Prairie Hills residents mixed on annexation

The subdivision’s residents cite advantages and drawbacks to becoming part of Columbia
Monday, June 18, 2007 | 12:15 a.m. CDT; updated 2:32 a.m. CDT, Saturday, July 19, 2008
The creek running between Prairie Lane and West Prairie Lane once marked the boundary between an island of Boone County known as the Prairie Hills subdivision, and the encroaching housing developments of the City of Columbia. This geographical barrier may disappear in the future when the two roads are joined, now that most of the Prairie Hills subdivision has agreed to voluntary annexation by the City of Columbia.

Off Creasy Springs Road, just north of the Columbia city limits, two cul-de-sacs extend from a sharp curve to form Prairie Hills subdivision.

For decades, the tiny neighborhood has enjoyed a quiet existence in the county, but things have changed over the past three years. Woods that once surrounded Prairie Hills have disappeared, replaced by the brand new homes of Vanderveen subdivision, which has slowly encroached on Prairie Hills from the east and north. Only a 10-foot-wide stretch of overgrown grass separates the subdivisions’ streets. Orange reflective signs serve as beacons for their respective ends.

Pros and Cons

    Here’s a list of the advantages and disadvantages of annexation as compiled by residents of Prairie Hills subdivision. Advantages: After reviewing what decisions were made (and not made) by our county leaders, it seems that our neighborhood is running the risk of becoming an overlooked, unincorporated pocket of county land surrounded by the city.
  • Ability to vote in city elections.
  • Better land use protection.
  • Preservation of land values.
  • Little or no increase in costs to residents.
  • Benefit of city services and ordinances.
  • A more responsive government toward issues like land disturbance and storm water runoff.
  • The timing will never be better.
  • Disadvantages:
  • We would be subject to Columbia’s more stringent building codes and ordinances.
  • An additional 2 percent city sales tax on purchase of an auto, boat or RV.
  • City’s rental property maintenance standards and regulations apply to landlords.
  • Fireworks discharge would be prohibited.

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The visual disconnect alone is unsettling. The cleared expanses of land dotted almost exclusively with new houses are distinctly set off by the familiar feeling of Prairie Hills’ lived-in homes and leafy, verdant yards.

Facing a future as an isolated tract of county land amid a sea of city growth, most residents of Prairie Hills have finally chosen to be annexed by Columbia, and the city is poised to follow through. The Planning and Zoning Commission earlier this month unanimously recommended that the City Council approve the annexation, a decision that reassured homeowners.

“It just makes a lot of sense for us to be in the city,” said Larry Bossaller, a resident who spoke at the commission’s public hearing. “The city’s already in the neighborhood.”

City limits already include one lot in Prairie Hills, and Columbia surrounds the subdivision on three sides.

Annexation first came to mind two years ago during a debate about a realignment of Blue Ridge Road that angered neighbors. They complained that the change would force hundreds more drivers to negotiate the dangerous curve on Creasy Springs. The encroachment of Vanderveen also raised fears that traffic might eventually be routed directly through their neighborhood.

Seeing how both the city and the county handled the Blue Ridge issue got some residents weighing their options.

“I don’t want to badmouth the county, but we’re just two little streets surrounded by the city, and we felt overlooked,” said Nancy Kievit, a resident. “The reason we started to think about annexation is representation.”

Kievit and Bossaller began talking to neighbors about getting together to discuss neighborhood issues and the possibility of annexation, and an informal neighborhood association was born.

In March 2005, the group held its first meeting in Kievit’s living room. The standing-room-only event resulted in neighbors working together to examine the pros and cons of joining Columbia. Their cost analysis found that living in the city would actually be about $100 cheaper per year than staying in the county. The subdivision already has city sewer and garbage services, so annexation would eliminate the county surcharges they currently pay.

Costs aside, resident James Cutts said he favors annexation so that the neighborhood can get more city services.

“Getting police protection — not because I don’t believe in the county’s ability to protect, but they have more area and fewer officers,” he said. “I think the response time with the city might be better.”

For Bossaller, city property values and prestige were big draws.

“I always look at it from a value standpoint,” he said, citing his experience as a real estate agent. “There are more people in the city than the county for a reason.”

Other advantages of city annexation include better government communication and the ability to vote in city elections, especially on sales tax issues that already affect Prairie Hills residents. Still, better representation in the face of increased development is the chief concern.

Many neighbors see a future connection with Vanderveen’s infrastructure as inevitable, leaving them to deal with water runoff and traffic issues.

“With annexation, we’ll have a voice in city issues, and we’re all protected equally,” Kievit said.

Some Prairie Hills homeowners, however, are resisting annexation. Some cite the city’s more stringent building codes, while others complain they’d lose the privilege of shooting fireworks in their yards. For John Foster, who owns rental property in the neighborhood, Columbia’s rental maintenance policies kept him from annexing.

“The city comes around and requires inspection of all rental properties, and then they charge you for it,” Foster said, adding that he already maintains his building. “Then I’d have to charge that extra cost to my tenants.”

Those choosing annexation turned to the city manager’s office for guidance. Kievit recalled Assistant City Manager Tony St. Romaine attending meetings at her house, even bringing a notary so that neighbors could get their annexation petitions certified right there.

“We’re interested any time residents want to annex into city limits,” St. Romaine said. “If they see benefits to living in the city of Columbia, we’re happy to go to them, help them out and answer questions.”

The Boone County Sheriff’s Department will continue to provide law enforcement for the Prairie Hills homeowners who choose not to annex, said St. Romaine, noting that emergency dispatchers use a computerized map to tell quickly if a house is under city or county jurisdiction. All road maintenance, however, will be handled by the city.

Still, Karen Miller, Boone County Southern District commissioner, expressed concern about pockets of county land within city limits.

“We’re getting more and more islands (of county land), and we’re going to have to clean them up because they’re a problem for law enforcement,” Miller said.

The owners of 31 of the 42 lots in Prairie Hills have signed on for annexation. The next step is a public hearing at Monday’s council meeting, followed by a final vote on July 2.

Bossaller said the homeowners in Prairie Hills feel confident they’ll soon be part of the city: “A city official told me the bottom line is: the city wants us.”

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