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.
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:
- Mitigating the increase in traffic and making the area bike friendly.
- Decreasing the effects of the apartment complexes on existing storm water problems.
- 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.
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."