Columbia City Council approves rezoning for apartments at College, Walnut

Monday, February 7, 2011 | 11:22 p.m. CST; updated 3:49 p.m. CST, Wednesday, February 9, 2011
This new development won a rezoning request before the Columbia City Council on Monday. The development would rise four stories on the corner of Walnut Street and College Avenue and is anticipated to bring an additional 300 tenants downtown. The rezoning permits retail space at the ground level.

COLUMBIA — Development can now move forward on an apartment complex and parking after approval at Monday night's Columbia City Council meeting. 

What happened: The council unanimously approved a request to rezone a 2.5-acre area west of College Avenue from residential (R-3) to commercial (C-2).

The request: Nathan and Jonathan Odle of College and Walnut LLC have requested to rezone land west of College Avenue between Walnut and Ash streets from residential to commercial. C-2, or central business district, zoning will allow for the construction of more apartments and a ground-level retail space.

The building will consist of 100 apartments and 5,000 square feet of commercial space, with 200 parking spaces, said the developer’s attorney, Craig Van Matre. The land is now home to four houses and a parking lot.

Rezoning the property allows the developer to build about twice as many apartments than if the property remained as a residential district. Commercial zoning would also allow retail use, which is not permitted under residential zoning

What is planned commercial?: The opposition argued that C-P, or planned commercial, zoning would be better than central business district zoning because planned commercial gives the City Council more control over how a property is used. Under central business district zoning, the developer may build anything that complies with regulations without council approval.

Van Matre said complying with planned commercial requirements would take at least an additional six months, delaying the developers from profiting from their investment.

Before Monday night: The Planning and Zoning Commission recommended at a Jan. 6 meeting that the council deny the request. That vote was 4-3 with one abstention and followed the Planning and Developing Department staff's recommendation for approval.

Comments from the public: In addition to Van Matre and Nathan Odle, about 15 members of the public spoke at Monday's meeting.

  • Supporters said that the Odles have a strong record and that the development would improve the downtown area by encouraging more people to live downtown.
  • Those in opposition expressed concern that the apartments would attract mostly students instead of permanent residents, and that the development could cause traffic and parking problems.

Columbia resident Glenn Rice said he had no problems with the developers' plan, but he asked for planned commercial zoning to address parking and traffic issues that might come up.

Columbia resident and downtown business owner Mark Timberlake supported the open commercial zoning and said any parking or traffic issues that might come up could be later addressed by the city.

"It's quite natural C-2 zoning would grow in the downtown area," Timberlake said. "Personally, I think it's a sign of health."

The property falls within the North Central Columbia Neighborhood Association, which drafted a resolution in opposition of the rezoning request.

The resolution recommended later approval of planned commercial zoning instead, but only after city plans, including the Comprehensive Plan and Gateway Strategy Planning process, were completed and adopted. The resolution called potential approval of the request to be “premature, speculative and unwise” at this time.

Council discussion: Although some council members said the plan was not ideal, in the end all voiced their support for the rezoning request.

First Ward Councilman Paul Sturtz said he struggled to make a decision. He said he supported the project because it would double the number of people living downtown, which would encourage grocery businesses to move in to the downtown "food desert."

"Trader Joe's is not going to want to locate downtown until there are thousands of people down there," Sturtz said.

Other council members said they did not have time to wait for comprehensive downtown planning report to be implemented, as the North Central Columbia Neighborhood Association advised.

After the meeting, North Central Columbia Neighborhood Association President John G. Clark said he was disappointed with the vote and viewed it as a "lost opportunity," speaking for himself and not on behalf of his neighborhood association.

What’s next: Construction is scheduled to begin this spring and finish by August 2012, Van Matre said. 

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Jack Hamm February 8, 2011 | 12:06 p.m.

This is going to end up just like their apartments on Tenth and Locust; apartments full of college kids that will have the place run down inside of ten years. The place will be littered with beer bottle and cigarette butts 8 months of the year and will be a ghost town the other 4 months.

The city council needs to get real about development downtown instead of just trying to help some developers make a quick buck on crappy apartment complexes for college kids of which there are already too many in Columbia.

The district needs residents who LIVE there year round, pay taxes, shop there, and are involved in their community. Sturtz is right; the District needs real stores like a grocery store; none of which will come until there is enough residents who live there year round and have disposable income that they spend places other than bars and liquor stores.

(Report Comment)
Mark Foecking February 8, 2011 | 12:45 p.m.

"The place will be littered with beer bottle and cigarette butts 8 months of the year"

So what? If it weren't for students, Columbia would be a ghost town year round. We take the good with the bad.

Now, management at some apartments specifically forbids students, but I'm don't think that's anyone else's call to make but management.

"The district needs residents who LIVE there year round, pay taxes, shop there, and are involved in their community"

And in a college town, where many of the people that you describe don't want to put up with noise and vandalism, they're just going to live somewhere farther from campus (or its "party zone", i. e. the District). It's pretty much a given that any land near campus is going to be prime land for student housing. This is a big reason why downtown has the mix of businesses it has.

It's awful hard to make something into something it doesn't want to be.


(Report Comment)
Jack Hamm February 8, 2011 | 1:07 p.m.

