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Developers' parking garage plans displease Columbia City Council; neighbors ask for considerations

Wednesday, April 18, 2012 | 7:21 p.m. CDT; updated 11:50 a.m. CDT, Thursday, April 19, 2012
An architect's sketch shows the parking garage that is proposed to be built between Walnut and Ash streets to provide parking for two apartment complexes, both under the ownership of Jon and Nathan Odle*. One of the complexes is under construction, and the other is still being proposed.

COLUMBIA — As the Odle brothers prepare to ask the city to rezone land for another student apartment complex on Walnut Street, they are working with neighbors on plans to build a private parking garage for their downtown residents.

Jon and Nathan Odle plan to build a four-story garage with 400 parking spaces and a swimming pool on top. It would have entrances and exits on Walnut and Ash streets.

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The garage would sit behind the 100-unit apartment complex under construction at College Avenue and Walnut Street. Because the land is zoned C-2, central business district, the Odles do not need city permission to build the garage.

But the Odles' decision to build the garage brought harsh criticism Monday from members of the Columbia City Council, including Mayor Bob McDavid and Third Ward Councilman Gary Kespohl. McDavid cited a promise from Craig Van Matre, the developers' lawyer, that the Odles would not deviate from the plan they presented to the city when they sought C-2 zoning for the apartments on the north side of Walnut Street. 

"This project will look exactly like that rendering when it's built," Van Matre said during a Feb. 7, 2011, council meeting. 

On Monday, McDavid said the developers had violated the city's trust.

"I know there are things people can do legally, and I think there are things people can do when they make promises," McDavid said. "I am one of those people, if you make a representation to me, I expect you to follow it."

Kespohl also complained that the Odles' garage would be only a block and a half away from the city garage being built on Short Street.

Van Matre said that the Odles only recently decided to build the garage, after they bought land on the south side of Walnut for another 120-unit apartment complex. 

With the College and Walnut apartments and the Brookside Apartments on Locust Street, the Odles will be housing a total of 1,100 people downtown. Van Matre said city officials have always been concerned about ensuring adequate parking with new developments.

"The idea that people are complaining we’re building a parking garage is absolutely flabbergasting," Van Matre said. "I wasn’t there (Monday) night at City Council, but I can't imagine why someone would say what they did."

Kespohl said Monday that he feared the Short Street garage might be overbuilt if the Odles back out on an agreement to reserve 50 spaces there. Van Matre, however, said they still intend to keep those spaces.

Van Matre met with the North Central Columbia Neighborhood Association on Tuesday to address members' concerns about the garage. He told them, too, that the council's reactions were surprising.

"Imagine our shock and concern," Van Matre said. "Instead of being treated as heroes, we are called liars because we failed to anticipate in February 2011 this land would come up for sale a year later."

The three priorities of the neighborhood association, as summarized by member Mara Aruguete at end of the meeting, are:

  1. Mitigating the increase in traffic and making the area bike friendly.
  2. Decreasing the effects of the apartment complexes on existing storm water problems.
  3. Creating a binding agreement with the developers for the complex on the south side of Walnut.

Biking and traffic

Neighborhood association member Adam Saunders said one of his ideas is to provide covered parking for bicycles in the garage, with access to pressurized air and basic tools to create a bike-friendly parking garage, encouraging students not to drive.

"This is super cheap stuff, but what matters is the thought that goes into it," he said.

Saunders also worried about maintaining the integrity of Ash Street as a bike boulevard. He said he wants to work with the architect to possibly create a second garage entrance for bikes. He said the big concern in terms of increased traffic is congestion on Walnut Street.

Van Matre said his clients hope to reduce the traffic impact by running a shuttle bus between their apartment complexes and campus.

Stormwater

Because of downtown zoning, the Odles are not required to provide stormwater detention.

"The city pipes are aging, and the development will cause greater stress on the existing infrastructure," Aruguete said. She added that many of the neighbors live in small houses and use their basements as living space.

