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City begins process for interim zoning rules downtown

Sunday, April 20, 2014 | 5:16 p.m. CDT; updated 2:31 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, May 7, 2014
More changes might be in store for downtown Columbia. Members of the Columbia City Council are debating an interim amendment that would prohibit any homes or apartments on the first floors of buildings on parts of Ninth Street and Broadway.

COLUMBIA — In 2013, one of Columbia's oldest buildings, the Niedermeyer, was saved from demolition after a private buyer bought the building from a student-housing developer looking to build a high-rise apartment building.

The building is zoned C-2 like most of downtown. The C-2 designation was initially intended for business use with no height limits or parking requirements. But recently, developers have used the "open-ended" zoning rules to build high-density student apartments.

Now, just across the street from the Niedermeyer are the Brookside Downtown apartments. A block over on Ninth Street are The Lofts at 308 Ninth. Another apartment complex on Locust Street between Seventh and Eighth streets, was recently approved by the Columbia City Council. All of these developments were built under the C-2 rules.

After months of discussions on development, the council is considering changing the C-2 rules ahead of the completion of a city-wide zoning rewrite by a hired consultant.

The new rules would require special city council approval for proposed buildings of 10 stories or 120 feet or higher, impose parking requirements for new residential or mixed-use buildings and forbid first floor residential use facing the street on certain downtown blocks.

Numerous plans and studies commissioned by the city, such as the Charrette Report, have shown public support for required retail space on certain downtown blocks and height limits for downtown buildings.

The council sent a draft ordinance amending the C-2 zoning rules on March 18 to the Columbia Planning and Zoning Commission for review.

A public hearing on the proposed zoning rules has been scheduled for the Planning commission's meeting at 7 p.m. Thursday in the Daniel Boone City Building. The commission would then decide whether or not to recommend the rule changes to city council.

If the commission recommends sending the ordinance to council without delay, May 19 is the earliest it could be passed.

Proposed changes

The draft ordinance amends the fundamental purpose of C-2 zoning, accommodating the increased residential use the designation has seen over the past few years.

The proposed parking requirements are multifaceted. New residential or mixed-use buildings would be required to have one parking space for every 1,000 square feet of residential space in one to two bedroom units. For every additional bedroom above two bedrooms, developers would be required to provide a half parking space.

The parking requirements would not apply to new residential units in existing buildings as long as the building wasn't expanded during the construction of new units.

Parking would have to be provided on site.

The proposed ordinance doesn't have height requirements. Instead, it requires any development at 10 stories or 120 feet tall to have city council approval and outlines the process for such approval.

The proposed rules prohibit first-floor apartments facing the street on Broadway between the east side of Eighth Street and Hitt Street and the stretch of Ninth Street between Walnut and Elm streets. The provision was included to encourage retail use on those streets.

Any action amending the current C-2 ordinance would be an interim measure, according to the draft. Clarion Associates, a consulting firm overhauling the entire city zoning code, could still make changes when it completes its zoning overhaul.

The city has hired Clarion and Ferrell Madden Associates to rewrite the city's zoning and subdivision codes into a combined ordinance. The two-year project began in January and is scheduled to finish in December 2015.

Reaction

The city's actions have drawn criticism from members of the development community and are seen as hasty by some local officials. 

Boone County Assessor Tom Schauwecker sees any interim zoning ordinance as a "knee-jerk reaction" and not a good idea.

He said the interim C-2 ordinance could "on paper" potentially reduce property values. "The more restrictions you place on a property the less valuable it becomes," Schauwecker said. "The intrinsic value of property lies in the land."

Schauwecker said the city should wait on any changes to C-2 until the consultants hired for the city's zoning revamp complete the entire project at the end of 2015.

John John, a local realtor and former Fifth Ward Councilman, said the interim zoning ordinance could potentially be "disastrous" for property values and discourage investment.

Carrie Gartner, director of the Downtown Community Improvement District, an entity that collects sales tax and is made up of hundreds of downtown businesses, has penned a letter to the council and the planning commission in opposition of the interim C-2 fix.

The letter agrees with Schauwecker in saying that the changes should wait until the city's consultants finish the entire zoning revamp. It says that the changes could have unintended consequences and make lenders cautious about downtown investment.

Supervising editor is John Schneller.


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