@ DK

I have heard your argument before and it is a load of BS. It may have been true 30 years ago but not anymore. There is a lot more to Columbia these days than the Universities; Columbia is home to many large employers and is still growing. It is not about making something that it does not want to be; it is about being honest about what we really are. The city needs to get real about a plan that involves more than college kids and land developers; they should have started by listening to the people who live in the area who opposed the rezoning request. There is an area of balance that needs to be reached; currently we are leaning heavily in one direction.

The land nearest to the University is also the most expensive. College students are not the ones with the income that enables them to live in an area like that without tradeoffs (poorly built buildings, crappy infrastructure etc).

Businesses are never going to move downtown until they have customers who will buy their products. College kids do not have much disposable income as it is and what they do have ends up in bars not stores. The city council should not be focused on helping people who come here for 4 years; that is the Universities job. They serve the people who live here and pay taxes here and they need to be reminded of that.

“Now, management at some apartments specifically forbids students, but I'm don't think that's anyone else's call to make but management.”

With the Odle brothers it is the other way around. Look at their Tenth & Locust apartments. They rent by the room and if you want to get the whole thing it would be 3K per month. What family is going to move in there? What young professional rents by the room? They are purposefully designed to go only to students who will trash the place so that the realtors get to keep the deposits and profit more. The buildings are of very poor quality and with the way they are treated they will be run down in the next ten years and will just be another crappy building downtown.

Last, how much student housing do we need? There are vacant apartments, townhomes and duplexes all over Columbia because developers have built far too much housing that only students would ever live in. If all the working people move out of the city to get away from the college kids who is going to be paying taxes to support the city? The city needs more tax payers not more people using city services without paying into the coffers.

(Report Comment)
Jimmy Bearfield February 8, 2011 | 1:49 p.m.

"There is a lot more to Columbia these days than the Universities; Columbia is home to many large employers and is still growing."

MU is still the largest employer by a wide margin: In fact, even if you don't include MU hospital employees, MU still employs more than CPS, Boone Hospital. MBS, the city and the VA combined. Meanwhile, large employers such as Square D and 3M have spent the past decade shedding jobs.

This is still very much a company town.

(Report Comment)
Glenn Rice February 11, 2011 | 10:41 a.m.

Jack Hamm: Although I agree with almost all of your thoughts above, I want to correct (or perhaps nuance) one comment. Generally the neighbors don't oppose larger, high-density residential at this location. The main thrust of opposition was to the "open" zoning requested. This is a sensitive area that struggles already with traffic, noise, shifting ownership, etc. When you drop a large apartment building in the middle of it, you need to do it with care, thought, consideration. Simply trusting the developers to do what they say they'll do isn't good enough here. As you correctly noted, the 10th and Locust development points out the problems with open zoning, where there's no guarantee that a developer will honor their promises.

As I stated at the Council meeting, this is not a criticism of the Odles' intentions. I (cautiously) believe they intend to build what's pictured in the rendering. But what if the market suddenly changes? What if a lender won't finance an apartment building, but would rather finance a gas station, car wash or convenience store? These uses are now allowed under the C-2 zoning approved by Council on Monday.

Note that under the old R-3 zoning, the applicants could build at most around 40 residential units in that space. Now they can build 100 residential units and toss in some commercial as well. Let's not ignore the profit motive here.

One more comment that will possibly get me in trouble: I've lost all respect for Nick Peckham. He presented himself at City Council as a former chair of the Downtown Leadership Council (the group that coordinated the recent downtown planning charrette) while downplaying his intimate involvement in this project as its architect. Any mention of the DLC by Peckham is seriously unethical.

(Report Comment)
Jack Hamm February 11, 2011 | 12:22 p.m.

@ Glenn Rice

Maybe we are talking to different people. I live right next to the proposed apartments on St Joseph Street and all the neighbors I have talked to are adamantly against it. I agree that most of us want high density development downtown. What we do not want is a MU dorm 100 feet from our front doors. Do not kid yourself; this building is nothing more than a dorm with no supervision and students who are of age to drink.

The biggest problem a lot of people are complaining about is the way the Odles structure their rentals; they structure things in a way that only students will be able to live in the building. Most of us want development downtown and we want more people living there. We understand that this comes with more traffic and noise which is not something that is new to us. From this area you can also here live music being played at Mojos, traffic from the bus station and fire house etc. There is a large amount of concern about 400 students moving onto the block, overloading the already insufficient sewer systems and adding traffic to one of the most congested intersections in the city. This is not going to benefit the surrounding community very much as these students do not pay taxes, do not shop in local stores (other than bars) and do not actively engage in the community while simultaneously using infrastructure that is already overused.

Having a building that would house both students and professional adults would be a different situation. The city would benefit as would the students and local community. Having working professionals living in the building will help to keep young students in line. What we are getting instead is essentially a MU dorm in the heart of downtown.

I never ignore the profit motive; I am a firm believer in capitalism. However, there are external costs that are not being considered. As I mentioned above the sewer system in the area and parking are already insufficient to handle the demand. Who is going to pay for the infrastructure investment that will be necessary? The Odles? No. The tax payers who already live there will end up with the bill or devastated infrastructure. The city (Chamber of Commerce) is allowing the Odles to make profit while pushing the cost on to the local residents. The Odles want to build a 400 person apartment complex? Fine, they should have to make the investments into the infrastructure (sewers, parking, streets) etc that will be necessary instead of burdening the locals with them.

(Report Comment)

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