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BOMBSHELL: Disability services agency says "no plan" for huge downtown land acquisitions

Board member blames "media" for spreading untruths about plans that have always been little more than rumors

COLUMBIA, 7/29/12 (Beat Byte) -- Although Boone County Family Resources (BCFR) has spent more than 15 years spending taxpayer money to buy land around its Walnut Street headquarters in Columbia's North Village Arts District, the agency has never had a formal plan for what to do with it.

That bombshell revelation so completely befuddled members of Columbia's Historic Preservation Commission, nearby neighbors, and North Central Columbia Neighborhood association president Pat Fowler that a meeting yesterday with BCFR associate director Robyn Kaufman turned almost entirely on it.
 
The best Kaufman and BCFR architect John Simon could muster was that agency officials have a "vision" of housing for the agency's clients.
 
But they would not commit to calling the vision a bona fide plan.
 
That may be because their vision doesn't square with the agency's stated mission of helping clients live in their own homes with family. "Over 93% of children served live with their parent(s)," the BCFR annual report (recently removed from the agency website) explains. "The single greatest cause of unwanted out-of-home placement is a lack of appropriate family and community living supports."

It's almost unheard of for anyone -- particularly a large public agency -- to buy land without a plan, explained Realtor Brent Gardner, one of four HPC commissioners who attended. Lack of a plan has been the driving force behind rumors about the agency's intentions, Fowler noted.
 
Absent a plan, HPC director Brian Treece urged BCFR to hold off on demolishing a house at 308 St. Joseph Street, a cute 1890s bungalow with a picturesque porch for which the agency paid $113,000 in 2011, part of a $300,000 acquisition package that also included 302 and 400 St. Joseph Street.
 
Repeatedly pushing back on suggestions the demolition be delayed, Simon told the group that structural problems made the house an unsafe liability and that it had to come down. But that explanation doesn't square with a letter Columbia Missourian reporter Michael Davis says he received from the Columbia Housing Authority, which inspected the house just one year ago for compliance purposes.

"The records show that 308 St. Joseph passed inspection in June 2011. The house was sold to Boone County Family Resources later that summer. According to the records, the property was inspected 16 times from June 8, 2006 to June 14, 2011."

Simon dismissed the reports, Davis explained, in a way reminiscent of BCFR board member Paul Prevo, who attended the meeting yesterday as an HPC commissioner.  The oddball dual-role -- which may be a conflict of interest -- had Prevo, a Hallsville-based real estate agent -- continually siding with BCFR, and trying to explain why the agency lacked a plan.

Prevo disputed fellow HPC commissioners Gardner and Patrick Earney, a structural engineer with Trabue, Hansen, and Hinshaw, saying it's common for organizations to buy land without a plan if it is adjacent to land they already own. "My wife is still mad at me for buying some land without a plan," Prevo said. He also blamed the media for rumors about BCFR's intentions.

That characterization doesn't square with this publication's experience, however. The Heart Beat's 2011 Trouble on Hubbell series originated entirely with BCFR's neighbors, who said they were distraught over years of stonewalling and the shroud of secrecy that remains.

 

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