Tuesday, September 20, 2011

THE TROUBLE ON HUBBELL, Pt. 5: County agency thumbs nose at City zoning requirements

Lawyers battle over demolition and use permits as agency expands North Village holdings
 
COLUMBIA, 9/20/11  (Beat Byte) --  Boone County Family Resources (BCFR) and the City of Columbia are engaged in a bureaucratic tussle over property the disability services agency owns in Columbia's North Village arts district.
 
BCFR may be violating a "conditional use permit" it obtained in 1998 for 1209 E. Walnut, the former Marion Henley Bldg. say formal complaints filed with the city by area neighbors worried that BCFR's $2.6 million 5-year capital projects plan will surround them with buildings that do not comply with area codes and requirements. 
 
City inspectors have also refused to close out a demolition permit the agency obtained to tear down an empty house at 400 St. Joseph St. in August.  Post-demolition inspections uncovered what inspectors consider an incomplete job. 
 
Demolition Dust Up
 
Demolition contractor Marvin Loftis left an "accessory structure" -- like a large shed -- standing, according to city documents.  But zoning codes in the neighborhood don't permit accessory structures without a primary structure like a house -- or a community garden that would use the structure to store tools. 

"The accessory structure must be removed," city inspector Jim Panneck informed Loftis August 30. 
 
Not so fast, say Boone County counselor C.J. Dykhouse and Jane Kruse, another attorney who has long represented BCFR director Les Wagner.  "A zoning authority, whether a city or county, cannot, through its zoning code, regulate the placement of facilities of a single purpose governmental unit, which describes Boone County Family Resources," Kruse informed Panneck in a Sept. 7 letter.   
 
BCFR's Board of Directors, Kruse explained, has virtual carte blanche to "acquire, own, hold, sell, use, convey, exchange, transfer, and otherwise dispose of real and personal property" as it sees fit.  The agency may -- or may not -- use the land as a community garden in the future. 
 
Meanwhile, Kruse -- who had moved to Florida several years ago with husband Rick, the former local president of Commerce Bank -- urged Panneck to approve the final permit.  Panneck, meanwhile, has forwarded the letter to city attorney Fred Boeckmann "for review and direction," city development manager Shane Creech emailed neighbors on Hubbell and St. Joseph Streets.
 
Permitted adjustment? 
 
Those neighbors have even greater concerns about potential violations of the 1998 conditional use permit.   The city's Board of Adjustment (BOA) granted BCFR the permit in a 16-page decision based on BCFR's claim that charitable, not-for-profit counseling agencies would be renting space for counseling in the building.  
 
But that proposed use never materialized, say formal complaints.  "BCFR is a tax-funded governmental agency, not a counseling center," Hubbell Street resident Mara Aruguete, Ph.D. wrote city inspectors.   "Moreover, the Marion Henley building is used by BCFR for administrative offices, not counseling.   Finally, the entire building is occupied by BCFR.   Not having renters who offer counseling services violates the conditional use permit." 
 
Not given to trivial hysteria, the group of concerned neighbors includes Aruguete,  a well-regarded Lincoln University psychology professor; Mizzou planning, social, and economic data expert, Tracy Greever-Rice, Ph.D.; her husband, former Columbia Planning and Zoning Commissioner Glenn Rice; a digital media instructor at Mizzou, Chip Gubera;  artist and business owner Jessie LawsonNina Wilson-Keenan, a Mizzou financial aid counselor; and Boone Hospital cardiology nurse Diana Howland, whose mother Betty Howland was an Ellis Fischel Cancer Center Reach for Recovery program volunteer widely-remembered for her service to people with Alzheimer's and breast cancer.   

"My neighbors and I have amassed wealth of evidence showing clear violations of zoning ordinances for property owned by BCFR," Aruguete explained.  "I think I can speak for the neighborhood in saying that we would like to see City leaders weigh in on these issues." 
 
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