COLUMBIA — After an hour and fifteen minutes of public input at a hearing on Thursday night, the Columbia Planning and Zoning Commission found itself in a deadlock over a hotly contested overlay plan for central Columbia.
The commission was split in a 4-4 vote over whether to recommend the proposed North Central Columbia Urban Conservation Overlay District to the Columbia City Council for approval.
The overlay district, which members of the North Central Columbia Neighborhood Association have been working on for years, finally reached official draft form in May 2007. It aims to establish standards and guidelines for development and redevelopment in the area as well as to recognize, preserve and enhance the architectural character of the neighborhood. The overlay district would create another layer of zoning regulations for businesses and residents. Those regulations would include the creation of a board that would review the designs of new developments.
"The design review provisions applicable within the District are intended to preserve the area's historic and architectural character and to protect the private property values and public investments in and near the neighborhood," the draft said.
The overlay district, as proposed, also would divide the neighborhood into six sub-areas, each of which would have specific guiding principles as to how buildings within its boundaries should be preserved, renovated or built.
The Planning and Zoning Commission has spent the past several months modifying the overlay district proposal, generally making changes to the prescriptive language. The changes make it more of an advisory document than a binding order.
Though the commission was split on its decision, most of the property owners who testified at last night's hearing opposed the overlay plan.
"What we're doing here is going to be completely cost prohibitive," said Phebe La Mar, who spoke on behalf of the North Central Columbia Business District, which is pending recognition by City Council.
La Mar also noted the way the overlay is written, a possibility exists that City Council could appoint no one from the neighborhood to the Design Review Board, which would conduct all recommendations.
Carol Van Gorp, CEO of Columbia Board of Realtors, said she feels the overlay "is a bad policy and will not accomplish its goals."
Columbia College also joined the ranks of the opposition. "We have to develop a campus to what our needs are, not necessarily what the neighborhoods are," said Bob Hutton, who represented the college.
Not only are the businesses and schools against the overlay but so are residents of the area.
"I haven't heard of anyone talk of the folks like me who are single income people who can just barely afford to live in a house at all," said Annie Pope, who lives in the neighborhood. Annie said the costs would be much too extravagant for many household incomes to handle and that should be taken into consideration.
"People are more important than how the house looks," she said.
Although the majority of speakers at the hearing were against the overlay, three members of the North Central Columbia Neighborhood Association spoke in favor of it.
"Columbia is no longer a sleeping, midwestern college town as it was when I moved here 40 years ago," said Dan Cullimore, vice president of North Central Columbia Neighborhood Association.
Several commission members said nothing new was brought up during last night's discussion, but they voiced several of the concerns common among those who oppose the plan.
"If it's all voluntary, why put people through (the review process)," said commission member Neil Cady. Cady also said that if improvements are already apparent, as the opposition mentioned, there is no need for the overlay.
"If it ain't broke (the District) won't fix it," he said.