City planners introduce new Neighborhood Planning Program

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COLUMBIA - Members of the City of Columbia Community Development Department and the Health Department came together at Wednesday's Neighborhood Congress meeting to set forth a plan for neighborhood development.

They're calling it the Neighborhood Planning Program. The recently adopted Columbia Imagined land use plan recommended the development of neighborhood plans such as this program.

Neighborhood Communications Coordinator Bill Cantin says its focused on the neighborhoods instead of city wide.

"What the Neighborhood Planning Program is going to do is help neighborhood associations develop plans specific for their neighborhood based all around land use," he said. "For example, say there's some vacant land on a main thoroughfare, the idea is we'll work with them to come up with an idea of what they would like to see on that piece of land." 

According to Cantin, the program will focus for now on one square mile in central Columbia which would include Business Loop 70 to the north, Broadway to the south, Clinkscales to the west, and east of College Avenue. 

Each separate neighborhood can contact the department and request to meet to discuss their ideas for future development plans.

Rachel Bacon, a city planner, used the example of a coffee shop. She says if a neighborhood had a vacant lot it wanted to develop into a coffee shop, it could contact the community development department and have meetings with them. They would collectively come up with a comprehensive plan for the development and bring it to city council.

The city council then has to approve any plan, and it remains to be seen if the council will be receptive.

"This does not mean it'll happen. Theoretically, council can make a decision opposite of what would happen," said Cantin. "It's non-binding. But it's a tool and their own recommendation."

Some residents in the meeting raised concerns that this new plan would be just another way to push residents and homeowners out of the way for more commercial development.

Development services manager Patrick Zenner countered that community involvement was the key in this plan.

"This is why this is different. We are asking your opinion to actively participate in the planning process," he said. "We aren't just forcing you. We want you involved."

Community Development hopes to have the plan in place by the first of the year and encouraged any and all neighborhood leaders to contact them with development and infrastructure issues they would like to rectify.