After two denials of a request to replat property in the central city, a local construction company is suing the City of Columbia. The lawsuit alleges the denial lacks legal authority or justification.
Enrich Construction & Remodeling first sought approval to replat land on the northeast corner of Hickman and Washington avenues in June.
Shan Rich, the company’s owner, wants to combine one lot with another that is too small to be a legal lot of its own. The replat would create a single lot for multi-family housing on less than half an acre of land. Both tracts are already zoned for multi-family residential use.
The Columbia City Council rejected the replat June 21 on a 6-1 vote because the company’s plans to build multi-family housing did not address stormwater runoff and flooding in the area.
Phebe LaMar, Enrich’s attorney, said replatting is a ministerial act rather than a legislative one.
“It’s not one where there’s built-in discretion,” LaMar said in a phone interview.
Then-Third Ward Councilperson Karl Skala noted during the June meeting that there had been exceptions to the ministerial rule when public health and safety were in question. City Counselor Nancy Thompson said during that meeting that the City Council does have some discretion when it comes to a resubdivision.
She also noted the zoning code’s three criteria for replatting, which include storm drainage and a requirement that the replat not be detrimental to the neighborhood.
When Enrich brought its application back to the council on Oct. 17, it had added stormwater management to its plans, including on-site water detention. The lawsuit argues that detention will reduce stormwater issues for the entire area.
Enrich’s lawsuit said the company added the stormwater management even though city code doesn’t require it on lots smaller than one acre. City staff recommended the replat be approved because it met all the requirements of the zoning code.
“If it meets all of the requirements of the ordinance, then it has to be approved,” LaMar said.
The council, however, voted 4-3 to reject the replat.
The lawsuit argues the denial violated city code, state law and the owner’s constitutional rights.
Thompson was not available for comment on Thursday and Friday. She was present during the October council meeting but did not speak during the discussion of the proposed replat.
LaMar, however, told the council that Enrich’s application met the city’s criteria for replats. The council’s discussion, and the public hearing, remained focused on storm water concerns, though.
First Ward Councilperson Pat Fowler echoed the concerns of some neighbors, asking whether Rich could alter his plans for where to place a parking lot.
While the neighbors support multi-family housing in the area, Fowler said during the meeting that they want the parking lot moved behind the building because it would allow for the most drainage.
Rich said during the meeting that the placement of the parking lot is intended to be less intrusive to neighbors but added that he is open to changing its location when the time arrives.
LaMar said she sent a letter to the city attorney before filing the lawsuit, requesting that the city resolve the issue, but she received no response. Enrich is asking the court to order the city to approve the replat and pay the company’s legal costs.
In the alternative, the lawsuit asks that the court declare the zoning provision regarding replats unconstitutional, and thus null and void, because it is “overbroad and vague” and delegates legislative authority to the City Council. Another count claims the council’s action amounts to an illegal “taking” of Rich’s property because he can’t get a building permit without the replat.
Enrich’s lawsuit is similar to one filed against the city last year by a property owner in the East Campus area. Mark Stephenson wanted to replat land to accommodate plans for a 52-bed apartment building in the neighborhood. The City Council denied his request in May, August and November of 2021 amid heavy resistance from neighborhood residents who argued the apartment building would be a detriment to the area.