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Not for sale

Owners say city’s plan to acquire their land for an airport expansion would derail their business plans and threaten their livelihood
Tuesday, May 29, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 6:00 a.m. CDT, Friday, July 18, 2008
Zach Rippeto stands on a part of his property that the city of Columbia wants to expand Columbia Regional Airport. The new property line after the purchase would cut a diagonal through his land and limit his ability to develop it in the future.

The walls of Zach and Jane Rippeto’s business are covered with large blueprints of plans to grow their enterprise on a 10-acre tract in southern Boone County. The plans illustrate the potential for more than a dozen buildings of 7,000 to 10,000 square feet each on the land. The property now has only a single house, which the Rippetos use as an office, and a garage.

Coyote Investments has been on the site, adjacent to the Columbia Regional Airport and within the city limits of Ashland, since 2003. But if the city of Columbia’s plan to buy a little more than three acres of the Rippetos’ land occurs, their business and livelihood will suffer, they say.

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The Rippetos bought the property in 2003, even though they knew the city of Columbia wanted to buy part of it. City officials even contacted the Rippetos the day after they bought the land and told them of Columbia’s intentions.

Despite the warnings, Zach Rippeto said the land’s proximity to the airport made it attractive.

“We thought this was an ideal location for the business being between Jefferson City and Columbia,” Rippeto said. “It was a good investment for rental property, as it is right next to the airport.”

The Rippetos used South County Realty when they bought the property. Rippeto wanted to build several structures that he would rent to light manufacturers but said Columbia’s plans threaten to derail the idea.

“We had plans for it, and now the city has plans for my property,” Rippeto said. “What’s fair? ... This was something that we planned to retire on.”

The Rippetos own one of three tracts the city of Columbia intends to acquire near the airport. The City Council authorized the purchases, along with the use of eminent domain, if necessary, during its meeting last Monday. All three of the coveted properties, which total about 60 acres, are part of the city of Ashland.

While none of the owners — the Rippetos, John and Robin Bullard, and Ralph Goetting — is willing to sell at this point, Columbia officials say the city must buy the land so that the airport can extend its runway and, perhaps, lure more cargo and freight business to the facility. The city has targeted three acres from the Rippetos’ 10-acre site, 22.2 acres of the Bullards’ 74-acre farm and 36 acres of Goetting’s 42-acre farm.

Goetting, who took ownership of his property from his father in 1973, said he would hate to lose the land that has been in his family since 1949. Goetting has lived on the farm since he was 11 and said he has an “emotional tie” to it. The Bullards bought their land in 1998.

Airport Manager Kathy Frerking said the city is pursuing the properties now because it finally has won approval from the Federal Aviation Administration, which will reimburse Columbia for 95 percent of the cost for buying the tracts. She said that when some of the property was available within the past few years, the city was unable to buy it because it lacked FAA approval. The goal of purchasing the land is part of the 2002 Airport Master Plan.

Although the tracts are in Ashland, Columbia can legally condemn the property, Assistant City Counselor Susan Crigler said.

The acreage owned by the Rippetos and the Bullards is zoned for airport planned industrial use, while the property owned by Goetting is zoned for agriculture, said Ashland City Administrator Ken Eftink, a supporter of the plan.

The appraised values of the Rippetos’, Bullards’ and Goetting’s properties are $43,990, $28,020 and $23,570, respectively. Boone County Assessor Tom Schauwecker, however, said those values are misleading.

“The agricultural land is appraised at production value, not market,” Schauwecker said. “It’s an imperfect market where you need a willing buyer and seller.”

Zach Rippeto said he is unwilling to sell. If forced, he wants Columbia to pay him fairly.

“We need to have fair compensation,” Rippeto said. “But what is fair? ... This is grade school No. 101. You don’t take other people’s stuff.”


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