Columbia comprehensive plan gets personal

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Pictured, from left, Daniel Duffy speaks with Columbia Alderman Mary Ellen Niemietz during an open house Thursday. The open house was the first opportunity for community members to interact in-person with Columbia officials regarding the city’s ongoing comprehensive plan process. 

The City of Columbia hosted a community open house as part of its comprehensive planning project Thursday evening at the Main Street Abbey pavilion. 

City staff, elected officials and emergency service chiefs were on hand to gain insight from residents about how they envision the future of Columbia.

The planning process began last year and is expected to be completed this fall. The goal is to create a vision for the direction of Columbia through the next two decades.

While the city continues to use its online engagement portal, the March 31 event marked the first in-person occasion for residents to interact with city personnel as well as a variety of interactive input stations.

One such station was a “big idea” board which asked residents to write brief descriptions of the topics of most interest regarding the city’s future. A different station had attendees put stickers on a map of Columbia. Green stickers marked  citizens’ favorite parts of the city while red stickers denoted “areas of opportunity” for future projects.

One recurring theme on the “big idea” board involved parks and recreation. Several people wrote they wanted to see expansion of the GM&O Heritage Trail, while others expressed a desire for more paved bike trails. 

Pickleball courts, which will be installed on a converted tennis court at Metter Park, were brought up by several attendees as a welcome addition to the city.

Other suggested amenities included a dog park, splash pad and updated park playground equipment.

Several “big ideas” focused on Columbia’s growth. One note requested “deliberate, calculated growth.” Other notes read “I don’t want Columbia to get any bigger, I want it to stay the same” and “keep the community small.”

As far as housing, one person suggested a need for senior housing in the form of “duplex, one-level living” buildings. Another comment simply read “no more apartments.” 

One resident in attendance, Daniel Duffy, came prepared with a typed document of his thoughts about Columbia to give to city officials.

Duffy described the document as a “partial vision” for the future of Columbia, with main topics being public safety, streets and housing.

Duffy and his wife Donna said they are fans of Columbia. They moved to the city in the early 2000s after raising a family in west St. Louis County. While Daniel and Donna enjoyed their time in Missouri, both indicated that if they had known about Columbia at that time, they would have moved to the area much sooner. 

Columbia Director of Community Development Scott Dunakey said the city was “very pleased” with the turnout despite cold, rainy conditions. He estimated about 50 people from the community showed up to contribute to the planning process.

“In addition to great feedback at all the open house stations, there were a lot of good conversations taking place about Columbia’s future.” 

The dialogue was not just among residents, though. Attendees had the opportunity to ask questions and express their opinions with Dunakey as well as Columbia Mayor Bob Hill, City Administrator Doug Brimm, City Engineer Chris Smith, Columbia Police Chief Jason Donjon and Columbia Deputy Police Chief Karla Heine, Columbia EMS Chief Kim Lamprecht, several aldermen including Mary Ellen Niemietz and Kevin Martens and Columbia Director of Information Technology James Mitchell, among others. 

For more information about upcoming comprehensive plan events or to engage online, visit columbiaconversations.com.

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