COLUMBIA — Five candidates for the upcoming First and Fifth ward City Council elections offered their opinions on a new zoning code and the city's recent deal with Aurora Organic Dairy at a Thursday evening forum hosted by the Columbia Board of Realtors.
About 20 community members came to the forum — the first of the campaign season — and the candidates answered audience questions.
The election is April 4.
In the First Ward, incumbent Clyde Ruffin is running for a second term. Two candidates — Pat Kelley and Andrew Hutchinson — are vying for Ruffin’s seat. Kelley is the co-founder and treasurer of the Ridgeway Neighborhood Association, and Hutchinson is an MU senior and former outreach coordinator for the Columbia Housing Authority’s Moving Ahead program.
Arthur Jago, a business management professor at MU, and Matt Pitzer, a portfolio manager at Shelter Insurance, are competing for the Fifth Ward spot. Incumbent Laura Nauser said last year that she would not seek another term.
New zoning code
Moderator David Lile asked about the candidates’ stances on the new zoning code, known as the Unified Development Ordinance, which is scheduled to be reviewed by the council for the first time at its Monday meeting. The resolution intends to replace multiple parts of the city's standing development regulations.
All five candidates applauded the Planning and Zoning Commission for its months-long effort to review and hear public input on the 400-page draft and thanked the public for its feedback. They clashed, however, on how to proceed with four upcoming public hearings for the plan, which are scheduled for Monday, Feb. 25, March 6 and March 20.
Pitzer and Jago said they did not agree with a rule that allows members of the public to speak only one time at a public hearing. Limiting comments stifles any opportunity for follow-up discussion, they said.
"I am a firm believer of participatory democracy," Jago said. "If someone wants to be heard, then they should be heard."
The candidates said they support the ordinance, but they differed on how the proposal affects personal property rights.
Candidates questioned whether parts of the proposed ordinance, specifically the neighborhood protection standards, could limit personal property rights. The standards are intended to preserve the character of residential neighborhoods with multifamily homes. Proposed changes would enact stricter regulations, such as height restrictions, for apartment buildings near properties zoned for single-family houses.
"I’m a strong believer of individual property rights," Jago said. He said he supports planning and zoning regulations to prevent homeowners from being surprised by the sudden construction of a tall apartment building nearby.
Hutchinson, a proponent of the standards, agreed. He said the new rules would prevent homeowners from seeing their property lose value based on zoning.
“One person’s exercise of property rights should not infringe upon others’ property rights,” Hutchinson said.
Tim Waid, a management professor at MU and a rental property owner in the East Campus Neighborhood, said the neighborhood protection standards are oppressive toward people who own property zoned for multi-family use.
Kelley said "it’s really unfortunate" for property owners who bought multi-family zoned properties or rental properties, but the standards are necessary to preserve characteristics of historic residential neighborhoods.
Ruffin encouraged the city to be flexible and allow property owners to adapt to the new code.
Pitzer acknowledged the need to be cautious about property rights but emphasized the need for a strong uniform standard to ensure the city doesn't get bogged down by making arbitrary decisions on individual cases.
John Clark, a founder of the North-Central Columbia Neighborhood Association and Kelley’s campaign treasurer, said the zoning regulations have been skewed in favor of developers for decades, and the proposed ordinance is moderate.
David Stockard, a member of the Board of Realtors, said he was happy to hear the candidates express their support for personal property rights.
"Property rights are one of our most important rights," Stockard said. "It's the reason we're all here (tonight)."
Aurora Organic Dairy farm
Candidates were generally supportive of the City Council's Feb. 7 vote to sell nearly 102 acres to Aurora Organic Dairy. The company plans to build a milk processing and distribution plant on the property at Route B and Waco Road.
Ruffin voted for the deal. Bringing the dairy farm to Columbia echoes the main goal of the city’s three-year strategic plan, he said.
"It's a step forward toward social equity, because it promises to bring in jobs … and our values match their corporate values," Ruffin said.
The plant is expected to create between 130 to 160 new jobs paying an average annual wage of more than $42,000 in its first five years of operation, according to previous Missourian reporting. The city plans to sell the land for about $2 million.
Pitzer agreed the deal meets the specific interests of the strategic plan, which is tailored to addressing and fixing racial, social and economic disparities in Columbia. It is the economic development and jobs that the city needs, Pitzer said.
Jago was also supportive. The plant will provide a large number of living wage jobs for minority residents, he said. Aurora has pledged to do what it can to hire a work force that is at least 10 percent African American.
Kelley said she hasn't fully embraced the dairy plant. While she likes the prospect of economic development, she said questions about water and sewer capacity and infrastructure costs associated with the plant haven't been answered.
"City Council needed be more open about the discussion," Kelly said. "It felt like there was a lot of behind-the-scene decision-making."
Supervising editor is Ellen Cagle.