In the path of progress

Wednesday, June 8, 2005

In Basil Harrison's eyes, the 31 acres behind his house are a vanishing memory.

To Harrison, it was a pristine piece of family property, purchased in the 1940s by his grandfather, R.B. Potashnick. For more than four decades, the land that sits on the south side of Lexington Avenue between Cape Rock Drive and Old Sprigg Street Road sat unblemished as a part of Northland Hills Orchard.

It's a place he fondly recalls riding his motorbike through as a youngster, stopping just long enough to pluck an apple or peach and enjoy a spot of shade.

"There wasn't a prettier area around, especially in the city limits," Harrison said from the well-manicured lawn of his home on Oak Lei Drive.

Now, Harrison watches in frustration as the bulldozers have descended on the property, gobbling up trees and unearthing soil about 350 feet behind his house. While Harrison has clung tightly to the 10 acres of family property he owns -- it now acts as a buffer -- his mother, half-brother and sister sold an adjacent 31 acres for development.

Part of the dirt work currently being done is to make way for the construction of a new First Baptist Church building.

But the project that really has Harrison irked is a separate plan by Cape Girardeau developer Mitch Kinder to build a 21-acre, 41-lot subdivision known as Timber Creek.

"I know it's not realistic for me to think it would stay the way it was," Harrison said. "The man bought the property, he has a right to make a profit. I would just like the neighborhood to have its say."

Basil and other neighbors plan to have that say at tonight's Cape Girardeau Planning and Zoning Commission meeting, which is considering the specifics of the proposal. Harrison has gathered a petition of 52 like-minded neighbors who oppose the subdivision.

The neighbors' group wants Kinder to alter his plans to remove entrances to the subdivision from Old Sprigg Street Road and Cape Rock Drive and instead put them on the newer Lexington Avenue.

"There are blind spots on my road," said Helen Perry, who lives on Old Sprigg Street Road across the street from the development. "When I back out, there are cars already on top of me. We don't need the extra traffic. ... It's already dangerous. It's going to be worse. On Lexington, it's newer and there aren't as many blind spots."

Bob Grable, who lives on the other side of the development on Cape Rock Drive, agrees.

"My biggest concern is the traffic," said Grable, who plans to be at the commission meeting tonight. "It will bring too much traffic, and Cape Rock Drive is a residential street. It doesn't need that much traffic."

Grable said that, with 42 homes, the traffic counts could swell by more than 100 additional cars, not counting the service vehicles -- like trash trucks -- the subdivision will bring.

"I'm not against development, but be sensible," Grable said.

Kinder counters that none of the residents ever tried to contact him, and he's only heard complaints indirectly from city officials.

"Not a one of them has bothered to pick up a phone and call me," he said.

Kinder, who has developed upscale properties like Villas of Beavercreek and Deer Valley Townhomes, both are in Cape Girardeau, disagrees with neighbors about the traffic issue. He said that Lexington is busier than both Cape Rock Drive and Old Sprigg Street Road.

He said that the topography of the land on Lexington won't allow him to put an entrance there anyway.

"It's too steep," he said. "If it was up to me, I'd only have one entrance to keep the subdivision more private. But the city says we need two for emergency vehicles to get through. So that's what I'm doing."

Kinder said he hopes home construction will start in September and sale prices will average $300,000 each. Kinder estimated it would take four or five years for all of the homes to be built.

When it's all said and done, Kinder said, he believes those who oppose it will like the subdivision.

City planner Kent Bratton said it's acceptable to the city that the entrances and exits are on Cape Rock Drive and Old Sprigg Street Road.

"We don't think the traffic will be a major problem," Bratton said.

Bratton said as long as the development meets all of the city ordinances, the advisory commission will have little choice but to approve it. The development does meet all requirements, Bratton said, which include lot size and set-back requirements. The property also is zoned for single-family homes, which the development calls for.

"There's not a lot the P&Z commission can do about it," planning commissioner Charlie Haubold said. "You've got to remember, we don't have any judicial powers. We just make sure they followed the ordinances. If they have, it's pretty much over."

Dirt work has already started on the development, Bratton said, because Kinder already has received a grading permit. He also will be able to put in streets, water, sewer and stormwater improvements. Lots cannot be sold until those improvements are done, Bratton said, unless Kinder files an escrow agreement guaranteeing the improvements.

Even if it does seem like it's going to happen, Harrison said he wants to have his say.

"Because once it's built, then try doing something about it," he said. "Then it's history. ... It's too bad, though. The city of Cape doesn't have too many scenic roadways left. This is one of the last ones, in my opinion. When it's gone, it's gone."

335-6611, extension 137

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