Border control: Cape Girardeau examining benefits of zoning beyond the city limits

Wednesday, January 23, 2008
Construction continued Tuesday on the Walden Park apartment complex just north of Cape Girardeau city limits on Route W. (Kit Doyle)

Larry Gordon can see Twin Trees Park from the backyard of his home on County Road 654.

"I bought a place outside the city limits and I want to stay there," he said.

Gordon was unhappy to learn rules used by the city of Cape Girardeau may be applied to his property. State law allows chartered cities with 35,000 or more residents to apply zoning, subdivision standards and other rules to as much as two miles of unincorporated county land along city borders. The process is called peripheral zoning.

"We're not trying to regulate every square inch outside the city," said Charlie Haubold, chairman of the city's planning and zoning commission, in his report to the city council on Tuesday.

He reminded council members of the city's 1992 annexation of a 155-acre tract, the Twin Lakes subdivision. By 1998, the sewer system was being upgraded, costing the city millions, Haubold said.

The main purpose of is controlling development and protecting homeowners and the city, Haubold said.

No decisions have been made, yet.

Cape Girardeau's planning and zoning commissioners are merely discussing options. The city's new comprehensive plan makes long-term planning and zoning a priority. The state law says cities don't have to regulate the entire two-mile radius, nor does it have to apply all city rules to the county land.

Nearly a dozen irate county residents appeared at the planning and zoning board's Jan. 8 meeting. Historically, residents of unincorporated county land oppose any kind of zoning.

Haubold told the group he would like to develop a policy agreeable to them as well as city and county officials.

The city cannot extend any rules into unincorporated county land without the county commission's approval. The county commission cannot make the decision before holding a public hearing.

Such a seemingly dry subject as zoning ignites the ire of county residents.

From 1972 to 1992 Cape Gir?ardeau County had a planning board, but when county commissioners put a zoning plan on the ballot in 2000, voters rejected it by a 69 percent margin. In 1992, voters nixed a new county zoning plan, 14,971 to 10,589. At the same time, voters booted a planning process in place for 20 years and the county's regulations for subdivisions and mobile homes.

Joe Simmons lined up drywall Tuesday while working on units at Walden Park, just north of Cape Gir~ardeau.

County commissioner Jay Purcell said several county residents have called or attended county meetings looking for answers.

"There are compelling arguments for and against it," Purcell. "If you're a guy with a beautiful 10-acre lot and someone puts in a trailer park next to it, you're probably for planning and zoning. The main thing people are against is government intrusion."

City councilman Matt Hopkins said peripheral zoning is mainly intended to sure builders meet city standards. Some builders follow construction standards that meet or exceed the city's code, he said.

"However, there are those few who tend to ruin it for the many," he said. Applying city standards to property in line for annexation "could alleviate problems five or 10 years down the road."

City attorney Eric Cunningham said the lack of rules "has a potential for hurting everyone except a developer that's trying to cut costs."

Gordon fears annexation would raise his property taxes to the point of making them "a burden." He doesn't think the city would extend services to his home.

Hopkins said property taxes are not as high as some people think. The owner of a home worth $100,000 pays about $76 in property taxes to the city.

City inspector Tim Morgan said it's not unusual to get a spate of phone calls after each annexation from property owners unhappy with the construction of their home or even with the layout of roads.

"From our perspective there's nothing we can do for them, unless they trigger a code violation," he said.

Currently, homes annexed by the city don't have to be retrofitted, but any additions or renovations do have to meet city codes.

When subdivisions are annexed, Morgan said, he or another city inspector documents which homes are completed, which are under construction and which are planned for the future.

"A line would be drawn, so to speak, for which ones have to comply with building codes and which ones don't," he said.

Gordon said city rules infringe on his freedom.

"It just seems like they'll try to get into everyone's business," Gordon said. He likes being able to let his three dogs have the run of his nearly three acres of land. He doesn't mind having a neighbor who keeps several old cars around for spare parts.

Rick Vines owns a home and land on County Road 640. He plans on keeping track of the planning and zoning commission's evaluation and would like to see county commissioners do the same.

County commissioners, he said, "are the only representation we have."

But Vines, Gordon and others living near the city's border can influence the city commissioners. They were two of nearly a dozen irate owners of property just outside city limits who attended the Jan. 8 planning and zoning meeting. Haubold told them the process would likely take six to eight months. He invited them to continue participating in meetings.

Purcell said convincing county residents to accept peripheral zoning is the city's job, though he can both sides.

"I don't have a dog in that fight right now," Purcell said. "My decision is going to be based on what the people who live there want."

pmcnichol@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 127

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