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.