COLUMBIA — Developers building residential housing downtown have fewer restrictions than those building residential housing in other parts of the city — they must only prove their building plan meets building codes before beginning construction.
That's about to change.
SUGGESTIONS FOR DOWNTOWN DEVELOPMENT
Six groups have weighed in with recommendations for new downtown development rules. Here's a rundown of their suggestions:
Downtown Columbia Leadership Council
- Require downtown buildings to be built directly to the sidewalk.
- Impose a height maximum of five floors on Walnut Street, eight floors on Broadway and 10 floors on Elm Street.
Downtown Community Improvement District
- Impose a flexible 10-floor height maximum on buildings downtown.
- Offer a bonus number of floors to residential buildings that put a business on the first floor or build space for parking inside the building.
East Campus Neighborhood Association
- Prohibit building any more four-bedroom apartments in residential buildings downtown that contain more than 17 housing units per acre.
- Freeze issuance of any new downtown residential permits for six months
Historic Preservation Commission
- Make buildings 50 or more years old exempt from new zoning regulations.
- Appoint a specific board of experts to review whether to give permission to new buildings downtown.
North Central Columbia Neighborhood Association
- Impose a four-floor limit on downtown residential buildings, but add incentive conditions to provide bonus floors.
- Prohibit first-floor residential usage in downtown buildings.
Planning and Zoning Commission
- Require new residential buildings to provide enough parking for a designated percentage of residents.
- Permit increases in building height as an incentive for providing more than the required amount of parking spaces.
The Columbia City Council earlier this month set aside a temporary set of new rules for downtown in favor of getting input from a consultant.
Downtown zoning rules will now be addressed along with a larger zoning update for the entire city with the help of a consulting firm. Pat Zenner of the city Planning Department said a consultant should be hired in early October for about $150,000 and take 18 to 24 months to finish.
Development rules for downtown Columbia will have a prominent place on the winning consultant's to-do list.
The temporary measure set aside by the council was the first step to setting limits on the number of units along with requirements for open space and height on future buildings with more than 17 units per acre. The rule change didn't suggest specific requirements for those limitations but included letters from six groups offering suggestions for future downtown rules.
Community Development Director Tim Teddy said his office, which prepared the temporary rule change proposal, is "completely on board" with waiting for a complete zoning overhaul instead of a temporary change.
"We're nervous about doing an ad hoc Band-Aid type amendment," Teddy said.
Teddy said the uptick in downtown development raised the city's awareness of the lack of regulations for C-2 zoning that dominates downtown and prompted a discussion about overhauling rules. He estimated the city has received more downtown building permits in the past two years than in the previous decade.
With increases in Columbia’s student population, developers have eyed downtown for student-oriented apartments. The Lofts at 308 Ninth Street and an addition to Brookside Downtown on Locust Street were built this summer.
In July, the council approved the construction of a six-story apartment building off Conley Avenue between Fourth and Fifth streets in lieu of the developing company's original plan to purchase and raze the historic Niedermeyer building.
A focus on parking
The letters in the report — from the Downtown Columbia Leadership Council, Downtown Community Improvement District, East Campus Neighborhood Association, Historic Preservation Commission, North Central Columbia Neighborhood Association, and Planning and Zoning Commission — offer varying recommendations for downtown development, with most agreeing that parking remains a key issue.
Zenner said the consultant will be given feedback from the different groups along with the rest of the city staff's downtown zoning report.
"There are probably multiple ways of addressing the issues the council believes exists with downtown development," Zenner said. "How you solve the problems conclusively is something that there are always varying approaches to."
Doug Wheeler, chairman of the Planning and Zoning Commission, said parking issues have "dominated" the commission's conversations recently and he expects that to continue when downtown's zoning rules are examined.
“The fact of the matter is that most students who can afford to pay $600 to $800 per bed have a car,” Wheeler said. “If they have a car, we have to have adequate parking to offset that and make sure they’re not parking on the streets or taking parking spaces away from other properties.”
