Columbia trying to ease commercial development issues

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The Columbia City Council on Monday night discussed the futures of two vacant pieces of commercial property along the city’s main thoroughfare.

Aldermen authorized Columbia Mayor Kevin Hutchinson to execute an official agreement with HeartLands Conservancy regarding the former Video Exchange site at the corner of Admiral Parkway (Route 3) and Valmeyer Road.

As part of a complex plan that relies on the awarding of grants not yet received, the city, conservation group and owner of the commercial property will work together to mitigate flood risk so it can potentially be developed again in the future. The site regularly floods during heavy rains, making it undesirable for development as it stands now.

“This will make it buildable so it serves a purpose for the city and a potential developer at the same time,” Hutchinson said.

One part of the plan involves putting a culvert under Valmeyer Road.

“We know from a study done several years ago that will decrease flooding in that area,” Director of Community and Economic Development Paul Ellis said.

The second part is a series of steps that include removing dirt from a portion of the site of a future park on the west side of the city to create a wetlands area. That dirt — much of which otherwise the city would have to pay to have removed — will instead be given to HeartLands Conservancy, which will work with the property owner of the Video Exchange lot. There, the vacant building will be torn down and asphalt parking lot removed, and the dirt will be used to build up the lot above the floodplain level, making it a much more attractive location for potential commercial development.

All this depends on the city’s receipt of grant funds, which have not yet been awarded.

The city also agreed to award an easement variance for the property of the former Hardee’s on the north end of town at 1525 North Main Street, located behind the Midwest Petroleum gas station. The restaurant burned in the 1990s and the building was torn down, leaving the lot vacant except for a large cement pad.

Granting the easement variance will make it easier to develop this property also, and the city engineer confirmed there is a potential interested party.

The council also set a date for two public hearings on the proposed commercial development by Joe and Patricia Koppeis of Admiral Parkway, Inc., north of Sand Bank Road on the west side of Route 3 at the northern edge of Columbia.

The meetings will take place Tuesday, Sept. 2, at 6:50 and 6:55 p.m., prior to the evening’s city council meeting.

Koppeis earlier presented early plans for a proposed $50 million office, medical and professional park.

Additionally, the council approved the hire of three new paid volunteer Columbia EMS paramedics, pending their passage of background checks: Brandon Layton of Florissant, Mo., Jessica Cutright of Belleville, and Andrew DeLuca of Waterloo.

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