East Hill development concept faces obstacles

Thursday, December 27, 2007 | 5:57 p.m. CST; updated 12:17 p.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

COLUMBIA — The would-be developers of a retail center and residential subdivision near U.S. 63 and Stadium Boulevard face an uphill battle because they own none of the property and one of the landowners has said he won’t sell.

Pace Properties, a St. Louis-based development company, submitted a letter and conceptual plan to the city Planning and Development Department in October outlining its plans for a 50-acre development called East Hill. The plans include retail outlets, a grocery store and 52 residential lots.

Pace has developed two similar retail centers in St. Louis: The Boulevard and Brentwood Square. The St. Louis centers include national retailers such as Ann Taylor Loft, T.J. Maxx, Crate & Barrel, Borders and Whole Foods Market.

Rick Randall, vice president of land sales and development for Pace, had little to say about the conceptual plan but said it’s in an “exploratory stage.”

“It’s way too early to discuss the project,” he said, declining to comment further.

In order to make East Hill a reality, Pace would have to buy 45 acres of land owned by Charles and Rebecca Lamb and a smaller 4.5-acre parcel owned by Keith and Kathy Miller.

Miller said on Wednesday night that he is not negotiating with Pace Properties and that his land would not be used in the development. He had no other comment. Rebecca Lamb refused to comment on the record. Charles Lamb could not be reached for comment.

The Millers have owned their property since January 1990, according to Boone County property records. The land sits just east of U.S. 63 and next to a water tower owned by the city of Columbia. There are no buildings on the property.

The Lambs’ property is south and east of the Miller tract. They have owned it and their home on it since 1986, according to public records at the Boone County Assessor’s Office.

Randall would not comment on any discussions he might have had with the Lambs.

An October letter from Randall to senior planner Chuck Bondra of the Planning and Development Department suggests the Pace executive is serious about moving ahead with his plan.

“We will look forward to meeting with you and your team to discuss the concept plan at your earliest convenience,” he wrote. No meeting between the two has taken place, however.

On Nov. 1, city officials did meet to discuss the East Hill proposal, according to concept review notes from the planning department. The notes show that city officials recommended a traffic study and meetings with the developer, neighbors and Sixth Ward Councilwoman Barbara Hoppe.

Bondra said he didn’t know if any of those meetings have been scheduled or have already taken place.

“It may be speculative at this point,” Bondra said. “We have concept reviews often, and often they do not materialize.”

In order for a review of a conceptual plan to occur, several items must be submitted with a plan, including a copy of a deed to the property that would be developed in order to confirm ownership. No such deed was included in Pace Properties’ plan for East Hill.

Bondra said that as recently as two to three years ago, the majority of plans his department reviewed resulted in developments being built. The department now, however, sees more and more developments that don’t come to fruition. Bondra said developers walk away for any number of reasons.

If Pace does manage to buy the land it covets, its next step would be to submit a request to the city to rezone the property from agricultural to planned commercial use and to provide copies of the development plan for review.

Development at the end of Stadium Boulevard on the east side of Columbia is nothing new. With plans in the works to extend Stadium Boulevard, developers are trying to get a leg up.

Discussion regarding another development, Crosscreek Center, was tabled at a recent meeting of the Planning and Zoning Commission. Crosscreek would be located on 55 acres of land to the south of the proposed East Hill project. Current proposals include restaurants, banks, a convenience store and a car dealership.

Ken Midkiff, the local Sierra Club conservation chairman, said he was surprised to hear of the East Hill concept and thinks the group would oppose the development. He said it doesn’t make sense from either an economic or an environmental stance.

“We certainly have enough retail in the area already,” Midkiff said.

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Kevin Gamble December 28, 2007 | 9:49 a.m.

Here's hoping the landowners don't sell out their community to out-of-town developers looking to make boatloads of money without having to live with the consequences.

Which, in a nutshell, seems to be the future of this town.

(Report Comment)
John Schultz December 28, 2007 | 3:29 p.m.

If Ken Midkiff and others don't like the new development in Columbia, the easy option is to buy the land themselves and let it sit dormant.

(Report Comment)
Kevin Gamble December 29, 2007 | 8:15 p.m.

That "easy option" is a cheap out from serious debate. Land has become so expensive that only people already long-invested in the land-development game can be plausible players. In the meantime, the rest of us are helpless as the nature of our community is shaped by a very few people with a lot of money, without any input from the community. Is that fair? As I understood it, Libertarianism is about individual rights--not the right of the very few to decide the fates of the very many.

(Report Comment)

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