Downtown demolition moratorium defeated in 3-3 City Council vote

Tuesday, January 22, 2013 | 11:14 p.m. CST; updated 5:25 p.m. CST, Wednesday, February 20, 2013

COLUMBIA — The proposed moratorium on downtown demolitions has failed — for now. 

Absent former Fifth Ward Councilwoman Helen Anthony, whose recently vacated seat will be filled in a Feb. 5 election, the council voted 3-3 on a six-month moratorium on new downtown demolition permits. Mayor Bob McDavid, Third Ward Councilman Gary Kespohl and Fourth Ward Councilman Daryl Dudley cast the opposing votes. 

In the event of a tie, City Attorney Fred Boeckmann said, the measure is defeated. The moratorium, which was introduced after an application to demolish the Niedermeyer building was filed in December, can later be reintroduced, with the support of four council members.

Members of the public filed before the council for more than an hour ahead of its decision, many illustrating what McDavid called "different prisms" through which the moratorium could be viewed. 

Downtown Community Improvement District Director Carrie Gartner pointed to a similar moratorium in 2003, when city staff and advisory boards made little progress toward the intended goal of reviewing surface parking downtown. Instead, she argued, the move did little more than antagonize "key (property) owners."

Alternatively, Bryan Treece, chairman of the Historic Preservation Committee, called for an immediate pause of downtown development pending the closure of the residential zoning "C-2 loophole," lest someone "tries to drive a 15-story truck through." 

Sixth Ward Councilwoman Barbara Hoppe summarized the designation's permissiveness as "anything goes." C-2 has no associated parking, setback or building height requirements. Excepting industrial development, its use restrictions are equally broad.

Council members acknowledged the existing zoning issue but expressed different priorities in remedying it.

McDavid said although he voted against the moratorium, he's committed to saving the Niedermeyer building.

"Let's solve the problem but not get sued in the process," McDavid said in reference to the threat of litigation from the building's owner and its potential buyer, Collegiate Housing Partners.

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Tracy Greever-Rice January 23, 2013 | 8:15 a.m.

Any aggrieved party can sue. If the city chooses to selectively apply its zoning code in a manner that privileges a few, eventually the city will get a chance to pay for that inequity too.

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