"When water destroys your basement, there goes half of your house," she said. "It’s devastating." 

Van Matre said the parking garage will have less paved area than a surface lot, and there will be more green space, which means more permeable ground. He also noted that stormwater is the city's problem.

"You need to put pressure on the city," he said.

"We are working on it (with the city)," Aruguete said. "We are asking you to eliminate the impact of your development or at least to minimize adding to an already existing problem."  

An enduring plan

The neighborhood association is taking the first steps toward a binding agreement with the developers concerning the parking garage and the apartment complex on the south side of Walnut.

"There were elements of surprise here because of the change of plan," Aruguete said. "We were caught off guard. The building plans expanded; the car numbers doubled."

Van Matre said his clients want to cooperate with the association in exchange for its support for C-2 zoning on property on the south side of Walnut that now is zoned for medium-density apartments. The developers own C-2 property on either side of the land in question. City staff is recommending C-2 zoning be denied.

A public hearing for the rezoning was scheduled for Thursday's meeting of the Planning and Zoning Commission, but Van Matre said his clients planned to ask that it be delayed until May 10, so they can reach an agreement with the neighborhood.

Van Matre will meet with the neighbors again Friday.

Van Matre said in the meeting that while the goal is that the land will be rezoned and developed uniformly, he and his clients don't wish to deal with additional time and cost that C-P, planned business district zoning, requires. 

"We're not going to change the request for zoning to C-P," Van Matre said. "They'd be better off just building what they can."


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Comments

John Schultz April 18, 2012 | 8:07 p.m.

Is Kespohl seriously put out that a private entity dare compete with the city's parking garage?

And I don't get the desire, nay demand, that the bike boulevard be for just bikes. Cars drive on both stretches of the accursed boulevard as it is, regardless of the Odle's new garage.

(Report Comment)
Jenny McDonald April 18, 2012 | 10:31 p.m.

It's "flabbergasting" that people don't want to live next to yet another parking garage?! Are you kidding me? Would you want to see your residential neighborhood and the streets you walked every day hedged in by parking garages and monolithic apartment complexes? Especially when the area had been a buffer of interesting older buildings, green space and stately mature trees? Because that stark change in character is all I can see when I walk through this end of town every day. And it's very depressing.

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith April 19, 2012 | 6:31 a.m.

I've seen something recently that's interesting. A junior college campus with huge grounds and with buildings spaced well apart. Each building or building complex (two or more buildings) has a very large paved parking lot. This is truly a commuter campus! There are no parking garages, although there's certainly space to build them. Typically, if there's a need for students to change buildings during the day the student gets in his/her car and DRIVES to the other building's parking lot. Space between buildings is in grass and trees, and there's even a lake. Some dormitories have recently been added, but few students actually reside on campus.

The junior college is located in snow country, so snow removal in the parking lots and connecting drives would need to be very good.

This is one of the larger public junior colleges in the United States (that is, enrollment).

(Report Comment)
Kevin Gamble April 19, 2012 | 7:31 a.m.

THIS is why we need a city council and P&Z commission that does more than just rubber-stamp whatever comes their way. This project is a blatant violation of what was promised when it was approved. I never liked the sound of it or trusted the developers, and now we're seeing what the city and this neighborhood gets for trusting them: massive concrete blight and 1,000 more cars in what is supposed to be a bike- and pedestrian-friendly downtown.

These Odle projects are going to radically reshape the character of downtown, permanently altering the nature of a significant amount of downtown space. To put this type of junk squarely in the middle of a burgeoning arts district, bike boulevard, and historic neighborhood is an insult to everyone who has worked so hard to make the area what it is now.

And they expected to be received as "heroes"?

Shame on the Odles and everyone who allowed this to happen.

(Report Comment)
John Schultz April 19, 2012 | 7:39 a.m.

Yo Kevin, if I understand the article correctly, the Oldes have bought more land that was not subject to the earlier rezoning and thus they have not gone back on their promise of what the development would look like. That is unless the garage is on the "old" land and not the parcel they just bought. Missourian folks, can you clarify this?

