Columbia talks business, zoning

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As businesses and public buildings partially reopen in Columbia, the city council continues to conduct business, albeit through virtual meetings.

The Columbia City Council passed several ordinances and resolutions and discussed the city’s future at its May 18 and June 1 meetings.

On Monday, Columbia passed a resolution allowing restaurants to apply for temporary permits to allow for outdoor dining during Phase 3 of the Restore Illinois reopening plan that began May 29.

When asked if Sunset Overlook, located at 11604 Bluff Road, would be affected by, the resolution Hutchinson said a prior judgment against Sunset Overlook prohibiting outdoor dining supersedes the resolution that passed Monday night.   

Sunset Overlook has been the subject of litigation since November 2018 regarding alleged violations of zoning requirements. In February, a judge upheld an August 2019 ruling against the establishment that prohibits ancillary entertainment and outside dining. Sunset Overlook  announced May 23 on Facebook that it would be closed until further notice “due to a substantial decrease in sales.”

“Despite the governor’s opening of outdoor dining effective May 29, we are still unable to open our outdoor seating,” the post states. “This is due to the judgment order that, at this point, can only be remedied by a code clarification by the city. The public hearing to discuss the proposed verbiage was set for April 13 but has been postponed several times due to COVID-19 social-distancing requirements.”

In other business Monday night, the council voted to approve an amended intergovernmental agreement between the city and school district to establish the “Cops in Schools” student resource officer Program. The amendment  “shifts the model to a true 50/50 cost share” between the city and the school district. The school board already approved the agreement.

The council also approved a collective bargaining agreement with the Columbia Emergency Medical Service employees’ union.

At the May 18 meeting, Columbia Director of Community Development Scott Dunakey discussed the possibility of rezoning in the Columbia Bottoms area near Bluff Road and I-255. The existing zoning is classified as BP-2, or “business park” zoning, a zone that Dunakey described as “restrictive” and has prevented several businesses from pursuing development in the area.

“Rezoning this area to I-1 Light Industrial (zoning) would give Columbia a better opportunity to compete for industrial and logistical projects,” Dunakey stated in his agenda item report. 

The rezoning is expected to be discussed during  a July Columbia Plan Commission meeting.

Dunakey and Columbia Community Relations and Tourism Coordinator Sue Spargo also provided an overview of the upcoming Historic Main Street Walking Tour and Signs Project. The project will include signage denoting the Kaskaskia-Cahokia Trail in Columbia and creation of a brochure informing tourists about locations of interest. 

The council also approved an agreement with Millennia Professional Services, Inc. for  preliminary and construction engineering for improvement projects on DD and Old Bluff roads. The city was recently awarded an  economic development grant to assist with improvements in the area.

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