City Council interviews three Planning and Zoning Commission candidates

BY Eric Holmberg

COLUMBIA — Three candidates were interviewed Monday by the Columbia City Council to fill David Brodsky’s vacant spot on the Planning and Zoning Commission.

The former commission chairman stepped down last month and his replacement will serve until May 31, 2016. Brent Brown, James Downey and Rusty Strodtman were interviewed for 10 minutes each. Council members asked similar questions of each candidate.

The council could announce its decision next Monday at its regular meeting.

Brent Brown

Brown, 34, is a design team project manager with A Civil Group, a local engineering firm where he has worked for nine years. Brown graduated from the University of Central Missouri in 1999 as a drafting technology major.

His main experience comes from his job, drawing up development plans and presenting rezoning requests to both the city and the county. He said he knows how to navigate the planning process from beginning to end.

Brown previously applied for a Parks and Recreation Commission opening, but didn’t get it.

He said he hasn’t been involved with any other city organizations, but did plan a block party in his neighborhood this past weekend.

When asked by Third Ward Councilman Gary Kespohl about the recent commission decision on Regency Trailer Park, he said it was a tough question to answer.

“I guess, if I was at the meeting on Thursday, I think you’d have to deny the request because there wasn’t given ample time for the residents to give them a chance and that’s part of the reason why it was denied,” he said.

Fifth Ward Councilwoman Helen Anthony asked each candidate about the Comprehensive Planning Task Force.

“I have heard about that and I know it’s an additional duty … but as far as the beginning-to-end goal, I don’t have exact knowledge of what’s going on,” Brown said.

He also said he has not attended any of the task force meetings.

James Downey

Downey, 53, owns Legacy Bookbindery and has been restoring books for almost 20 years. He used to run the art gallery Legacy Art and Bookworks on Broadway, which closed seven years ago.

Downey is a 1980 Grinnell College graduate with a bachelor’s degree in economics and German. He was president for several years of the Country Club Estates Neighborhood Association and attended most of the East Area Plan meetings, which proposed a vision for development east of the city. He’s applied to the commission several times.

Downey also served on the Cultural Affairs Commission in the late 1990s and participated in the first year of the city’s Neighborhood Leadership program.

He was also asked about the Regency decision.

“I think you can reach a compromise in almost any situation like that,” he said. Downey would have preferred talking to the developer, but did not say how he would have voted.

Fourth Ward Councilman Daryl Dudley asked if Downey would keep his emotions out of zoning-related decisions on the commission.

“All the stakeholders deserve to be heard,” Downey said. “The people who live in a given area have a legitimate reason to want to protect their neighborhood and their property values.”

Second Ward Councilman Jason Thornhill asked whether the city’s stormwater ordinance is working.

“Stormwater runoff is something that definitely needs to be managed properly,” Downey said. “We have obligations both to the EPA and state-level agencies to deal with that. Whether it’s effective now or not, as it’s been handled, I have some doubts. But I’m not necessarily sure that the best solution is to try to oppose additional regulations.”

Rusty Strodtman

Strodtman, 42, is a senior general manager with General Growth Properties, which runs Columbia Mall. He is a 1991 graduate of Baker University with a bachelor’s degree in business management and accounting.

Strodtman has lived in Columbia for six years and  grew up outside Lafayette. He came back to Columbia to work for the late developer Jose Lindner and has been in commercial real estate for most of his professional life.

“I look at Columbia as where I plan to raise my family,” he said. “I have three young children that were raised here in Columbia and I hope to have them graduate from Columbia and hopefully go to Mizzou and go from there.”

Strodtman worked in the city’s visioning process a few years ago in the development portion of the study and participated in the neighborhood leadership program.

More recently, Strodtman worked on the Infrastructure Task Force. He said it was an eye-opening experience, especially concerning low-income housing needs in Columbia. He wants to volunteer again.

“The task force made me feel like one of my kid’s sports teams,” he said. “Right when you get them right where you need them, the season’s over. I’m looking for something a little longer so I can give people more than one season.”

He described himself to the council: “I’m very much middle of the road. I have no agenda. I’m a citizen of Columbia.”

With regards to Regency: “I would have denied the request with it known that I believe that student housing for Columbia is very important,” he said. “I think that area … is a logical area for student housing.”

Strodtman told the council he lived in a trailer with his mother for a couple years, so he understood that the state-mandated 120-day timeline for eviction was too fast.

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