COLUMBIA — At the corner of Paris Road and Business Loop 70, a single-story brown building hides behind a spray of shrubs. A sign identifies it as Dino's Steakhouse & Family Restaurant, but its smudgy windows and shadowy interior show it has long been abandoned.
The former restaurant is part of the Hathman Village Shopping Center property, but it is a pariah, separated from the other businesses by 250 feet of asphalt.
City officials worry that the stormwater ordinance passed at the Columbia City Council meeting Tuesday would make it difficult for property owners to redevelop abandoned buildings such as Dino's Steakhouse. That's why council members have called for an amendment to the ordinance to correct the perceived error.
Under the ordinance, a property that has been subdivided would be ineligible for redevelopment status and its exemption from costly storm water regulations. This provision is intended "to prevent land being subdivided to circumvent the storm water rules," according to a document from the Public Works department.
"Stormwater regulations aren't as stringent (for redevelopment projects)," Third Ward Councilman Gary Kespohl said.
At the council meeting Tuesday, Public Works Director John Glascock used Hathman Village as an example of a property whose redevelopment would be hampered by the ordinance.
To subdivide the vacant Dino's from the rest of the 2.9-acre shopping mall would require full development costs, Glascock said.
"To me, this is redevelopment," Glascock said, pointing at a projected map during the meeting and noting the gray square of Dino's roof amidst the darker gray of the surrounding parking lot.
Mayor Bob McDavid and council members asked for an amendment to classify such projects as redevelopment.
"I'm surprised that this has not been solved," McDavid said at the council meeting. He singled out Business Loop 70 as an area that would benefit from the amendment.
"If you're looking for blight in this town, you'll find it on Business 70," McDavid said. "I don't want us to paint ourselves into a corner where it's too expensive to do something with those asphalt parking lots."
Glascock said he could prepare the amendment within a month.
The stormwater ordinance approved Tuesday changes the criteria for redevelopment projects. To classify as redevelopment, a property must have at least 12 percent of its surface covered by an "impervious substance," such as pavement, and must not have been subdivided after Sept. 4. Previously, projects were called redevelopment if their cost was at least half the value of the existing structure.
Public Works Department spokesman Steven Sapp said the intent of the ordinance was to make redevelopment easier.
The Storm Water Advisory Commission, which collaborated with Public Works on the ordinance, opposed a provision excluding subdivisions from redevelopment status. The commission feared that would disqualify worthwhile projects. A Feb. 14, 2012 draft of the stormwater ordinance sent from the commission to City Manager Mike Matthes did not include that provision.
Several city council members expressed their support for the amendment.
"If we don't do something about this, those sites will never be developed because it's going to be way too expensive," Kespohl said at the meeting. "They'll always be something like a Payday Loan place or a nightclub or something."
In a phone interview, Kespohl pointed to downtown Columbia as another area that could be hurt by the exemption of subdivisions from redevelopment status.
"It's almost 100 percent impervious in downtown Columbia," Kespohl said.
At the Tuesday meeting, Glascock mentioned the Fifth Street parking lot across from Flat Branch Pub & Brewing as a potential redevelopment site.
Sixth Ward Councilwoman Barbara Hoppe expressed support for the amendment but also cautioned against relaxing storm water regulations too much.
"While we want to see redevelopment on 70, we don't want to sacrifice needed storm water control, and there are other ways to incentivize redevelopment in the area," Hoppe said.
At its meeting Tuesday, the City Council also considered eliminating the Storm Water Advisory Commission because it had fulfilled its role in helping compose the stormwater ordinance. The council decided to keep the group intact until it had considered this amendment, however.
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