The tail wagging the dog
COLUMBIA, Mo 8/9/14 (Op Ed) -- "Rolling, partially wooded with mostly open field," the real estate ad begins.  "Excellent for development."

Excellent for development in large part for the three anchors -- all taxpayer funded -- shown on the map accompanying the ad (right), which describes 224 acres for sale near Battle High School, a second elementary school under construction, and a Columbia city park.

It's an excellent example of the power of anchors to drive up property price and desirability.  The asking price for this parcel is  $5.5 million, or nearly $25,000 per acre

Though hardly unique to Columbia, the development anchor phenomenon has taken a terrific toll on local budgets and taxpayer pockets.   "Taxpayer and fee fatigue," the Columbia Daily Tribune called it today

The anchor phenom is also the primary reason poor planning dominates land use policy in Columbia and Boone County. 

The tail wags the dog when a politically-powerful developer, investor, or speculator pushes taxpayers to drop an anchor -- a school, a park, or most recently, a $12-$18 million County Fairgrounds redo -- on land in the boondocks that isn't on anyone's planning radar. 

Recall the battle over Battle:  city, county, and school board fought for months between the Turner Vemer property donated in southeast Columbia and four other sites, including Battle High's eventual location on St. Charles Road, sold to the district by a well-connected group of local developers. 

"A development group including Rob Wolverton, Bob Pugh, Bob LeMone, Tom Atkins and Scott Atkins offered the St. Charles Road property to the district for $900,000, less than half of the appraised value,"  the Tribune reported

Though it sounded like a deal -- "less than half of the appraised value" -- developers quickly moved in with rezoning, annexation, and infrastructure requests. around the site (see Tribune graphic).  

The Pugh-Atkins group also wasted no time, rolling out plans for Somerset Ridge, a new subdivision across the street from the high school.
Columbia Public Schools, meanwhile, was on the hook for over $3 million in infrastructure costs near the school that Board members had not anticipated.     

If comments in today's Trib are any guide, Columbia's residents are angrily wondering why their taxes, fees, utilty bills, and cost of living are going up at such a rapid clip, despite the many plans -- charrettes, visioning, Metro 20-20, and so forth -- that should anticipate costs while implementing cost controls

But in Columbia's "anchor's away" development environment, most plans are little more than feel-good exercises that craft the illusion of citizen input.  
Until the community takes back its planning prerogative, developers will keep dropping anchor on land that requires costly infrastructure, higher taxes, and burdensome efforts to support. 

 -- Mike Martin