Columbia ponders properties

 City Council meeting was spent discussing land use in the city.

One discussion involved a single property, a house on Wernings Drive. As part of the lot’s R-4 zoning requirements, structures on the property must maintain a 40-foot setback from its boundaries. 

The owners requested a variance to build a 15-by-15 foot sunroom on a section of the property that faces Franke Drive. Due to the angle at which Franke Drive intersects Wernings Drive, part of the proposed sunroom would rest within the required 40-foot setback.

A public hearing was held May 18 with Columbia Zoning Hearing Officer Fred Keck, who has been contracted by the city specifically for hearing residential variance requests. He ruled on the issue June 9 and denied the request, finding that evidence presented at the hearing “satisfied only one of the three required conditions for variance approval.” 

Keck found the property met the condition that the variance “would not alter the essential character of the lot,” but did not meet conditions that the required hardship is “due to unique circumstances” or that “the property cannot yield a reasonable return under strict application” of regulations. 

Columbia Director of Community Development Scott Dunakey explained to the council that they had the option to “exercise power of administrative review” to consider the variance, which would then require a two-thirds majority vote to overturn the zoning officer’s ruling. 

Dunakey also noted the council would need to provide reasoning why it believed the three conditions for variance are met when deciding on the matter. If no action was taken or the council declined to hold administrative review, Keck’s ruling would become final on July 1.

Ward III Alderman Paul Khoury spoke in favor of holding an administrative review. After meeting with the owner and looking at the plans, he told the council he believed they “owe (the owners) the opportunity” to be heard.

Columbia Mayor Bob Hill mentioned he went to the property in question and found that many other homes in the area had similar sunrooms, noting that the location was a “unique lot.”

Ward I Alderman Doug Garmer sought clarification of the residential request process. Dunakey explained the requests – of which there have only been two since the zoning hearing officer method has been implemented – go directly to the hearing officer and not to any other commissions or committees.

Ward II Alderman Mark Roessler also provided background, explaining that requests previously went through a committee, but the committee was dissolved in favor of a zoning hearing officer due in part to lack of requests, but also to allow guidance from someone who could more efficiently  “distinguish” the nuance of variance request requirements.

Ward II Alderman Kevin Martens asked Columbia City Attorney Terry Bruckert what the implications would be if the council decided to act on the matter. Bruckert explained that if the administrative review process was in agreement to also deny the request, the property owner could appeal to circuit court for a judge’s ruling on the interpretation of evidence presented.

The council voted 5-2 in favor of allowing the administrative review. Garmer and Ward IV Alderman Mary Ellen Niemietz voted no while Ward IV Alderman Steve Holtkamp was absent from the meeting and did not vote.

Dunakey clarified that the vote to hold the review requires a simple majority while reversal of the decision would require a two-thirds majority vote. A public hearing will now be scheduled to hear evidence in the matter.

The other land use discussion involved a proposed 116-lot single-family residential subdivision near Rueck Road directly east of the existing Brellinger subdivision and north of Briar Lake Estates. 

The proposed development lies mostly in unincorporated St. Clair County. Three of the five parcels are currently within Columbia city limits. Developer Junior Fritzel of Wild Oak, LLC is seeking the city’s approval to annex the remaining two parcels into the city from St. Clair County in order to have access to city water and sanitary sewer services.

 A public hearing was held as part of the June 14 Columbia Plan Commission meeting. The commission voted to recommend approving annexation as well as R-3 zoning for the proposed annexed parcels to match the current zoning of previously annexed areas.

The matter was for discussion only at Monday’s council meeting. Dunakey gave an in-depth overview of the proposal, including topography of the area and other relevant information.

He said the development would have “minimal land use impacts,” and a traffic study showed a “moderate but manageable” increase in traffic volume  that was “well below capacity”  for the surrounding roadways. 

Dunakey noted that the layout provides an emergency traffic route out of the subdivision if residents were unable to access Rueck Road.

In regard to surrounding subdivisions, Dunakey said the developer’s plans “exceed masonry requirement” and the lots will be “more compatible with the surrounding R-2” district and that 54 of the 116 lots exceed the 25,000-square-foot lot requirement found in the R-2 districts.

The council will vote on the annexation agreement at a future meeting.

In other business, the council voted to approve special event park use for the September Songs4Soldiers concerts to be held in Bolm-Schuhkraft Memorial Park. The agreement allows the event to take place and also specifies other details such as clean-up responsibilities.

Pictured, from left, Mayor Bob Hill presents a tourism grant check to Songs4Soldiers Chairman Dustin Row and committee member Travis Denison. The grant was awarded to the organization to help advertise the September concerts held in Columbia that are expected to bring at 10,000 people to the city.
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Scott Woodsmall

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