As city and county planners struggle to get a handle on growth in the urban fringe, another type of growth is getting increasing attention.
A thriving downtown is a goal of Columbia’s Metro 2020 plan, but how to accomplish that is a source of debate.
Rezoning stirs debate
A rezoning request by Newton and Joyce Riley this month stirred debate among Columbia City Council members on the future of commercial growth in the city center. The Riley land, purchased from Stephens College, includes an old dormitory that now is an apartment complex and might be renovated to include an aerobics gym, a convenience store or a restaurant.
The council on a 4-3 vote passed Riley’s request to rezone the property on the corner of Walnut Street and College Avenue for C-2, for central business district uses. But it denied a similar request for adjoining property that includes two houses.
While the Riley rezoning might not represent a huge step in downtown’s expansion, it leads to the question of how the edges of the district will develop.
Sticking to the plan
The Columbia Metro 2020 plan describes the city center as the focal point for the metro area. Roy Dudark, director of Planning and Development, divides downtown into core and frame areas. The core encompasses the most developed areas of downtown, including Broadway and the blocks that immediately surround it. The frame includes the less-developed areas surrounding the core.
“I suspect that in the future there will be more interest in the downtown and in this frame (area),” Dudark said.
He said the frame area has more open space and parking lots. Zoning requests in this area have the potential to be more varied.
John Clark of the North-Central Neighborhood Association thinks the city needs a comprehensive plan to guide growth along College Avenue, which lies within the frame area. Clarks hopes such “corridor planning” will prevent the opening of strip malls.
The city center, as described in a land-use planning map created by the city’s Planning and Development Department, encompasses the campuses of MU, Stephens College and Columbia College, and a large area west of North College Avenue.
“Within this city center land-use designation, you would anticipate many different kinds of zones,” Clark said.
He thinks C-2 zoning in the city center leaves property vulnerable to open development.
Considering zoning requests in a piecemeal fashion fails to take the larger picture into consideration, said Clark, who said he is especially concerned about the possible effects along College Avenue.
Adult businesses a concern
Tim Klocko, vice president of administration and finance at Stephens College, worries that open zoning along College Avenue will allow property owners to open questionable establishments.
“My concern is not so much from the standpoint of an expanding downtown but the type of businesses,” Klocko said.
Attorney Bruce Beckett, who represented Riley in the rezoning matter, made it clear in a letter to Klocko that many potentially undesirable business uses have been ruled out for Riley’s property. Those include bars, car washes, nude dancing clubs and adult stores.
Most of the businesses in downtown’s core have C-2 zoning, and parking needs are met by on-street spaces and public garages. A C-2 property in the frame area, however, might lack streets wide enough for on-street parking or lie blocks away from a public garage.
Making the most
Carrie Gartner, executive director of the Downtown Columbia Associations, thinks downtown growth is a matter of increasing density. She’s working on bringing more businesses and residents downtown.
Gartner is looking at the issue of increased surface-level parking in the downtown area. Sixty percent of downtown is taken up by surface-level parking lots.
“We have such limited space here in the district, the last thing we need is people tearing down buildings and building parking lots,” Gartner said.