Margaret Booker has watched the area northeast of U.S. 63 develop from rural countryside to bustling neighborhoods since her family moved to a farm there in 1965.
The newest proposed addition is Oakland Crossings, a development that would include 165 single-family homes, two commercial properties and eight common lots. The proposal inspired Booker to organize about 80 neighbors to take a critical look at the development.
Gary Ridenhour, the owner of the 69-acre property, brought his request for annexation, a preliminary plat and zoning of the property, to the Columbia Planning and Zoning Commission meeting Thursday night. He seeks residential zoning for most of the property but is asking that two lots be zoned for mixed uses.
The commission voted 5-3 to recommend the Columbia City Council approve the rezoning request, with the suggestion that one lot be changed to a mixed-use neighborhood zoning rather than mixed-use corridor. The commission also voted unanimously to recommend the council approve the planned development plan of the neighborhood.
The property lies along North Masonic Drive and North Oakland Gravel Road. Booker and her neighbors fear the development will take away from the “semi-rural” lifestyle they moved to the area to enjoy.
“There are people that feel really strongly in all of these subdivisions that they chose to live here for however long they have ... because they wanted to be out of the city,” she said in an interview before Thursday’s meeting.
Willowbrook, Gregory Heights, Oakbrook and Haystack Acres subdivisions surround the proposed neighborhood. Developer Shannon Sapp said the only subdivision that provides the semi-rural lifestyle is Haystack Acres. Oakland Crossings would be similar to the other three, he said.
The two lots to the south of the property would be zoned for commercial use. Most neighbors at the meeting shared concern about what that means.
“It can have a drive-thru, it can have lights 24/7, it can have speakers outside that whole time,” Booker said.
The worst-case scenario, neighbors agreed, would be a gas station.
“Really, a gas station is code for a liquor store that sells gas,” said Bruce Summers, who lives in Willowbrook.
Neighbors were also concerned about the potential annexation of their property into city lines.
The surrounding neighborhoods are all zoned within county lines, but Oakland Crossings would be within city lines.
Years ago, neighbors signed deeds that allowed for their houses to be annexed once a property bordering it was zoned within the city lines, Columbia Development Services Manager Patrick Zenner said at the meeting. The development of Oakland Crossings would allow for annexation of all surrounding subdivisions, except for Gregory Heights.
Zenner said they would not discuss the potential annexation at Thursday’s meeting. Neighbors would be given an opportunity to speak about it at a City Council meeting at a later date.
Booker said collecting a list of concerns from neighbors was a new experience.
“This is not a neighborhood that has worked together much, so it was pretty unprecedented when we invited ... people to come to the farm where I grew up and hear from each other,” she said.
Jennifer Arnold, whose family has owned her land west of the neighborhood for seven generations, said residents currently have a good quality of life.
“This proposed area is going to increase the noise pollution, it‘s going to increase the light pollution, it will directly lead to the destruction of the wildlife... You should know that this entire community is in opposition to this.”
Ridenhour, who lives in Lithia, Florida, has a contract with Sapp and Justin Barnes, the other developer on the project, contingent on approval of the rezoning and annexation.
If the city approves, Sapp and Barnes will be able to move forward with the development. Sapp guessed the homes will cost around $200,000, but he isn’t sure yet.
“When it came down to it, this subdivision meets all (Unified Development Code) requirements, and we’re not asking for waivers or variances to the code,” said Jay Gebhardt, an engineer with A Civil Group who represented Barnes and Sapp at the meeting.
Commissioners argued that the neighbors should have tried to buy the land if they could have. Commissioner Anthony Stanton said it’s ultimately the owner’s decision even though he “hates it.”
“The owner of this property has a right to do with his property as the people that are sitting in this audience have a right to do with theirs,” Stanton said at the meeting. “There’s money on the table. Taxes need to be paid. If I’m sitting on something that’s going to help my city prosper and build my family wealth, you can’t blame (Ridenhour).”
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