COLUMBIA — Mayor Bob McDavid's children grew up playing at Cosmo Park. Decades later, he's taking his grandchildren to Stephens Lake Park.

"What (Proposition 1) is about is the next generation of parks," McDavid said.

If passed Nov. 2, the ballot issue would extend a one-eighth cent renewable park sales tax that's been in place since 2000. Voters first extended it back in 2005.

If renewed again, the tax would generate roughly $12 million over the next five years —$2 million of which would go toward land acquisition and preservation.

Within that category, around $1.5 million would be used to buy community parks, greenbelts, green space, wildlife corridors and other natural areas, while up to $500,000 would be set aside to purchase land for new neighborhood parks.

The city has always taken an interest in preserving land, Mike Hood, Columbia's Parks and Recreation director, said. The new vision plan calls for preserving natural land in particular — but it falls short, he added.

"What that plan didn't address at all was how do you identify which land should qualify," Hood said. "They listed a lot of characteristics of the types of land that they thought would be important to protect ... but that's kind of where that plan stopped."

The city thought it would be appropriate to have a system in place to guide the process of evaluating potential land purchases, so parks and recreation staff drafted a scoring matrix to do the job.

The Parks and Recreation Commission, Planning and Zoning Commission, Environment and Energy Commission, and Vision Commission all reviewed the document and made changes, Hood said.

The revised matrix was presented to the council Sept. 7, but discussion was pushed back until voters decide whether or not to approve Proposition 1 in the November election. If it's not approved, there will be no money available in the budget for land acquisition, Hood said.

"I think the council has gotten all the feedback from the committees that it needs," City Manager Bill Watkins said. "There's no reason to finalize (the matrix) until we know if it's going to be relevant or not."

The matrix consists of five different evaluation components, all with different point values, that add up to a total of 100 points:

  • Area of impact, up to 15 points: Land within the city limits or soon to be annexed by the city would receive full points. Land that's within the city's metro planning area would receive 5five points.
  • Unique features, 20 points: This is an "all or nothing" category; if a piece of land has any number of unique characteristics, it receives all 20 points.
  • Likelihood of development, 15 points: If the land is in a desirable location and likely to be developed within five years, it receives all the points.
  • Potential benefits, up to 25 points: The land can have up to five potential benefits and receive five points for each benefit.
  • Acquisition potential, up to 25 points: If the land is a full donation, it would receive all 25 points. Land being sold below, at or near its appraised value would receive 15 points; a partial donation would receive ten and a public or private partnership to purchase the land would receive five points.

Hood stressed that the matrix would be used to guide decisions, not make them.

"It's not a final decision," he said. "This (matrix) will be a guide, in particular, if you're looking at multiple different sites and how those sites compare to each other."

Although Hood said that while he thinks the council will have plenty of opportunities to use the matrix if Proposition 1 passes, the budget won't allow for too much land to be purchased.

"It depends on the size of the tracts and the price per acre," he said. "You might be able to pick up just one piece or you might be able to buy multiple pieces; I hope we will be able to use this (matrix) to help guide us into buying the most critical pieces."

Park Services Manager Mike Griggs agreed.

When asked how much land the projected park sales tax money would buy, he said, "Oh gosh, not very much. When you talk about $25,000 to $30,000 an acre, you're not going to be buying large tracts of property with that."

Several community members enjoying sunshine and warm weather at Stephens Lake Park on Oct. 10 had not heard of the park sales tax, but said they would support the city's efforts to preserve land.

"I think (land acquisition) is good depending on where they're going to buy," Tim Gilbreth said. "On a scale of one to 10, I'd have to give (Columbia's park system) an eight or nine."

Andrew Legg said he supports the city acquiring more property.

"I'd just rather (the land) not all be used for industrial and commercial use," he said.

David Harbour would like to see the city acquire space that's more like Rock Bridge State Park — "a little wilder," than Stephens, he said. "I like this, (but) we have several of these."

Asia Johnson said she would like another park like Stephens because it appeals to people with many different interests.

"It seems like a lot of the land is for exercising," Johnson said referring to Columbia's extensive system of trails. "Another park like this where you could exercise and do family things would be great."

Paul Summitt feels differently. He said while he supports land acquisition, he's concerned the city is not sufficiently maintaining its existing parks and trails.

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