COLUMBIA — Columbia's Planning and Zoning Commission voted unanimously Thursday night to deny recommendation to the Columbia City Council for the rezoning of Regency Trailer Park. Trailer park dwellers remain in limbo, though, waiting for a final vote from the council to decide whether the land will be rezoned for student apartments and if residents will have to leave.
Regency of Missouri Inc., represented by Crockett Engineering Consultants, will have to prove the worth of its plan against the commission's rejection.
Regency residents, students, Grass Roots Organizing representatives and other community members spoke for about an hour and a half on the issue. Afterward, the Planning and Zoning commissioners explained their stances and voted to reject recommendation for rezoning.
The crowd broke into jubilant applause.
"It's a difficult situation — displacing families, kids — and the dynamics of that are very complex," Commissioner Ray Puri said in discussion before the vote. "But as planning commissioners, we are here to look at the zoning.
"I think this development is too dense to be even considered."
People in the audience seemed shocked to hear Puri's statement, and they applauded loudly.
Bill Tillotson, another commissioner, agreed. He also raised questions about the long-term impact of having fewer low-income housing locations. Tillotson suggested the city look at other communities to find solutions to this problem.
"It's not just a Columbia problem," Tillotson said. "It's everywhere."
The crowd applauded again.
Andy Lee, the third commissioner to speak, said he could not support displacing a large number of people, and the applause from the gallery was so loud Commissioner Doug Wheeler interjected to ask for silence.
Wheeler and Steve Reichlin both said they were on the fence about the issue, but the others stated they would not support rezoning.
When the issue came up for a vote, commissioners disagreed over the attached issue of a subdivision called Aspen Heights for the proposed land. The land fell in line with requirements for a subdivision, so members of the city staff informed commissioners they had to either approve it, approve it with conditions or table it for a later date.
The commission moved to approve the subdivision with the condition of a "hammerhead" style turn-around off Playfair Lane for clearing snow.
The subdivision vote did not change the zoning. The City Council will still have to vote on whether or not to zone the property for apartments.
Charlie Vatterott, executive vice-president of development for Aspen Heights, said he was glad that the commission voted to turn the recommendation down rather than table the issue because a delay in the decision would have meant a delay in the time available for tenants to move.
"Aspen Heights will not move anyone out in the dead of winter," Vatterott said after the meeting in response to concerns raised about the 120-day period of notice before eviction, which would have occurred in February.
Vatterott said he and those on behalf of Aspen Heights plan to answer questions raised at the hearing before council and hopefully push the rezoning. He said Aspen Heights plans to help tenants and is looking to talk to other trailer parks in the area about forming a rate-abatement program.
John John, a real estate agent with Boone Realty, said Blue Acres Mobile Home Park has picked up four residents from Regency. During the hearing he spoke in favor of rezoning the land, as he said Columbia needs more student apartments.
Tim Crockett, an engineer from the project, pointed out that the 9.5 unit-per-acre density was much lower than most areas, including nearby student apartment complex The Cottages.
During the hearing, tenants of the trailer park, MU students and others in the community expressed a variety of reasons not to rezone the property, including emotional stories about the inability to move and practical observations on traffic and sewage.
The issue will go before the council Oct. 17, and the council will have final approval or disapproval of the plan.