Teddy said that based on calls his office receives, he expects parking to be the main issue the city works on when it rewrites its rules for downtown.
“Concern about the lack or shortage of on-site or at least conveniently available parking for tenants that bring cars with them is No. 1 in what we hear,” Teddy said. “We also hear things about scale and character of buildings, the aesthetic qualities and functional qualities.”
Wheeler said he thinks parking is scarce downtown because current rules didn't anticipate so much student housing.
"I don't think the intent was ever this intensive of residential use," he said. "We don't have adequate parking downtown to accommodate this many dwellings.”
Neither the Lofts at 308 Ninth nor Brookside Downtown have their own parking for residents. The proposed rule change would have required similar projects in the future to have adequate parking.
Carrie Gartner, executive director of the Downtown Community Improvement District, said the city must “build up” in order to keep parking from diluting the pedestrian-friendly nature of downtown.
“What we don’t want to see in our central city is a strip mall method of developing,” Gartner said. “We don’t want single-story buildings that are set back with a parking space in the front, because it kills the sidewalk culture.”
The district proposed a height limit of 10 floors for new buildings under the rule change. Gartner suggested using the height limit “as a carrot rather than a stick” to fix the parking problem by granting permission for extra floors to residential buildings that use their first few floors for commercial and parking purposes.
“If we want people to do creative things with parking, we should have buildings with a commercial first floor, two floors of parking inside the building, then residential up top,” Gartner said.
Wheeler said he would not be opposed to plans that include parking on floors of the building but he expects buildings with second- and third-floor parking structures would have to occupy a lot of horizontal space in order to work.
"The footprint of the building is going to have to be a little bigger,” Wheeler said. “I don't think there's a way you can accommodate that in a small section of any block. I think you're looking at a quarter- to a half-block to make that economically viable at a minimum."
A work in progress
The North Central Columbia Neighborhood Association recommends a somewhat different approach. In a letter from March, the association suggested a flexible height limit of four stories. In contrast to the improvement district's proposed plan, which calls for buildings to be built to the sidewalk, the neighborhood association's proposal would allow for buildings to be taller than four stories if they were built farther back from the sidewalk.
The city's lack of downtown housing regulation garnered public attention at the end of 2012 when St. Louis-based development firm Collegiate Housing Partners submitted plans to purchase and demolish the Niedermeyer apartment house that dates to 1837. The firm inquired with the city about replacing the Niedermeyer with a housing complex as tall as 15 stories, according to previous Missourian reporting.
Zenner said the Niedermeyer issue wasn't the only reason for re-examining C-2 zoning, but acknowledged there might be "some peripheral relation" between the council's report request and the since-abandoned plan to replace the Niedermeyer building.
"It was brewing prior to the Niedermeyer," Zenner said of the council's desire to modify C-2 zoning regulations. "The Niedermeyer may have been what pushed certain council members over the edge to request a report of how we address downtown more effectively."
Zoning changes elsewhere in the city
Zenner said a majority of the zoning changes that need to take place outside of downtown involve wording updates to clarify terms that have become antiquated since the current set of zoning rules was adopted in 1964.
"We have a 20th-century zoning code and we're in the 21st century," Zenner said. "We need a zoning code that matches the century we're in."
One example of outdated terminology Zenner cited was the city's use of the phrase "reducing salon" to describe fitness centers. Zenner said sections about telecommunications would also be updated to clarify permission to use newer technology, such as the use of building spires as cellphone towers.
The key aim of the rule rewrite is to align the city's zoning rules with the vision of "Columbia Imagined: The Plan for How We Live & Grow," the city's recently constructed comprehensive plan for land use, Zenner said. In regards to zoning, Zenner said "Columbia Imagined" emphasizes hybrid buildings with multiple purposes instead of single-use buildings.
Supervising editor is John Schneller.