COLUMBIA — A 47-acre tract of land along Strawn Road in west Columbia will become city-owned property after the Columbia City Council voted unanimously Monday night to accept a land donation, which includes a house valued at more than $1 million, from Larry and Brenda Potterfield.
The council vote came after a brief discussion about how the donation will influence ongoing negotiations among the city, Larry Potterfield and others about extending a $4.3 million sewer line to the Midway that would serve Potterfield's company, an ammunition and firearm accessory manufacturer, MidwayUSA.
The Potterfields offered the land and 11,800-square-foot house to the city with no restrictions or conditions. The donation comes after the council denied in November by a 3-3 vote a motion to move forward with design plans for the Henderson Branch sewer project.
Councilmen Karl Skala and Ian Thomas, of the third and fourth wards, respectively, along with Mayor Brian Treece, were the three dissenting votes at the November meeting. Thomas and Skala said at the time that Potterfield and the other property owners could make the project more palatable to the city by offering to donate land, according to previous Missourian reporting.
Larry Potterfield denied any connection between the land donation and the proposed sewer line in an email to the Missourian last week.
"From our perspective, as the donors, there is absolutely no relationship between the donated property and the sewer project," Potterfield said. "I know it might seem a little old-fashion, but this truly is a gift from my wife and I to help improve the community."
Skala, however, said Monday night, that the connection is undeniable and his position on the project has not been altered by the donation.
"This really doesn't affect my decision with respect to the Henderson Branch extension," Skala said. "That (negotiation) still has to do with the issue that went before the public to authorize a $2 million project that has ballooned to over $4 million. That's independent, and it should be made independent of these sorts of decisions."
Treece and Thomas agreed, saying the donation will not change their stance on the proposed sewer line.
Resident Martha Brownlee-Duffeck had doubts over the true motivation behind the land donation.
"It seems to me, and perhaps I'm being overly suspicious, but Mr. Potterfield stands to gain significantly by the city putting $4.5 million into running the sewer line to Midway, Brownlee-Duffeck said. "As a citizen, this seems like a conflict of interest."
The project to extend the sewer line was originally approved in 2013 by voters as part of a $32 million sewer bond issue. However, the cost nearly doubled from $2.6 million to $4.3 million after the land was surveyed, creating a divide among council members over whether and when to continue with the plan.
If the sewer line is extended, the city would annex the area it serves including MidwayUSA, the Midway Auto Truck Plaza and other properties. That would allow the city to collect an estimated $478,000 per year in sales, property and gross receipts tax revenue. Critics of the project have said that it would require the city to provide street maintenance and police and fire protection to the Midway area.
No explicit plan has been staked out for the property, but the Potterfields envisioned the city would "keep the community in mind and consider the arts, tourism and completion of the Major Roadway Plan," according to a staff report to the Columbia City Council.
Treece said the property could be used to generate funds for the city through the sale of the house and some of the land. Fifth Ward Councilwoman Laura Nauser, who voted to move forward with the Henderson Branch sewer project in November, suggested building a fire or police station or an animal shelter on the land.
"I thank Mr. Potterfield for making this donation to us," Nauser said. "He surely doesn't have to."
Supervising editor is Tyler Wornell.