A moratorium on the demolition of buildings downtown remains in place after the Columbia City Council voted 6-1 to extend it Monday night.
The moratorium first took effect Nov. 17 after buildings downtown were demolished to make way for surface parking lots. It barred further demolition until the city, in consultation with members of the downtown community, could determine whether regulations are necessary to ensure that buildings removed from the downtown area are replaced with new commercial buildings.
On April 22, the Planning and Zoning Commission recommended the council amend downtown zoning codes to require that any future surface parking lots be positioned at the back of a lot and separated from the street by a building. New surface parking, the proposed revision says, must be at least 25 feet from any street right of way, and access should be only from alleys or nonresidential streets.
The extended moratorium, scheduled to remain in place through Aug. 17, is intended to give the council time to consider the proposed amendment. City Attorney Fred Boeckmann said in a report to the council that no such amendment can be enacted before July 5 because of public hearing and scheduling requirements.
Although the Columbia Special Business District Board of Directors supports the change proposed by the planning commission, not all council members agree it’s the best approach.
“It’s a solution in search of a problem,” said Fifth Ward Councilman John John, who voted against extending the moratorium.
John discredited the idea that the council needs to act to prevent an abundance of surface parking lots from being built downtown, suggesting instead that a natural balance will occur between businesses and the amount of parking they require.
“People won’t go downtown if there isn’t any place to park,” he said. “But they also won’t go downtown if all that’s there is a series of parking lots. One is never going to dramatically outweigh the other.”
But Carrie Gartner, director of the Columbia Downtown Associations, said market forces aren’t enough to maintain commercial density downtown.
“What we’d like to see is more of the downtown area developed to look like Broadway or Ninth Street, where the number of businesses next to each other makes for a more interesting and dynamic cityscape,” she said. “Instead, 60 percent of downtown is already devoted to parking. This is precisely why we have zoning, so we can control what and where things are built.”
Sixth Ward Councilman Brian Ash also expressed misgivings over whether the amendment to the downtown area’s zoning is the proper solution, though he conceded it had been far too easy to demolish buildings before the moratorium.
“I’m concerned now that we may be going from not enough hoops to too many hoops,” he said.
Ash said he prefers the moratorium itself to any new restrictions on where surface parking can be built.
Under the moratorium, people can still receive permits to demolish a building downtown if they can demonstrate any one of the following: that
- The building they’re removing will be replaced by another building.
- The building to be demolished is a dangerous structure.
- Failure to allow demolition or removal would cause a substantial economic hardship on the property owner.
- Demolition or removal of the building would not interfere with the goal of having a downtown business district composed of dense commercial development with a minimum of vacant lots and surface parking lots.
“It could be the case that requiring a parking lot to be behind a building wouldn’t make any sense,” Ash said. “Under the moratorium, individuals wanting to demolish a building could come before the council with a common-sense proposal and make their case. Absolutely requiring that a building be replaced with another building is just too restrictive.”