Columbia talks subdivision, levies taxes

The plan has changed, but the discussion is the same regarding a proposed subdivision in the northern part of Columbia.

During Monday’s Columbia City Council meeting, public input on a submitted subdivision plan for Bluff Ridge Estates on Rueck Road near the existing Brellinger subdivision continued for over 90 minutes, with much of the input expressing concern about traffic, water runoff and lot sizes.

Similar comments were made during a July meeting about the development, the size of which has since been reduced by half. 

No action was taken in July, and city staff worked with developers to draft a new plan for further review in light of residents’ input. 

The proposal from developers of Wild Oak LLC originally included annexation of 54 adjoining acres in unincorporated St. Clair County. The most recent submission focuses only on the 40 acres that had been previously annexed by the city in the mid-1990s and zoned for R-3 residential use.

Columbia Director of Community Development Scott Dunakey said developers had withdrawn the annexation request for the time being in order to focus on beginning development on the existing city property. 

The plan discussed Monday was recommended for approval by the Columbia Plan Commission at its Nov. 8 meeting. The subdivision plat had been considered at an October meeting but was tabled when a “substandard lot” was discovered. The latest design includes 63 lots.

Developer Dennis Brand and attorney Mark Scoggins met with Columbia Mayor Bob Hill and city staff as representatives of the Brellinger subdivision to address concerns with the Bluff Ridge development. They specifically addressed improvements to Rueck Road. 

Brand sent a Dec. 3 letter to Columbia officials stating requests from Wild Oak LLC for vacation of improvement to Rueck Road would “damage” residents of Brellinger and surrounding neighbors. He also requested consideration of the preliminary plat for Bluff Ridge Estates be tabled until a resolution to the issue was found. 

While the agenda item at Monday’s meeting was for discussion only, Dunakey noted that action will need to be taken no later than the Dec. 20 meeting to comply with the timetable set by state statute and the city’s own subdivision code.

Dunakey added the request is submitted with a preliminary plat, but it would not be approved without “further discussion followed by the process established for such vacations in state statutes.”

Dunakey also noted that no subdivision variances were requested as the proposal was found to meet city code as submitted. 

“The recommendations and interpretations of city staff represent the consensus of ALL staff tasked with this project’s review,” Dunakey included in the staff report for city council. “This includes myself … City Administrator Doug Brimm, City Attorney Terry Bruckert, City Engineer Chris Smith and building official Justin Osterhage. Furthermore, the Plan Commission adopted the staff findings and recommendations as their own, indicating agreement with city staff.”

Brand addressed the council Monday night, saying that an agreement with the city stated that Rueck Road and Rueck Parkway was to serve a nearby golf course and Brellinger only. 

He added Rueck Parkway was labeled as a “collector street” in the Bluff Ridge plan, even though it was never intended to be used as such.

Most of the other public input was also about traffic in addition to watershed concerns.

Marsha Maller, the representative engineer for Bluff Ridge Estates, explained that the final design “has not been determined at this stage,” and plans to conform to city stormwater management requirements and Illinois drainage laws can only be developed once the preliminary plat is approved.

She also referred to Rueck Parkway as an “unloaded road (a road with no driveways), the definition of a collector road.”

Thomas Reed of Wild Oak LLC addressed those concerns and said it is something that needs to be dealt with.

“We’re in this together,” Reed said, noting he is also affected by flooding in the area, but adding the problem is not relevant to approval of the subdivision as they cannot legally increase the amount of water currently diverted to nearby waterways.

After public input, Ward II Alderman Mark Roessler promised to follow-up with several residents about specific concerns, but also advised caution.

“About the R-3 (zoning) classification, things were done 30 or 40 years ago we can’t fix, so we’re not going to challenge them in court. We got sued like that before and lost,” Roessler said, adding that stormwater regulation was not in place in Columbia before 1994.

“We’re trying to adapt to stormwater runoff,” he continued. “We can’t put a moratorium on something if somebody follows the rules,” he concluded, referring to state statutes that dictate engineering requirements for water management.

When the council returned from closed session, there was discussion about creating informational guidelines for the public regarding the approval steps for the city’s development approval process as well as addressing questions posed by residents during public input. 

Hill suggested that something be added to the city website in order to make the process as transparent as possible.

Brimm also noted the city’s comprehensive plan mentioned by several people during public input is “grossly outdated” and is not a true comprehensive plan because it does not provide a clear direction for accomplishing the city’s vision. He encouraged residents to be engaged with the planning process, “Beyond the Horizon,” currently in place via the city website,  

The council is expected to vote on the preliminary Bluff Ridge Estates subdivision plat on Dec. 20.

In other business, the council approved a tax levy for Columbia in the amount of $2,911,348.

The levy is an  increase of 4.05 percent over the prior fiscal year, with a majority of line items have increased by 4.9 percent. 

Brimm explained that, with the Admiral Parkway Tax Increment Financing District closed, “a conservative increase in (Columbia’s) equalized assessed valuation of 8.27 percent is estimated … This is estimated to result in the city’s property tax rate decreasing by 4.1 percent. Based on Columbia’s median home value (of $217,300), the average residential property owner will see a reduction of $27.30 on the city’s portion of their tax bill.”

The council also approved a levy of .02 percent to fund the Columbia Public Library building and equipment expenses. 

A contract was awarded to McConnell & Associates in the amount of $28,500 to complete the Metter Park pickleball court project.

In another action item, Hill decided the fate of a sign variance request from BJC Medical Group for an additional sign at 200 Admiral Trost Drive.

The proposed sign itself was within city sign code dimensions, but required approval due to wall signage already on the office building.

Ward IV Alderman Mary Ellen Niemietz expressed concern that, if approved, other nearby businesses would request similar signage. 

Junior Frentzel, applicant and owner of the BJC building as well as dental office buildings on Admiral Trost Drive, stated that BJC contacted him to request the sign. He also confirmed that other businesses would want signs in the future. 

The vote was 4-3 in favor, with Alderman Doug Garmer not present. Aldermen Niemietz, Jeff Huch and Paul Khoury voted against approval.

Since an ordinance needs five votes to pass, Hill would have needed to give the final affirmative vote, which he declined to do, thereby denying the request for sign variance.

Hill also thanked Waterloo Mayor Tom Smith and the City of Waterloo for allowing the City of Columbia to use a “boom truck” for Christmas decorations when Columbia’s truck malfunctioned in late November.

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Scott Woodsmall

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