Columbia Planning and Zoning Commission urges limits to downtown balconies

Friday, May 8, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT; updated 11:48 a.m. CDT, Friday, May 8, 2009

COLUMBIA — The new balcony at Quinton's has raised some questions about whether downtown balconies should be able to extend over the sidewalk.

On Thursday night, the Columbia Planning and Zoning Commission voted to approve proposed revisions to the Columbia City Code pertaining to balconies that encroach into public right-of-ways. These revisions would only apply to the downtown zoning district and will now go to the City Council for approval.

The issue arose in a City Council meeting after Quinton's began construction of a balcony in 2007 that would extend past the face of the building over the sidewalk. In July 2008, the planning commission reported back to the council to recommend the extension of "right-of-use" permit provisions as well as recommending that comprehensive downtown building standards be developed.

Patrick Zenner, city planner, said the revisions were being made to correct "some vaguenesses in the ordinances."

The revisions address three chapters of the city code involving buildings and building regulations, streets, sidewalks and other public places and zoning regulations.

One of the changes would clarify how to obtain a right-of-use permit through a City Council resolution. The change would replace a temporary provision in the code that expired in October. It also "cross-references the building code to provide projection calculations for balconies themselves," Zenner said.

Zenner said the chapter addresses not only how far a balcony can extend from a building face—typically a maximum of four feet—but also how high a balcony needs to be off the ground, or "the finished plane," which is about 15 feet.

Another change would permit balconies to extend over sidewalks, but not over vehicle access points.

"We didn't want to create the problem, potentially, of having something that would block emergency access or other types of public facilities or needs," Zenner said.

The commission's report presented the idea to develop downtown standards for balconies. Zenner said the staff "didn't feel like they were far enough along."

"I think staff has done a good job of linking all the spots in the ordinances together," commission member Vicki Curry said. "I'm glad they'll be there guiding people through it."

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