Two of the three people who emerged from a field of 21 applicants to land spots on the Columbia Planning and Zoning Commission say the time is right for the advisory group to play a significant role in the future of the city.
The City Council on Monday appointed Jeff Barrow and Helen Anthony to five-year terms on the commission, and it selected Ann Peters to serve the year remaining in the term of former commission Chairman Jerry Wade, who was elected to the council in April.
Barrow has been a member of the commission for 10 years, having served as secretary and vice chairman and is now acting chairman. Barrow said he knows little about Anthony or Peters, saying he only talked with Peters for about five minutes before their interviews with the council. Still, he said he looks forward to welcoming them to the panel and putting their strengths to work.
Barrow said the current climate surrounding city government makes it an intriguing time to be on the Planning and Zoning Commission, which advises the City Council on zoning, planning and other land-use matters. He said the fact that the openings drew 21 applications speaks to changing attitudes.
“I think that the city visioning process and the recent elections have really made people feel like they can make a difference in city government,” Barrow said, referring to the election of Wade and former planning commissioner Karl Skala to the council. “Both of these men have records of wanting to empower City Council and boards.”
Anthony, a relative newcomer to Columbia, was active in her previous community of Needham, Mass., a suburb of Boston, where she was a trustee of Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital and a founding member of The Fund For Needham. Now in her third year as a Columbia resident, she is ready to put her energy to work here.
“I think it’s an exciting time to be a part of the Planning and Zoning Commission given the recent growth of Columbia,” Anthony said.
Anthony is an attorney who specializes in residential real estate matters. She said that her background and the community knowledge she’s gained will help her on the commission.
Anthony said one of her goals is to ensure that the city’s zoning codes are up to date, noting that some are 25 years old.
“I also want to ensure that the planning and zoning process is comprehensive, efficient and open to all interested parties,” she said.
Like Barrow, Anthony said she hopes the fact that Wade and Skala are now on the council will strengthen the relationship between the groups.
“Councilmen Skala and Wade both have existing knowledge that helps to improve communication, and I think that will help us find direction,” Anthony said.
Skala said he has already noticed better communication between the commission and council.
“In the past, I think we’ve had a situation where, when a recommendation came in that (the council) agreed with, they used it as support, and when it was a recommendation that they didn’t agree with, they didn’t comment on it. They just dropped it and didn’t say anything about it. It used to drive us crazy at the Planning and Zoning Commission,” Skala said.
Now, Skala said, there is a perception that the commission will be heard. Barrow said that bodes well.
“I think this improved relationship will cause the Planning and Zoning Commission to become more active,” Barrow said. “We see that, no matter what, the council will at least address the recommendations each time, and we’ve created a much better dialogue back and forth.”
Ann Peters could not be reached for comment, but she said in her application to the council that she wants to proceed carefully as the city grows.
“I am in favor of growth (which is inevitable in such a fine place to live), but I want to see that growth done in an orderly and planned fashion, and I am certain that can be done,” Peters wrote. “As a member of the commission, I hope to advise the council on the growth done in an acceptable fashion with the long-term future of our city and its economy uppermost.”
Peters, a Stephens College graduate who was born at Boone Hospital Center, owns The Instrument Repair Service on Berrywood Drive and is a member of the Woodridge Neighborhood Association.