Another Columbia subdivision discussed

The room was once again full during the Columbia City Council meeting Monday night for a discussion about another proposed subdivision. 

JLP Homes requested a zoning change for a Community Unit Plan A in an area near Eckart Lane and Valley Drive.

The plan would rezone part of the land from A-1 agricultural use to R-5 single family residence, including 20 lots dedicated to senior housing.

At its Jan. 20 meeting, the Columbia Plan Commission voted to recommend approval of the plan as submitted. The plan was tabled during the Dec. 9 meeting due to the absence of the developer.

The recommendation prompted several citizens to lodge formal complaints with the city, which in turn led to a discussion of the plan Monday night.

Columbia Director of Community Development Scott Dunakey began with a presentation describing the proposed plan that also addressed some concerns voiced prior to the meeting. 

Some of these concerns include density of houses and lot sizes, increased traffic, drainage and safety concerns.

Former Columbia City Deputy Clerk Donna Mehaffey, a resident near the proposed development, added that the plan would also likely decrease property values and expressed concern over the developer’s poor Better Business Bureau rating. 

The main talking point was a one-way street that would loop through the proposed senior housing lots. In addition to limited parking, several in attendance expressed concern about the ability of emergency vehicles to effectively operate. 

Dunakey showed computer simulation during his presentation that demonstrated the ability of the largest fire truck to navigate the one-way loop, but Columbia Fire Department Chief Mike Roediger was still wary.

“It’s a tight situation,” Roediger said, adding the width of the street “doesn’t leave much room for error.”

Roediger also noted that fire personnel would need room for staging and that in the event of an emergency, multiple vehicles would need access to the road.

Ward II Alderman Kevin  Martens also expressed a negative view of the street, stating that crowded streets are already an “existing problem” and that Columbia “doesn’t need to create another situation.”  

Another discussion point was the viability of senior housing lots. 

John Poettker of JLP Homes addressed the audience to explain his vision for the community. He explained that he modeled his plan from the St. Christopher development in Mascoutah.

“My goal is to provide an option for seniors in Columbia to age in place,” Poettker said.

Several in attendance, both aldermen and private citizens, expressed concern that the senior housing lots may not stay that way because homeowners associations are difficult to maintain.

Despite the proposed plan’s inclusion of initial covenants  stating senior residency requirements, Columbia Mayor Kevin Hutchinson noted the covenants are not enforceable by the city, validating concerns about future residents of the lots proposed for seniors.

Furthermore, Ward IV Alderman Mary Ellen Niemietz wondered if enough parking existed to serve the senior lots since no parking would be allowed on the one-way street and residential driveways would only be able to hold four vehicles at one time. 

Eckart Lane resident David Bodinet also spoke out against the plan, explaining he and his family moved to the area “to be on a quiet street. If the plan goes through… (my) lot would be turned into a corner lot” instead of a lot in the middle of cross streets, one of the selling points when he purchased the home.

Bodinet added that his home would be a construction zone for a number of years, speculating that his son would be out of high school before it was completed.

The next step is for the city council to vote in a future meeting whether to approve the plan as presented.

The Columbia Plan Commission will resume discussion of another controversial proposed development near Route 158 and Route 3 at its Feb. 10 meeting.

In other city news, Columbia City Engineer and Director of Public Works Chris Smith gave an update on Creekside Park.

Smith showed the council a layout of the proposed park and described changes to the original plan, such as widening an entrance to the park, movement of several amenities, repositioning of a bridge and making a pond smaller. 

Smith told the council that drainage and wildlife studies were ongoing and the city had until July 2021 to submit reports to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.

Hutchinson took the opportunity to express his pleasure at seeing the use of video gambling funds to finance the park.

“When (the city) chose to embrace video gaming, it was to increase quality of life for our citizens,” Hutchinson said, adding, “It’s neat to see things come to fruition.”

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Scott Woodsmall

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