COLUMBIA — In light of the permit requested to raze the Niedermeyer Apartments, Sixth Ward Councilwoman Barbara Hoppe is calling for a six-month abeyance on demolition permit requests in Columbia's Downtown Community Improvement District.
Hoppe introduced the abeyance at Monday's City Council meeting. A final vote is scheduled for Jan. 7, 2013.
Hoppe said that delaying requests to raze property would allow the city boards and commissions a chance to review the city's zoning code. She said the recent influx of student apartments prompted her to rethink the city's role in development downtown.
"Right now, anything could be demolished," Hoppe said. "Without sufficient measures and protections in place, our downtown and most historic buildings are in danger of being eradicated."
A St. Louis-based development firm, Collegiate Housing Partners, is in line to buy the Niedermeyer and has expressed a desire to build a student apartment complex on the site.
Although no official application for building construction has been submitted to the city, the developers have asked technical questions about constructing an apartment building between six to 15 stories high, Patrick Zenner, the city's development services manager, said. By comparison, The Tiger Hotel is nine stories tall.
Second Ward Councilman Michael Trapp said an abeyance would give the city time to look at options.
"Does the city have any property downtown that it could swap with the Niedermeyer?" Trapp said. "I hate to penalize developers who acted within the law, but it's our oldest building in town."
Trapp said this problem should never have been allowed. "A historic preservation ordinance with teeth," he said, would help protect the city's oldest properties amidst the boom in downtown student housing.
Hoppe's motion also called for the Downtown Leadership Council, the Planning and Zoning Commission and the Downtown Community Improvement District Board to hold a "stakeholders" meeting. She asked them to draft ordinance revision recommendations regarding zoning code and send them to the council before the temporary abeyance ends on June 18, 2013.
The Niedermeyer apartments fall in a type of zoning common in Columbia's Downtown Community Improvement District. That type of zoning, C-2, requires no maximum height restrictions or parking requirements.
Hoppe said that C-2 zoning was not intended for residential development when it was established.
"I don't want to dissolve the zoning altogether," she said, "But the city really has little control over C-2. I just want some parameters placed on it."
For a demolition permit, the city requires that property owners shut off utilities, pay a $2,ooo bond and provide notice to adjoining properties of intent to demolish a building at least one week before work begins.
Zenner said that if a property owner legally submits a demolition application and it's deemed complete, "there is nothing in code right now that can stop someone from tearing the property down."
The demolition permit could go unsigned until this summer, however.
Zenner said that Tim Teddy, director of the city's community development, would not sign off on the demolition permit until all three requirements were met.
The developers have indicated that they would honor the current tenants' leases expiring in June or July, according to a letter tenants received in November from Callahan & Galloway Inc., which manages the apartment.
On Monday night, the council also introduced an ordinance that would extend the Historic Preservation Commission's opportunity to review demolition permits to no more than 30 calendar days and cause such permits to expire if they're unused after six months.
Although the ordinance would not retroactively apply to the Niedermeyer permit, Zenner said the ordinance would give the Historic Preservation Commission more time to review properties. Current law gives the commission 10 days to review a property more than 50-years-old before the city issues a demolition permit.
Built in 1837, the Niedermeyer started off as an all-girls one-room schoolhouse and was renovated into a prominent hotel. It now offers mostly studio apartments.
Local legend maintains that Mark Twain once visited and gave a speech at the building in 1902, when it was the Gordon Hotel. The famous Missouri author was in Columbia receiving his honorary doctorate of law from MU.
"The building represents a value statement from the community," Brian Treece, chairman of Columbia's Historic Preservation Commission, said in an interview over the weekend. "Are we going to value the history of our city or 'pie-in-the-sky' future real estate?"
John Farmer de la Torre contributed to this report.
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