Sunset Overlook, EMA discussed in Columbia

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The Columbia City Council unanimously approved a special use permit that was music to some people’s ears and just noise for others.

The permit allows ancillary entertainment such as live music inside Sunset Overlook, located at 11604 Bluff Road.

The approval of the special use permit comes after the business was given a boost when the city revised it’s C-1 residential business zoning ordinance to allow outdoor food and drink service – a major attraction for customers of Sunset Overlook. 

The business had previously been restricted from outdoor service when Judge Julia Gomric ruled it violated city zoning code after residents near Sunset Overlook took the owners to court citing noise complaints, among other issues.

Natalie Lorenz, the attorney for litigants against Sunset Overlook, spoke to the council once again to urge caution if they approved the permit.

Lorenz referred to Columbia Director of Community Development Scott Dunakey’s comments from the July 20 city council meeting, during which he said the zoning code for C-1 was written specifically to address noise that may inadvertently go beyond property boundaries.

Lorenz noted that Dunakey said instances of some noise from the building would be unavoidable. 

“That’s really all the more reason to not approve this special use permit. It’s just asking for trouble,” she said.

She also criticized the owners of Sunset Overlook for a recent request they made to Gomric to lift the injunction put in place before the zoning code change and also to interpret the amended ordinance in a manner that would allow patrons to utilize the entire front of the property rather than just the front porch area of the building, which Lorenz believes would cause more noise and disregard the intent of the zoning amendment.

“(The owners) took the language that Mr. Dunakey drafted after your discussion and are trying to turn it into something that is completely divorced from the reality of that discussion,” Lorenz said, also asking the council to “please review whatever language goes into any special use permit that is granted, if any, just to make sure it’s not something that can be bastardized later into something that wasn’t intended.”

“The bottom line is that the city is going to have to decide if the permit is going to be worth the headaches that are going to accompany it,” she concluded, adding she was also concerned that the council’s actions regarding Sunset Overlook “chill the rights of citizens to stand up for themselves.”

In other business, the council discussed the future of the Columbia Emergency Management Agency.

Columbia City Clerk Wes Hoeffken recently resigned his position as director of the agency, leading to a discussion of a change in the organization’s personnel philosophy.

Columbia Mayor Kevin Hutchinson told the council he would like to follow the Fairview Heights EMA model in which a member of the police department and a city public works employee are the director  and deputy director instead of having a citizen appointed to the position. 

Columbia Police Chief Jerry Paul also spoke in favor of the model, noting it worked well for Fairview Heights several years ago when tornadoes caused damage in the area.  He pointed out that having a police presence and someone from public works made storm impact mitigation efforts more effective.

Hutchinson said the city would draft language to implement the change, also saying that, when finalized, CPD Deputy Chief Jason Donjon would serve as director and Columbia Public Works Water Director Doug Stienmitz would be deputy director. 

Hutchinson thanked Hoeffken for his seven years as director, saying “You’ve done some great things for the city under your direction as EMA director,” noting that Hoeffken would be officially recognized for his service at the Aug. 17 council meeting.

Columbia City Engineer Chris Smith addressed the council concerning two preliminary engineering agreements, one for a project to extend the water main near Bluffside and Columbia Quarry roads and the other for the Carl Street Bridge Replacement Project. 

Of the former, Smith said it is a project that “needs to move forward.” The council approved both agreements.

The council also approved a right-of-way license agreement with Clearwave Communications for upcoming fiber optic line installation in the city.

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