COLUMBIA — Developer Amir Ziv has been sitting on his undeveloped double lot for nearly six months now.
“I just want to break ground,” Ziv said.
Ziv’s goal is to build three cottage-style homes on the 110-by-69-foot lot at 315 Ridgeway Ave. in the First Ward. He has faced opposition to the project since he first had it rezoned in September to allow multiple cottages on the property. In order to do that, though, he had to subdivide the property, which caused several city requirements to kick in. Cottage-style homes are small, affordable and often sought by first-time home buyers.
“Basically, because they have me in this subdivision box, I have to go according to subdivision ordinances. … They’re lumping me in with subdivisions with 30, 40, 50 homes,” Ziv said.
Because of this zoning status, city ordinances require Ziv to install 8-inch sewer lines and a manhole on his property. He also has to take steps to control storm-water runoff. These installations could cost an additional $15,000, Ziv said. That's money he says he doesn't have, so he has asked the city to step in and help finance the project.
A report presented at the Feb. 10 Columbia City Council meeting by Planning and Development Director Tim Teddy recommended the city proceed with caution in waiving any ordinances for the Ridgeway development and said Ziv should pursue Community Development Block Grant money if his schedule would allow. Teddy also suggested that in the long term, the city should consider creating special cottage ordinances for similar developments in the future.
“I’m not asking for freebies," Ziv said. "I’m asking that if (the city) wants it, then (they) pay the difference.”
Ziv hopes the council will agree to give him money without forcing him to apply for a grant.
“I don’t want grant money because it takes a lot of time, it takes a lot of ties to the city and it may not even happen in 2009,” Ziv said. “What I want (the City Council) to do is get money from wherever, discretionary money, and pay all the extra stuff.”
Ziv met privately with Mayor Darwin Hindman on Wednesday to discuss the issue after a request to the mayor.
“It was very constructive,” Ziv said. “We plan on meeting again with people like Jeff MacClellan (former chair of the Affordable Housing Policy Committee), Tim Teddy, (City Manager) Bill Watkins and (Public Works Director) John Glascock to hash this over.”
Hindman would not say when the next meeting would take place or who would attend. But he did say Wednesday's meeting was "very satisfactory." He also said he would be willing to make Ziv's development a "demonstration project" and to look into the CDBG money as well as city discretionary money, though he's "not sure that's the only solution."
"I'm a big supporter of the recommendation from the Affordable Housing Report and cottage development," Hindman said. "And in that particular neighborhood, there are lots that are not suitable for single-family dwellings."
Hindman said he likes Ziv's project because of its location in the "heart of the city" and because of the amenities and infrastructure it would make available to residents. He said the Ridgeway area is one of the most affordable places to live in the city.
Ziv said the situation presents a dilemma.
"It's difficult because (the city's) argument is that the ordinance protects city builders, and then I don't want the ordinances. So it's an interesting balance," Ziv said.
Creating that balance could take time, time that continues to cost Ziv money.
"It seems like there's a big disconnect. City Council votes unanimously, and it's supposed to be our strongest body, but no action is taken. That's the sad thing," said Ziv, who was hoping the houses would be on the market in the spring.
First Ward Councilman Paul Sturtz said the council "is universally supportive" of the cottage development.
"But we're dealing with codes on the book," Sturtz said. "And we can't unilaterally change the codes without setting a precedent. ... I know Ziv's frustrated with the slowed pace, but it can't be changed overnight, and we can't bend the rules every which way for those who are connected."
Ziv also said the concern about setting a precedent is "ridiculous."
"It's not like people are going to be like 'You let Amir do it, then why don't you let me do it?' (I'm) the first one, (I've) fought hard for it and wasted a lot of time and money on it, and so we are not setting a precedent," Ziv said.
In the end, Ziv remained optimistic about his meeting with Hindman.
"I hope that we can come out with a simple alternative giving me money," Ziv said. "So they give me money, keep it within $15,000, and when it comes to four specific things — the sewer, the water, the sight plans and the storm water — I'll submit receipts and they can pick up the balance of the stuff that they are requiring from me."
According to the Affordable Housing Policy Committee's 2008 report, cottage developments are an increasing trend in cities across the country, but this is would be one of the first developments of its type in Columbia.
"This is a one-shot deal, social experiment. Let (me) build it the way (I) want it, and let's see. You know, I've tried to figure out what the worst-case scenario would be. And I don't see any worst-case scenario," Ziv said.