Future taking shape in Columbia

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The Columbia City Council was once again looking to the future during last Tuesday’s meeting. 

The city’s comprehensive plan – as well as the future growth of several Columbia businesses – were discussed, among other topics.

Columbia Director of Community Development Scott Dunakey gave a department report reflecting the city’s current state as well as planning for future growth.

One major task for Dunakey’s department is development of the city’s new comprehensive plan, which began in the fall. Dunakey reported the “launch” phase of the process had been completed with implementation of an online portal to gather community input on the future of Columbia.

He noted the city, especially in light of issues brought about by COVID, is “relying heavily” on the communication system as a way to gather residents’ thoughts and opinions on a number of topics such as business and residential growth, parks, recreation options, traffic concerns and other issues. 

The portal, available at columbiaconversations.com, has over 400 registered users, and Dunakey said the site has steady traffic and has generated over 400 suggestions for the direction of Columbia.

As the discovery phase  of the planning process winds down, Dunakey anticipates development of a “community snapshot” based on collected information for review sometime in February. 

The next part of the comprehensive planning process will be the “creating consensus” phase during which discussion of community input will be used to create a clearer vision of the city’s direction in the next 20 years. 

The consensus phase will rely on a steering committee, of which Columbia Mayor Bob Hill will be the chairman, he announced at the meeting. The committee will consist of 15 members from different city entities. Committee representatives will include aldermen, police and fire board members, a member of the Historic Main Street Association, residents from each city ward and other community stakeholders.

Dunakey said the planning process is going according to schedule. A final draft of the comprehensive plan should be completed by the end of August, with adoption of the plan slated for sometime in October.

Dunakey began his department report with an indication of a two-year trend reflecting city growth. He said the COVID pandemic “has not lessened the workload” of city employees in the community development department responsible for building and code compliance.

Rather, their duties have increased substantially.

In 2021, 231 building permits were issued, up from 180 in 2019.  Also in 2021, 694 building inspections, which includes electrical, foundation, footing and other infrastructure reviews, were completed, 222 more than in 2019. 

Home and rental inspections, including re-inspections, were done 798 times in 2021, an increase of more than 70 percent from the inspections in 2019.

Dunakey credits increases in home improvements and residential construction as well as an active housing market with the uptick in residential inspections. Municipalities such as Columbia that require occupancy permits for rental and residential properties also require inspections to ensure compliance with the city’s property maintenance and residential building codes when a change in tenants or owners occurs.  

He added he was “confident in staffing” to continue effectively managing the increased requests. 

“They’re handling it,” Dunakey said.

The duties are the responsibility of Columbia Neighborhood Improvement Officer Jason Schantz, who completes most residential occupancy permits, and Columbia Building Official Justin Osterhage, who deals mostly with issuing building permits but will also inspect properties when necessary.

Also in Columbia’s future is planning for an increase in Crown Linen Service operations. The company, which provides linen rental for restaurant, hotel and health care clients, is planning a “significant expansion” in the coming years, causing concern for city officials.

At the meeting, Columbia City Administrator Doug Brimm noted that approximately 10 percent of the city’s daily sewer volume is created by Crown Linen, with Columbia City Engineer Chris Smith calling the company a “significant hydraulic customer.”

In addition to the volume of water, Brimm estimated Crown Linen generates between 15 and 45 percent of the “organic loading,” or effluent, in Columbia’s sewer system. 

During the permit process for possible expansion,  in conjunction with studies of Columbia’s effluent collection site and water treatment plant capacity, the city is working with Crown Linen to address the issue. The city sent the company a proposal agreement to either have the company’s discharge meet levels compliant with city code or assess applicable fees on “industrial strength discharges.”

The agenda item was for discussion only, and Crown Linen will submit a counter-proposal for review.

Another Columbia business is looking to expand. Charlie’s Carstar, an automotive collision repair shop at 431 N. Main Street, is looking to build at a new location and relocate to 1845 Ghent Road. 

The council considered the recent approval of architectural review by the Columbia Plan Commission regarding “acceptable substitution” of construction materials on the building exterior and will vote on the plan at a future meeting.

In an action item, the council approved a settlement with several businesses regarding leases on two telecommunications towers on Bremser Road.

In 2018, the City of Columbia filed a breach of contract lawsuit against Crown Castle GT Company LLC and other parties that use the towers. The settlement approved at the meeting provides a lump-sum payment of $80,000 to Columbia and establishes new lease agreements for each of the towers.

At the beginning of the meeting, public input was heard about two sign variance requests from Top Shooters, located at 531 Old Route 3.

The owner of the business wants to add an “electronic message center” and reposition the existing sign to prevent the roof line of the building from blocking the sign from the view of southbound motorists on Old Route 3.

Several residents of nearby Skyline Drive voiced complaints of light pollution and other issues they feel the new sign will create.

The request will go to a vote at a future meeting.

Also during public input, other residents of Skyline Drive took issue with a no-parking designation at the end of the street and accompanying “hammerhead” turn-around area. 

The no-parking rule was approved at the Dec. 20 council meeting as a way to allow trash trucks and other large vehicles to avoid using nearby driveways to turn around. 

The residents stated vehicles continue to use driveways despite the absence of cars and requested the city either remove the parking restriction except on trash and leaf pick-up dates or convert the hammerhead into a cul-de-sac that would allow large vehicles to effectively turn around.

Also at the meeting, Andrew Potter was sworn in as the newest member of the Columbia Police Department. Potter had previously been an officer with the Waterloo Police Department since 2018.

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