Columbia talks development, video gambling

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The Columbia City Council met Monday night and discussed residential development and the future of video gambling in the city.

For the first item of unfinished business, the council voted to approve a professional services agreement with Economic Development Resources LLC to study an area along Route 3 and South Main Street for tax increment financing and business district eligibility. 

Columbia Director of Community Development Scott Dunakey gave an overview of the study area at the July 6 council meeting. He said a combination of needed infrastructure improvements, planned city projects and developer interest in the area would make the area suitable for TIF and business district consideration.

The findings of this study will be reported to the council at a future meeting.

Another follow-up from the July 6 meeting involved a vote to put a moratorium on the issuance of A-1 and A-2 liquor licenses to Columbia businesses until the city’s liquor code is updated.

Columbia Mayor Bob Hill had previously directed city staff to update the code to limit the number of licenses available for video gambling machines in town. In order to avoid potential litigation from businesses that apply before the liquor code is updated, an action by the council on the  moratorium  was required.

As mayor, Hill also serves as the city’s liquor commissioner and called for the moratorium. He also noted that mayors throughout Illinois have issued similar moratoria due to the perceived excess of video gambling machines.  

“The gaming industry has just exploded” statewide, Hill commented, adding that the limits are “necessary” to preserve his vision for Columbia and not seeing gambling machines “in every single establishment in this town.”

Columbia City Administrator Doug Brimm clarified that the council would be voting to concur with the liquor commissioner’s action to make any “challenge (to the moratorium) defensible in a courtroom.”

Brimm said he anticipated revised liquor code language to be presented to the council for consideration at the Aug. 2 meeting.

Two subdivision proposals were also discussed during the meeting. The first on the agenda was the Ogle Estates subdivision planned near Eckart Lane.

Dunakey noted that the JLP Homes plan was submitted in November 2020, but COVID restrictions prohibited any consideration until February 2021. The plan has since been revised five times, with the latest version recommended for approval by the Columbia Plan Commission on July 12.

A major change from the original plans address water concerns.

Columbia Ward IV Alderman Mary Ellen Niemietz advised caution regarding water drainage and collection in the area, pointing out that the northeast part of the city has experienced repeated water drainage and flooding issues due to the location’s geographic features, including karst areas.  

Several aldermen asked Dunakey about a water retention area in the plan. Dunakey explained that the subdivision’s homeowners association would be responsible for upkeep of the area and the city would have a means of legal recourse should the HOA not fulfill its obligation. 

Dunakey pointed out that a lake maintenance agreement was also drafted  to provide the “same guarantees to the city and to the public” that the area would be maintained by the subdivision despite the lot now being outside the subdivision plan.

Dunakey also mentioned a third party would be reviewing details of an “improvement plan” to ensure water drainage plans are adequate.

He explained that the subdivision plat and design were compliant with city regulations, but the plan would need to be resubmitted if a third party found issue with the drainage plan or infrastructure.

Similar water and sewage concerns were brought up during a discussion of a proposed “Timber Rock Estates” subdivision near Columbia Quarry Road at the former site of Fairfield Country Club.

The city council voted in October 2020 to annex the part of the 137-acre development that was in St. Clair County.

A major concern was the need for a water pumping station. Dunakey reassured the council that the item was only for discussion and that options for adding needed infrastructure would be brought before the council.

Attorney Paul Evans, representing residents and agriculture company Rockhouse LLC who live and operate in the area, spoke to the council advising that drainage and erosion issues have already been problematic and that future development in the area would be a “significant” challenge.

In other action items, the council approved hiring police officers Joseph Roach and Gary Craig to fill two vacancies in the Columbia Police Department. 

Roach is currently with the Springfield Police Department. Craig, a Columbia resident, has 14 years as a police officer in Cahokia. 

The council also approved a resolution of support to allow application to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources for an Open Space Lands Acquisition & Development Grant to fund the Creekside Park Trail project.

Columbia City Engineer Chris Smith said the trail would be the first phase of the larger Creekside Park project. The city recently withdrew from an approved grant due to COVID-related delays.

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