Commercial rezoning plans for Great Hang-ups property voted down

Friday, January 8, 2010 | 6:31 p.m. CST

COLUMBIA – The Planning and Zoning Commission narrowly voted Thursday to deny the owners of property at West Broadway and West Boulevard a request to rezone the area for commercial use.

On a 4-3 vote, commission members ultimately sided with more than a dozen neighbors who argued that the future of the property would be uncertain because the owners intend to sell it.

This was the third time the request had been on the commission agenda. 

Property owners Mark Nichols and Patra Mierzwa sought a ruling months ago that would make the corner more attractive to buyers. The two own the Great Hangups framing store and three adjacent houses.

Their neighbors, however, argued that commercializing the corner would be at the expense of the historic neighborhood's livability and integrity.

One by one, neighbors at Thursday's meeting stepped up to the podium to express their fears and concerns.

"We all realized what was at stake here," said Cookie Hagan, spokeswoman for the Sunset Lane Neighborhood Association.

The opponents were armed with a short film, an architectural drawing of the site as commercial property, letters from apprehensive neighbors and a PowerPoint presentation.

The message was clear: They believed commercial development would bring noise, traffic and other undesirable consequences to the neighborhood.

Skip Walther, who represents the owners of Great Hangups, said the owners proposed a number of restrictions in an effort to compromise. 

They suggested adding a right-turn lane on West Broadway, for example, which Walther said would improve the intersection.

They also listed businesses that would not be permitted, including gas stations and liquor stores.

Walther said a small business in the area — a coffee shop or bookstore, for example — would benefit not only nearby residents, but the city as well.

"These structures are only going to continue to deteriorate without being re-developed," Walther said.

The request was tabled twice in the earlier sessions to give the property owners and neighbors time to negotiate. Talks bogged down when the neighborhood association asked for a site plan and the property owners were unable to comply without a buyer.

Ultimately, members of the commission ruled that the current statement of intent for the property's rezoning plans was inadequate.

Commissioner Doug Wheeler said the term "neighborhood compatible" in the petition needed further definition.

The commission's recommendation goes to the City Council. Walther said his clients would make the same request.

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