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RAILING AGAINST A TRAIL: IBM giveaway divides neighbors, ruffles City Council

Corporate handout proves divisive and problematic
 
COLUMBIA, 10/16/12 (Beat Byte) -- A $1.4 million trail that erupted in controversy over an eminent domain threat has left residents in Columbia's East Pointe and Bluff Creek neighborhoods divided and Columbia City Council members concerned about a broken promise to Big Blue.
 
Though little reported, the proposed Grindstone Creek Trail -- between Maguire Blvd. near the IBM facility and the city's Hinkson Creek trailhead -- was part of a secretly-negotiated incentive package Columbia city leaders offered IBM to open a facility at the Lemone Industrial Park in 2010.

It was also part of a park sales tax Columbia voters approved the same year, with no information about how much of the tax would go toward the IBM package, worth nearly $40 million.

"The city promised IBM that the Grindstone trail would be built. So there's a commitment there," First Ward Councilman Fred Schmidt emailed representatives of the East Pointe Neighborhood Association Oct. 9.

But given neighborhood opposition, Columbia Mayor Bob McDavid and other Council members have suggested scrapping the trail in favor of an alternative route, from Shepard Blvd. at Old 63 to Rollins.
 
"Promises should not be broken, at least not lightly," Mr. Schmidt continued, highlighting the dilemma city leaders now face. "Harry Truman had a brilliant technique -- he would go to the person he promised, and ask to be released from his promise. I think this is what the Mayor is up to."
 
If the promise is broken, trail supporters like Bluff Pointe Drive resident Dan Harder believe Columbia's integrity is on the line. Never mind all the benefits trails represent -- from increased property values to better health. Harder believes killing the Grindstone Trail will make city leaders look like used car salesmen.
 
"City planners promised IBM a trail extension to McGuire Blvd., and did an exhaustive study on it which I am sure cost tons of money," Harder told the Heart Beat. "Don't you think this will set a precedent that city leaders will look like they will say anything to get big companies to relocate here?"
 
Councilman Schmidt seems to share that concern.
 
"I think that Mayor McDavid is thinking that IBM will like the Rollins-Shepard connection and be willing to accept the change," he emailed Harder and other neighbors, filling in for their Council member, Barbara Hoppe. "At any rate, I sure HOPE he's planning to consult with IBM," Mr. Schmidt wrote, explaining the benefits of the altered route. "I hope Bob checks with them. They'll want to be listened to."
 
But if the Mayor doesn't get IBM's consent to break the promise, "Do you think this will affect future companies from choosing Columbia?" Dan Harder asks.
 
Who cares if it does? says fellow neighbor and East Pointe resident James Baker, whose property is on the trail route -- and in the path of eminent domain city parks planners have threatened to use for necessary easements.

"I certainly did not offer my land to attract IBM," Baker told the Heart Beat. "The city has the right (with constituent approval) to give away tax dollars, give away city property, and any other perks they can get away with. But it does not have the right to promise ours and other neighbors' private backyards."


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