COLUMBIA — A rezoning proposal for land at the southeast corner of Bethel Street and Nifong Boulevard has sparked a 148-signature petition from neighbors who oppose the plan, but city officials and the Planning and Zoning Commission believe it's a good idea.
The proposal, which asks that the City Council rezone the 22.5 acres to accommodate plans for senior housing and a mixed commercial development, was filed by Jeffery E. Smith Investment Co. The property now is zoned for multi-family residential and office use. The rezoning request is scheduled for a public hearing and a vote by the council on the Sept. 6.
The Planning and Zoning Commission voted 5-1 in favor of the request after a public hearing on Aug. 4. Although scores of Bedford Walk neighborhood residents signed the petition, none spoke at the hearing.
“I think part of that was a miscommunication,” Anita Bruzzese said, explaining that some of her neighbors were expected to attend but didn't.
Bruzzese and her husband, Len Bruzzese, wrote an email to Fifth Ward Councilwoman Helen Anthony in May explaining some of their concerns with potential development on the corner. The email specifically listed stormwater runoff and traffic as concerns if the corner were developed.
“Since we've lived here we've had problems with traffic and run-0ff,” Anita Bruzzese said. She also said that Columbia as a whole needs to be vigilant about how new development affects property values.
The proposal by Smith, who is represented by attorney Dan Simon, includes a development agreement intended to address the neighbors' concerns. The agreement calls on the developer, at his expense, to build two new public streets designed to improve traffic flow, to install a traffic signal where one of those streets will intersect with Nifong and to build a box culvert along Nifong that would further address stormwater and make it easier for the city to widen Nifong in the future. The box culvert alone would cost an estimated $1.5 million, Simon said at the Aug. 4 hearing.
The developer also would design and build stormwater detention facilities, but the city would pay for those and for sidewalks along the new streets.
Though happy with some of the progress made since the first plans for the area, Len Bruzzese isn't convinced that's enough.
“The water runoff will remain a concern until we see that it is not a concern,” he said.
Bruzzese said he also worries about traffic, especially if an anchor store moves onto the land, given that Gentry Middle School and Rock Bridge High School are both in the immediate area.
The Bruzzeses are not the only Columbia residents who have contacted city officials about the planned development. Melissa Cruit wrote a letter to Mayor Bob McDavid, which was received on July 1, describing problems with traffic. Cruit noted that traffic from Gentry Middle School extends throughout the school zone, which includes areas near the corner in question.
The land in question is currently zoned as R-1, single-family residential; R-2, two-family residential; R-3, medium-density, multiple-family residential; and O-1, office. Smith wants to rezone 5.5 acres as PUD-17, which is a "planned unit development" with a density that cannot exceed 17 dwellings per acre.
He wants the other 17 acres to be zoned C-P, or planned commercial use. He has split the area targeted for commercial use into three tracts:
- Area A, the closest to a residential area, would prohibit many uses, including package liquor stores; bars or other businesses that focus on alcohol sales (except specialty wine shops or similar businesses); restaurants with drive-thrus; convenience stores; service stations; payday loan businesses; adult establishments; lumber yards; and car washes.
- Area B would prohibit the same businesses as area A but would specifically permit hospitals and medical or dental clinics.
- Area C would have the same restrictions but would permit drive-thrus; hospitals for small animals; hotels or motels; mortuaries; pet stores and grooming shops for small animals; rental services; hardware stores and home improvement stores; and outdoor sales and displays of plants and similar items by grocery stores or other retail businesses.
Current zoning would allow Smith or another owner to build more than 300 apartments on the land and would not require approval from the city. Simon said Smith had been approached by people who want to buy his property and build student apartments.
“We would submit that this is actually a request to downzone this property,” Simon said at the Aug. 4 hearing.
With the rezoning, Smith could build 93 units of multi-family housing. He has developed senior housing elsewhere in Columbia.
“Now, Mr. Smith and his companies are proud Columbia residents. They don’t come here hat in hand. They come here with their wallets and their checkbooks,” Simon said in reference to the development agreement.
The development agreement, a city staff report, minutes of the Planning and Zoning Commission's hearing on the request and other related documents are available online.