It’s a case of economic development versus neighborhood tranquility along St. Mary’s Avenue in Hannibal. The issue resulted in large crowd filling city council chambers Tuesday night. Over a dozen speakers resulted in the half-hour Public Hearing stretching to nearly an hour and a half.

Brian Grassa of Cedarwood Development led off the hearing, unveiling a map of the proposed project involving a strip of land between St. Mary’s Avenue and US 61, across from the Steamboat Bend Shopping Center. The development would see a fast-food restaurant, a multi-tenant retail center, and a sit-down restaurant constructed on the site. Grassa says several “national name” chains are interested in the location because of the high traffic count, and he feels it would be a good fit for the neighborhood.  He added approximately 75 full and part-time jobs could result from the development.

However, the question of which comes first, rezoning or a traffic study, was brought up by a resident of the St. Mary’s Avenue area. Terry Hull lives directly across the street from the proposed development. Hull stated he was speaking on behalf of several residents in the area.  Hull stated the current residential zoning was established for a reason. He also cited concerns over increased traffic further snarling what is already a congested area at times. Hull also expressed concern that surrounding residential property values would drop considerably. He asked the council to delay the First Reading of the zoning bill until more details are known. Hull stated the area should not be rezoned from Residential to Highway Business until a traffic study is completed. He also suggested the council consider rezoning to Class C Commercial, giving the city more control over what type of businesses could locate there.  Hull is a former Hannibal city councilman.

Grassa countered that the developers would not spend the time and money for a traffic study unless the rezoning was in place.  He also said a portion of the site is already zoned Highway Business.

A number of Hannibal business and community leaders spoke in favor of the project.  Several had ties to the Chamber of Commerce.  Paul Ewert, administrator of Beth Haven Nursing Home, said the project would greatly improve what is a "slowly deteriorating corner". He also said he has conducted what he called his own "personal traffic study" of the area.  Ewert stated he drives by the area 5 to 6 days a week on his way to work.  He stressed with a little patience, the traffic is manageable.  Current Chamber President Michael Holliday said he was born and raised in Hannibal, and he came back to work and raise a family here.  Holliday said if people have to debate whether this project is good for Hannibal, then this is not the town he thought he was coming back to.

Representatives of the Northeast Missouri Economic Development Council, George Walley and Bob Stevenson, also spoke in favor of the project.  Stevenson told the crowd, "You either grow, or you die".  Stevenson is also the General Manager of the Hannibal Board of Public Works.  He cited the decrease in electrical usage in the city as one barometer of declining economic activity.

During the regular council session, the rezoning bill was given a First Reading.  In order for the bill to be passed, a Second and Final Reading must pass by a 3/4 majority of the council.  This is because a protest petition filed by residents in the affected area was deemed legally valid.   More than one "No" vote at the next council meeting would mean the project goes back to the drawing board.  That  vote is scheduled for January 19.