, could happen before the street is widened because it still would have three access points, including the pending extension of Providence Road from north of Vandiver Drive to Blue Ridge. That city project should get under way next year and will cost an estimated $4.1 million, according to the city’s capital improvements plan.

Hollis said that while Phase One of the development might take a while, Rampart is eager to get moving on the second phase, which is on the western section of the property.

“We are perfectly ready for Phase One but just haven’t seen the interest, whereas Phase Two is ready,” Hollis said. “Phase 2 and 3 are the plans currently under consideration. Phase 1 can develop in conjunction with phases 2 and 3, but there are no current users or plans submitted for city approval.”

Plans call for the western portion of the development, which would encompass 19 acres of predominantly forested area, to include a bank as well as some sit-down restaurants and possibly a fitness center, said Hollis. Phase Three of the plan is within the same 19 acres and calls for offices buildings.

Hollis said he is confident that the plans will pass through the commission and the City Council because the developer has spent a lot of time talking to neighbors in the area and to city officials.

“Before submitting the application for rezoning in 2005, we talked to Councilman Janku, and he told us what he wanted in the development,’” Hollis said. “We said ‘Fine.’ Then we went to the the local neighborhoods (including Vanderveen Crossing, Hunters Gate and Parkade) and homeowners association to see what they wanted. They gave input. We made changes and brought it back to them and started this process all over again. They all approved. Their main question is how soon can we have it done.”

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