Columbia talks trails, projects

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Walking trails, paths and streets were the main talking points at the Columbia City Council meeting on Sept. 8.

The bulk of discussion concerned the GM&O Heritage Trail, specifically the section that runs through Gedern Village. The council voted 7-1 in favor of installing a six-foot fence on either side of the trail before and after the intersection at Armin Circle where the trail is within the bounds of the subdivision. 

The move came in response to a sign recently installed by the Gedern Village Homeowners Association where the trail intersects with subdivision property advising those on the path that the “public” section of the trail had ended and that users were entering “private” property.

The residents “have made it very clear that they do not want anyone on the trail in the back yards of Gedern (Village properties),” Columbia Mayor Kevin Hutchinson said, adding that to protect their safety and address resident concerns, he felt the fence, which will cost a little more than $1,000, was warranted.

Ward IV alderman Steve Holtkamp, a resident of Gedern Village and the lone vote against the motion, strongly disagreed with the perceived need for a fence along the trail.

“The intent (of the sign’s language) was not ‘don’t come on the trail,’” Holtkamp said, adding the Gedern HOA intended for it to be an “informational sign, not a ‘stay out’ sign.”

 Ward IV alderman Mary Ellen Niemietz commented that “we (the city), our employees and citizens have been told to stay out” of the subdivision.

Ward II alderman Kevin Martens noted residents have shown their dislike for non-residents in the subdivision, recalling an incident in which residents of Gedern Village called police when city public works employees were working in the area. He encouraged residents of the subdivision to “address the council” if there is an objection to the construction of a fence on the trail.

Hutchinson and others also noted the city has reached out to Gedern Village residents several times in the past to address issues concerning the area.

Hutchinson even introduced the agenda item by saying he assumed the council was aware of the “history” the city has had with Gedern Village.

In 2017, members of the Gedern HOA spoke out against the city utilizing the section of the GM&O Trail  in Gedern Village as part of a larger plan to connect walking trails throughout Columbia. A major point of contention was the fact that in 2016 it was revealed that ownership of one section where the trail entered the subdivision was never legally transferred to the Gedern HOA.

In December 2019, residents of Gedern Village renewed the dispute as ownership of the section had still not been clarified.   

As the trail going through the subdivision has become a popular bicycling and walking destination, residents of the subdivision have expressed concern about people leaving the trail and entering privately owned property along the trail.

Holtkamp urged the council to consider tabling the matter to allow a delegation from Gedern Village to respond, but the consensus was that residents had ample opportunity to contact the city before erecting the HOA sign near the trail.

“Hopefully (the council’s action) will spark the association and residents to come forward and have their voices be heard,” Hutchinson said.

Also up for discussion was a future dog park adjacent to Metter Park in an area near the corner of East Cherry Street and South Metter Avenue. The park location was picked for its central location and its being in an area that already has significant pedestrian traffic – potentially increasing the likelihood people would walk dogs to and utilize the park.

The idea for a dog park is not new, but no action was ever taken four years ago to establish a proposed dog park near the Hampton Inn hotel on Admiral Trost Drive.  

Martens was not opposed to the idea of a dog park, but told the council the 60-by-70 foot layout would not be large enough to attract people to the location.

“People want to let their dogs run at a dog park,” Martens said, adding he thought such parks do not need ramps and obstacle courses to draw visitors.

Columbia Director of Community Development Scott Dunakey reminded the council that it was preliminary discussion and that the area of the dog park could be expanded somewhat based on recommendation and available lot size, provided it does not extend into the Metter Park or Turner Hall properties.  

Dunakey was also on hand at Monday’s Columbia Plan Commission meeting to discuss another potential development at the site of the now-defunct Fairfield Country Club on Columbia Quarry Road between Bluffside Road and Route 158. 

A spokesperson for Timber Rock LLC spoke during a public hearing to seek the commission’s recommendation to the city council to approve an annexation agreement to allow use of city utility and municipal services. 

The city has been coordinating with developers  of the property that is partially located in unincorporated Monroe and St. Clair counties. The plans are to create an 80-lot residential development.

Commissioner Peter Ingold said it “follows the direction we want to go” and Dunakey praised work the developer did to present what he anticipates will be a beneficial development for the city.   

The commission voted unanimously to recommend approval.

Also discussed at the commission meeting was rezoning 12 parcels of R-6 one-family residential and I-1 light industrial lots into an all C-2 general business district zone in an area near Turner Hall.

Dunakey said it has been “one of my highest priority items” since joining the city as community development director, commenting on the property as “no longer good to have as industrial property.”

The city contacted the owners of surrounding property and no one commented for or against the move except one resident who wished to include his R-6 zoned residence in the C-2 rezoning.

Dunakey pointed out C-2 zoning allows the same residential use as R-6 and would not affect the total of three residential lots that would be included in the change. Two of the lots belong to the Turner Hall property and five lots are associated with Metter Park and Columbia Public Library.

The main reason for the rezoning is the former location of a concrete factory that is under contract to be purchased by 24/7 Onsite Cameras, Inc., a Columbia-based company that provides security equipment for construction sites.

Dunakey said the company is a “much lighter business” and that the industrial zoning is outdated. He also said the staff report found that rezoning will “allow the remaining property to be redeveloped” and will “improve compatibility” and “likely improve” the area and surrounding property values.       

Pictured is an ariel view of the Bolm-Schukraft Conncector Trail.

Another improvement to Columbia mentioned at the beginning of the council meeting was the recently completed Bolm-Schuhkraft Connector Trail. Niemietz thanked Columbia City Engineer Chris Smith for his work in completing the project, which had been over a decade in the making. 

“It was wonderful,” Niemietz said of her experience walking the trail, which connects to the existing park trail and runs behind the Columbia High School football field before continuing to Main Street near Columbia Market via West Monroe Street.

Niemietz complimented the unique views and shade provided by the trail, adding she saw the CHS cross country team and other pedestrians seeming to enjoy the trail while she was there.

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