COLUMBIA — Given the inevitability of growth in the area immediately east of Columbia’s city limits, the City Council wanted a plan so that it wouldn’t have to weigh requests for zoning and annexation without the benefit of context.
The council asked for that plan nearly two years ago. But now that the plan is in its hands, will council members follow it?
The proposed East Area Plan was presented to the council for the first time during a work session on Monday. Exactly a week later, it will be put to the test by the 271-acre Richland Road zoning and annexation request. Approval of the request, which comes from a group led by developer David Atkins, means the East Area Plan would require major changes even before it’s approved.
The two have been linked since inception. The Richland Road request was first proposed to the council on Nov. 2, 2008. It, along with the Old 63 corridor study, sparked the council to ask the Planning and Zoning Commission in December 2008 to develop a plan to guide development east of the city.
The commission actively engaged the public after writing the Northeast Area Subarea Plan in isolation, city development services manager Patrick Zenner said. The commission held five stakeholder meetings and two public hearings to collect input and to incorporate residents’ desires into the East Area Plan.
The plan encourages the city to preserve the rural character of the area, to protect sensitive streams and other environmental features and to improve infrastructure before phasing in residential and commercial development.
The Richland Road request, placed on the table in November 2008, was revised and resubmitted to the city in the summer of 2009. It calls for a mix of extensive residential and commercial development. The Planning and Zoning Commission voted 5-3 to deny the request on Oct. 8 of that year, and it has been tabled since Nov. 2, 2009.
The council was waiting for guidance.
But it seemed that guidance would never come. So on July 19, Mayor Bob McDavid said the council would vote the Richland Road request up or down on Oct. 18, whether the council had the East Area Plan or not.
Third Ward Councilman Gary Kespohl said he appreciates all the hard work that went into the plan and that he has no problem adopting it. But he hedged a bit on what the plan means.
“You have to remember it’s a plan, it’s a guide, and you don’t always have to follow the guide,” he said. “It’s subject to change depending upon a lot of things.”
The Richland Road request calls for 90 acres and 360,000 square feet of retail space on property identified as Tract 1. That proposal is the most concrete example of how the request conflicts with the East Area Plan, which calls for no new regional commercial development.
David Brodsky, chairman of the Planning and Zoning Commission, acknowledged the conflict.
“That’s really the only part that doesn’t fit,” Brodsky said of the commercial proposal. “In my view, everything else fits with the plan. Just that regional commercial office center is the only part that doesn’t coincide.”
The commercial development would be conditionally timed to coincide with the extension of Stadium Boulevard, or Highway 740, and with the extension of Rolling Hills Road and improvements to Richland Road.
Robert Hollis, the attorney representing Richland Road, LLC, and East Richland Road, LLC, said that’s appropriate.
“If one believes that 740 is necessary to adequately develop this area, then it’s not premature to approve a plan that says you can’t develop until 740’s there,” he said. “It’s not premature; it’s realistic.”
Hollis also said his client would be open to change if the City Council asks him to modify the amount of commercial development. The East Area Plan recommends a maximum of 200,000 square feet for a “neighborhood node.” That’s a possibility, Hollis said.
James Candrl of 6120 Richland Road said he doesn’t need a major commercial destination right down the road.
“We have everything you could possibly want within a three-mile radius,” he said. “You’ve got two large home improvement stores, you’ve got grocery stores, you’ve got Walmart, you’ve got restaurants, you’ve got gas stations,” Candrl said. “We don’t need one every half mile. You don’t need a shopping center everywhere.”
The council will take up both issues at its Monday meeting, which begins at 7 p.m. in the council chambers in the City Hall Addition, Broadway and Eighth Street.