While noticeably absent from the last public hearing, the voices of residents from Sunset and Ed’s mobile home parks were heard by the Columbia City Council at its meeting Monday night.
The council tabled its decision on the annexation and rezoning of the two parks, hoping to give the property owners and city staff time to find a compromise that addressed the residents’ concerns.
Ron Netemeyer, managing partner of Whirlwind Properties LLC, applied for annexation into the city of Columbia and planned commercial zoning for almost 21 acres off Lenoir Street southeast of Columbia, where his company operates the two parks.
The application first went to the Columbia Planning and Zoning Commission on May 24, where it received a 6-0 recommendation for approval. Then, on June 18, Columbia City Council held a public hearing on the issue.
None of the park residents spoke at the first hearing. Some, like Carl Miller, said they had no idea the meeting was even taking place.
The two main concerns that have been raised throughout the process are the impact annexation would have on the Columbia Police Department, who would be responsible for patrolling the area, and the future of the parks, which combined have more than 130 lots. Planned commercial zoning means that the property is intended for commercial use, but any changes would have to be approved by the council. Netemeyer said he does not plan to close or sell the parks in the near future. However, a city report on the issue said it is likely the land will be sold and developed after annexation and rezoning.
At Monday night’s hearing, many residents and community members did show up to voice their unease.
Mary Hussmann, of Grass Roots Organizing, said she spoke on behalf of families living in the parks who had contacted her group.
“Real, live, hardworking men, women and children live here,” she said. “The families are vulnerable populations of Missouri’s disabled, elderly, working poor, single adults, single parents, couples and children. We ask that you make people, not property your priority.”
She pointed out that the city is already lacking affordable housing and that it would be very difficult for the residents to find another place to live, especially on short notice.
Some members of the crowd met Hussmann’s comments with applause and cheers. Mayor Darwin Hindman reminded them both were against council protocol.
Some park residents, such as Cindy Snowden, addressed the council directly.
“If they give me 120 days to move, I can’t do it,” Snowden said. She said that her trailer is too old to be moved and still comply with Boone County regulations.
Jason Shoot, Ron Netemeyer’s partner at Whirlwind Properties, said he was sympathetic to the concerns.
“I understand where everyone is coming from,” Shoot said. “You can’t predict what is going to happen, but we don’t have any plans right now.”
Many council members said they believed what Shoot was saying, but they wanted written proof.
“It’s easy to say, but if you don’t have it in black and white, then they are the ones stuck,” First Ward Councilwoman Almeta Crayton said, speaking of the residents.
Fourth Ward Councilman Jerry Wade agreed.
A verbal agreement isn’t binding, he said: “It doesn’t work unless there is an enforceable commitment.”
While Shoot said he understood the concern, he wasn’t willing to agree to any specifics as far as a long-term time line for eviction or relocation aid program, but he said he would consider the possibilities.
Fifth Ward Councilwoman Laura Nauser had some issues with the latter request.
“I am just not comfortable with council sitting here and saying ‘You need to come up with some sort of payment (to residents) or we won’t accept your annexation,’” she said.
The council will review the application again in August after Netemeyer and Shoot have time to discuss options with city staff.