COLUMBIA — A proposal to build a six-story building with 103 student apartments on Conley Avenue near MU won the recommendation of the Columbia Planning and Zoning Commission on Thursday evening.
Commissioners praised the project as an example of smart growth and applauded Collegiate Housing Partners for its innovative parking solutions and its willingness to work with city planners. Although they disagreed about how close the building should be to surrounding streets, a majority in the end decided to follow city staff’s suggestions.
Collegiate Housing Partners is the St. Louis company that wanted to erect an apartment building on property occupied by the Niedermeyer house. Public angst over the potential loss of the Niedermeyer prompted it to find a different property.
The Residences on Conley would line the south side of Conley Avenue between Fourth and Fifth streets. The building would accommodate as many as 354 students and include first-floor parking, 90 bicycle parking spaces and second-floor pool and study decks.
“This would be our most intense development within a planned district in the city of Columbia,” city planner Pat Zenner told the commission.
View Proposed student apartments in a larger map
What is the request?
Collegiate is asking that the city rezone the 1.25-acre tract from R-3, medium-density multi-family housing, to PUD-90, a planned unit development with a density not to exceed 90 dwellings per acre. Collegiate also wants the city to approve its development plan that calls for several variances from city zoning codes, including:
- A variance allowing the building to be 80 feet tall, 35 feet taller than the city normally would allow.
- A variance allowing it to provide only 115 on-site parking spaces, rather than the 249 that normally would be required. Collegiate hopes to have 124 on-site spaces but is not ready to commit to that number.
- A variance eliminating a requirement that its building be set back 25 feet from the property lines, and technically much more given that the building would be so tall. Collegiate wants no setback at the front and sides of the building and a 4-foot setback from its south property line, or the rear of the building. This proved to be a point of disagreement among commissioners.
- A variance to reduce the amount of landscaping required.
What was the pitch?
Attorney Robert Hollis and Collegiate Director of Development Brandt Stiles pitched the project to the Planning and Zoning Commission. Stiles said the proposal is a model for smart growth in the city center. He and Hollis spent much of their time explaining their thoughts about parking and their attempts to accommodate the demand. They noted:
- That the project would include 90 spaces for bicycles.
- That the complex would be so close to MU and to other amenities that most residents would not need cars.
- That there is additional parking available close to the property and that the developer is working on a contract with the city to lease 50 spaces in nearby parking garages.
- That the developer will buy at least 100 passes for the city’s FastCat buses downtown.
- That the apartment complex would establish a shared-car program for residents.
Hollis said at the hearing that student housing is appropriate to the area and that Collegiate has acted in good faith by working with MU and surrounding neighborhood associations.
“They did it right, is what they’ve done so far,” he said.
What did the city staff recommend?
The staff recommended the project be approved, and it offered no resistance to a taller building or less landscaping than codes allow.
Zenner said Collegiate is proposing more on-site parking than other student apartment complexes downtown and that the project offers an opportunity to learn whether less stringent parking requirements might work in the central city if proper strategies are in place. In this scenario, Collegiate would be providing about 70 percent of the parking that normally would be required in an R-3 zone.
The staff differed with Collegiate on setbacks, but not by much, saying it could go along with no setback along Conley Avenue and with 1-foot, 4-foot and 5-foot setbacks on Fourth Street, Fifth Street and the rear of the property, respectively.
“The mass of the building and its placement on the site is of greater concern than its overall height,” the staff wrote in its report to the commission. “The taller structures surrounding the site will allow the proposed construction to blend more naturally into the neighborhood.”
The setbacks also would give the city room to install a mini-roundabout at Conley and Fifth street. The developers say they aren’t convinced a roundabout is a good idea. Further studies of the potential impact on people who walk through the neighborhood will be required before building permits are issued.
What did the public have to say?
Two others spoke during the public hearing. Pat Fowler, an MU employee and north-central Columbia resident, favored the project. She worried about on-street parking in the area, though, and she lamented the idea that Collegiate might buy 100 FastCat passes. FastCat, she said, isn’t working well.
What did commissioners have to say?
Commissioners unanimously praised Collegiate’s plan but asked a lot of questions about its parking strategies. Commissioner Anthony Stanton and others wondered how long some of the alternative parking strategies would last. Stiles said they would remain in place as long as they succeed. Opting out of a contract to lease city garage spaces, he said, would require Collegiate to demonstrate that there is no demand.
Commissioner Andy Lee wasn’t sold on the idea that the parking plans are adequate. The leased spaces and FastCat passes, he predicted, will go away quickly.
“I think parking’s gonna be a huge issue,” he said.
A motion by Commissioner Ray Puri to approve the project and grant Collegiate’s setback requests died on a 4-5 vote. A second motion by Commissioner Ann Peters to approve the staff recommendation passed.
Collegiate’s request is subject to a final vote by the Columbia City Council. Because the Planning and Zoning Commission’s vote was 7-2, it would be slated for the council’s consent agenda and therefore not scheduled for further public discussion.
Planning and Zoning Chairman Doug Wheeler predicted that will change.
“This will now go to the consent agenda,” he said, “but I have no doubt there will be discussion at the council level.”
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