Columbia zoning panel recommends change to boost population density downtown

Friday, June 6, 2014 | 6:24 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — A new strategy for increasing the availability of affordable housing near downtown is winning the endorsement of some Columbia residents, but neighborhoods that have large populations of students are wary.

Increasing population density near downtown has been the focus of recent planning efforts. One way to do that is to tweak city zoning codes.

On Thursday night, the Columbia Planning and Zoning Commission voted 8-0 to recommend the city allow "accessory dwelling units" on properties that are zoned R-2 for duplexes but now have only single-family homes on them. It recommended they not be allowed, however, in the East Campus and Benton-Stephens neighborhoods.

An accessory dwelling unit is essentially a second home on a lot that already has a single family home on it. According to the proposed ordinance, an auxiliary home could be attached to the principal home on the lot or built as a detached structure.

The zoning changes would not affect properties zoned for R-1, or single-family, use. The changes would:

  • Allow construction of accessory homes on lots as small as 5,000 square feet with at least a 50-foot-wide property line.
  • Limit the size of an accessory home to 75 percent of the size of the principal dwelling, or 800 square feet.
  • Require a parking space for accessory homes with one or two bedrooms. Two spaces would be required if more than two bedrooms were built.

Commissioner Lee Russell said affordable housing in Columbia "is pretty much non-existent."

"These ADUs are the best way to fix that," she said.

Commissioner Rusty Strodtman said that increasing population density near downtown has long been a city goal but that the city should respect the wishes of neighborhoods that don't want the changes. ADUs are a good thing, "in the right situation," such as for housing the elderly or extended family, he said.

A staff report to the commission said there would be 2,383 lots eligible for accessory homes in Columbia under the proposed ordinance. Excluding East Campus and Benton-Stephens would reduce that number to 2,223.

Residents who spoke at the meeting worried that accessory homes would bring far more students to the East Campus and Benton-Stephens neighborhoods.

Kurt Albert, who owns property in the Benton-Stephens neighborhood, said blanket R-3 zoning, which is for medium-density apartments, has already destroyed the Benton-Stephens and East Campus areas. He said that homes along Ash Street have become a "student ghetto" and that accessory homes would make the neighborhood a "party palace."

"The Benton-Stephens area is just trying to preserve the neighborhood," Albert said.

Some residents, however, embraced the changes.

Adam Saunders, who lives in north-central Columbia, said he would like to build a secondary home in his backyard to accommodate his parents. Such homes aren't only just for students but are also a good option for the elderly, he said.

"This is an alternative to infill that is not as extreme in scale as (downtown housing developments)," he said.

Nick Peckham said that if the goal of the city is to discourage sprawl and encourage infill development, then allowing secondary homes is a move in the right direction.

"I support this in the name of good urban design," he said. "Auxiliary dwelling units are almost a genius move."

Also on Thursday, the Planning and Zoning Commission recommended the approval of:

  • A request by Crockett Engineering to annex 131 acres Columbia and build a residential subdivision on a 76-lot plat. The site is at Route K and Old Plank Road.
  • A request by Lake George Property LLC for a residential development on the south side of Richland Road. A single home is on the site now. The proposed addition to the building would allow the home to be used as a group home for the elderly.
  • A proposed convenience store and gas station at Grindstone Parkway and Grindstone Plaza Drive.
  • Construction of Columbia Safety & Industrial Supply off Bodie Drive.

Supervising editor is Scott Swafford.

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