I drive by the development when I take my kids to school and it looks a heck of a lot better than the run-down houses that were in place previously. And the claim that 1000 more cars will be present at that location is incorrect since the 1100 residents that is mentioned in the article includes the first phase being built now and their existing apartments near Quinton's if my geography is correct.

(Report Comment)
Kevin Gamble April 19, 2012 | 7:42 a.m.

@John Schulz, re: "And I don't get the desire, nay demand, that the bike boulevard be for just bikes. Cars drive on both stretches of the accursed boulevard as it is, regardless of the Odle's new garage."

It's very simple. The issue is not, as you claim, whether any car should be allowed on the street. The issue is that adding potentially 1,000 cars to a street that is intended to provide a safe route for bike traffic is not in line with the mission of the boulevard.

And as for "accursed" - a colorful, credibility-undermining term - you obviously don't understand the benefit of the boulevard, either. My family and I use the boulevard on a regular basis, and it makes a huge difference to the dozens of cyclists that use it every day. It's something that the people who want and use the street might not have the clout to create in some libertarian paradise, but it does more good for the real people who live, work, and commute in the neighborhood than this massive, hideous parking garage will.

(Report Comment)
Kevin Gamble April 19, 2012 | 7:52 a.m.

@John, if you're right about the dispersal of the 1,000 cars throughout all of downtown, then that does reduce the claim I made in my previous comment. It's still a violation of the intent of the boulevard, but not as much of one. (The number 1,000 is also colorful, and tempting to use! :)

And if you're right about the issue of old land vs. new, it changes the equation when it comes to the pure legality, but not the violation of intent. This is where I think more is needed than just a basic, low-level enforcement of legalities. The development that will result from all of this is not what was approved originally. It's not what all parties involved said was acceptable.

I'm having a hard time believing that the developers just happened to stumble into more land, and made plans for a significant additional component to the development, right after they passed the "too late to turn back now" point on the residential buildings. I doubt this current plan would have been approved if it had been presented as the original package, and it's hard to avoid the impression of a bait-and-switch.

I see the violation of honor in the agreement and respect for the city and the affected neighborhood as a serious issue. Presumably, not everyone agrees with me.

(Report Comment)
Mark Foecking April 19, 2012 | 8:07 a.m.

Kevin Gamble wrote:

"The development that will result from all of this is not what was approved originally."

Unfortunately, as an avid reader of the Council minutes, I find this happens with some regularity. There is the tradeoff of private property rights with the public good, and I think that has to be determined case-by-case, but I don't think any Council since I came here (1993) has paid near the level of attention to traffic and parking impacts from development that they should.

That bike boulevard was as much about traffic calming as it was bicycles per se. Windsor is the same situation as Alexander or Sanford in that it is a long, straight street without a lot of interruptions. It's now a more difficult street to speed on, and that increases the quality of life on the street.

DK

(Report Comment)
Jaime Williams April 19, 2012 | 8:58 a.m.

@John Shulz: I am the reporter on this piece and to answer your question, the parking garage is going on the "old" parcel of land that was zoned C-2 in 2011. I apologize if that was unclear in the article, please let me know if you have any more questions!

-Jaime Williams

(Report Comment)
Jack Hamm April 19, 2012 | 9:23 a.m.

John:

The garage is planned to be on the "old land", not the new property that they just bought on the south side of Walnut. They most certainty have gone back on their word and this is why the neighborhood is so upset.

If you are not familiar with the neighborhood you should check it out. There are several large and nice community gardens, the bike boulevard, artist studios, and several older homes that have been rehabbed recently and even more on the way. It is very much a family friendly and pedestrian oriented area.

The Odles are putting what is essentially a 400 person MU dorm which was a drastic enough change for the people already living there not to mention the issues involving the sewer system and traffic that we are already concerned about. Now they are adding a massive parking garage and they want this parking garage to empty out onto the Bike Boulevard!

