COLUMBIA — Dozens of business owners and residents in north-central Columbia are asking that the City Council officially recognize them as a neighborhood association, in part, because they want to have a stronger collective voice in opposing a proposed urban conservation overlay district for the area.
The City Council took up a request at its Monday meeting to recognize the group as the North Central Columbia Business District, but it tabled the resolution when it learned that the group would rather be recognized as a neighborhood association.
The organization, which is largely composed of businesses and commercial establishments in the proposed area, requested recognition as a way to have a collective voice about all issues that affect the area, said Phebe La Mar, an attorney who represents many businesses in the area. She said the proposed North Central Columbia Neighborhood Urban Conservation Overlay District, which was drafted in May 2007, was an “inspiring factor.” Many would-be members of the proposed group oppose the overlay district, which would establish relatively strict architectural guidelines and more control over redevelopment and other projects in the area.
The Columbia Planning and Zoning Commission, which has been tweaking the overlay district proposal during a series of work sessions over the past several months, is scheduled to hold a public hearing on the document at its meeting at 7 Thursday in the City Council chambers.
La Mar said the group started working toward creating a new north-central group last fall, then made a formal decision to proceed in late April. Those involved drafted a set of bylaws and held a meeting to elect bylaws on June 13.
The North Central Columbia Business District would be open to everyone within the proposed boundaries, La Mar said; 136 property owners and residents in the area, or about 74 percent, have approved the district, Larry Grossman said at the council meeting. Grossman has been elected vice chairman of the group.
When the council learned of the group’s request to be recognized as a neighborhood group, City Manager Bill Watkins told the council in a written report that it could either pass an amended resolution or table the matter for further discussion.
Allowing the organization to be a neighborhood association instead of a business district would create boundaries that overlap with the North Central Columbia Neighborhood Association. Overlapping is not prohibited, Watkins said, noting that overlapping boundaries have been allowed in the past.
First Ward Councilman Paul Sturtz, however, said that although the council is open to having multiple neighborhood associations, it would be confusing. He likened the situation to Columbia having two city councils.
In the end, the council tabled the resolution to allow more time for interested parties to weigh in.
“I don’t go for last-minute switcheroos,” Sturtz said. “It’s just not fair to anyone.”