Picking Winners and Losers: Karl Skala and Downtown Development

Buried deep in the Columbia City Council agenda for the upcoming April 21st meeting is an interesting item added to the agenda at the request of 3rd Ward Councilman Karl Skala.

B116-14 Authorizing a right of use permit with BMT of Columbia, LLC for installation, construction, improvement, operation, use, keeping, maintenance, repair and replacement of approximately 350 lineal feet of two-inch PVC sewer force main to extend in portions of an alley right-of-way located north of Broadway, between Tenth Street and Short Street; authorizing a right of use permit with BMT of Columbia, LLC for construction, improvement, operation and maintenance of private storm sewers in portions of the Tenth Street and East Broadway (1007 E. Broadway) rights-of-way. [Intro & 1st Read/Skala Memo]

At first glance, it looks like basic infrastructure — the type of drudgery that is usually ignored by most of the public, especially late in what is sure to be another marathon council meeting. But further investigation — ahem — reading the supporting documentation — ahem — reveals that Mr. Skala is proactively pushing for a new downtown, 5-story, mixed-use building that will house 36 beds and no additional parking. Residents will use the city-built and city-funded Short Street Garage.

skala1

Karl Skala

Wait, our City Manager Mike Matthes told us that without a TIF for infrastructure, Downtown development would stop.

Without a TIF, downtown development stops. “Plan B is no development downtown,” he [Matthes] said.

As we all know, this was untrue because only days after the TIF plan was rejected, the City approved two student housing projects totalling over 600 beds and tabled another 700-bed project. This, of course, prompted an initiative petition to repeal the ordinance from the folks at Repeal 6214, but that’s another story that most readers are familiar with already.

Mike Matthes

Mike Matthes

The interesting piece here is that Skala voted against each of these proposed downtown developments, despite the fact that both of them met current zoning ordinance requirements. Skala seems to have since changed course and is now spearheading support for a separate 5-story development proposal which is apparently more to his tastes.

Mr. Skala, a self-described statist, is obviously throwing a proverbial bone to a “local” developer, but why? He’ll probably claim that he is merely supporting the “type” of development that citizens want. He’ll likely claim that existing infrastructure, infrastructure that we’ve been told is hopelessly maxed out, can handle a new 5-story building.

The reality is that this bone is likely a meaty bone of political expedience. Skala is giving a nod to a local developer, attempting to allow BMT to cut in line ahead of 2000 legal beds that came down the pipe of public permission first. Perhaps this move will help fund Skala’s reelection campaign. At least it will allow him to claim to be pro-development when he is labeled as the opposite due to his voting against other projects.

Keep Columbia Free believes that, in a perfect world, the government would not tinker with the free market. Unfortunately, the world we live in is not perfect and the market is not a free one. What is clear is that in the world we’ve inherited locally the best thing for the council to do is simply level the playing field and let the chips fall where they may. If we need infrastructure, build it instead of spending our money on projects like parking garages, historic homes of unknown musicians, and useless “safety” cameras. It is unacceptable for a councilman to handpick which private developer will profit and which will not, regardless of how that choice might affect his reelection chances.

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