What about the private property rights for people like me? They assured us that this would not happen; that they would not change their plans and they would not destroy our neighborhood. Now I will be staring at a 400 car parking garage when I walk out my front door. What is that going to do to my property value and my neighbor’s property value?

(Report Comment)
John Schultz April 19, 2012 | 9:41 a.m.

Kevin, you may not be familiar with my previous rants on the bike boulevard, but my kids attend the Stephens College Childrens School off Walnut and Melbourne and previously the preschool at Melbourne and Windsor. I would have no problems with the boulevard if it had been designed to accomodate both bikers and cars as was claimed during its earliest proposal. Blocking turns from College onto Windsor means that myself and other parents have to go to Walnut and drive around the Ripley/Windsor/Melbourne block to reach the drop-off/pickup spot or cut through Hinkson/Melbourne across the bike boulevard as I usually do. I think the reported drop in car visits on the bike boulevard is inaccurate since those one block trips are unlikely to be counted, but I haven't had a chance to ask Public Works about that.

(Report Comment)
John Schultz April 19, 2012 | 9:43 a.m.

Mark, I'm not sure the bike boulevard has had much of a traffic calming effect other than to lessen the number of cars on it (that may have been your point). It's narrow enough, especially with oncoming traffic that I would never be tempted to speed on it at least.

(Report Comment)
John Schultz April 19, 2012 | 10:04 a.m.

Jack and Jaime, thank you for the information on the location of the garage. That definitely makes van Matre's argument much less believable.

(Report Comment)
mike mentor April 19, 2012 | 12:37 p.m.

My maps must be all messed up. As far as I know, the land between Walnut and Ash, west of College is downtown ???

(Report Comment)
Kevin Gamble April 19, 2012 | 2:01 p.m.

@John, I can understand your frustration at the inconvenience of the bike boulevard's intersection with College. (I haven't seen your prior rants about it.) I've gotten caught by that on a few occasions, too. I live just a block or two from the two schools you mention, so I also have to accommodate that when planning trips. I've seen so much benefit as a cyclist and pedestrian, though, that my car-related annoyances have not bothered me. It's so immensely easier and safer to cross College now compared to before the restrictions.

I'm not sure what a more convenient drop-off point for the Walnut-Melbourne school would be, but it seems like they really need one. There's not much room there and access is awkward. I wonder if it would be possible to shift some of the parking in front of the school to the other side of Melbourne - stagger it, and put it right next to the crosswalk there (which could be made more prominent)?

I'm not sure how much of the student-housing traffic would cross College, but I imagine the garage resulting in a noticeable increase in traffic density in an area that's already stuggling to be family-friendly.

(Report Comment)
David Sautner April 19, 2012 | 2:19 p.m.

GARAGEZILLA!!! And with a swimming pool on top? Who wants to go swimming on top of another... GARAGEZILLA!!! Getting a tan with the strong smell of car exhaust effervescing with ultraviolet radiation. Cool what fun.

(Report Comment)
frank christian April 19, 2012 | 3:06 p.m.

"Who wants to go swimming on top of another... GARAGEZILLA!!! Getting a tan with the strong smell of car exhaust effervescing with ultraviolet radiation. Cool what fun."

Donno. Building not yet completed, the entire leasing of completed units,reportedly, is. Mebbe ask those folks.

(Report Comment)
John Schultz April 19, 2012 | 3:31 p.m.

Kevin, I don't mind the median itself, just the inability to turn off College. I'm convinced that some design work could have been done to enable both activities (my memory has the council pondering the crossover spot be at the top of the hill between Windsor and Walnut).

Regarding the dropoff location, Stephens recently convinced the city to make all parking on that block of Windsor a 20-minute loading/unloading zone. Unfortunately, I don't think that occurred until partway through the fall semester, so word of that change is still percolating through the renters and/or students in the area. This only applies to the elementary school though as the preschool has the lot (which I think you were referring to) that can get quite backed up at times.

(Report Comment)

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