Fifteen years after residents of the central city gathered to form the North Central Columbia Neighborhood Association, members have produced a plan that they hope will protect the integrity of their community.
On June 18, the neighborhood association presented to the Columbia City Council a 68-page set of regulations for an urban conservation overlay district. Simply put, it’s an effort to preserve and enhance the neighborhood by exerting more control over new developments, redevelopments, building alterations and other projects in the area.
The overlay proposal is the culmination of years of work by neighborhood residents who first organized in 1993 when they became worried about encroaching development, NCCNA President Linda Rootes said in a letter to city Planning Director Tim Teddy.
“Major institutions were expanding, taking out existing housing. Commercial and office uses were creeping in around the edges,” Rootes wrote.
Overlay districts involve sets of regulations for particular areas that supplement the city’s existing zoning code. Thus far, two neighborhoods in Columbia — East Campus and Benton-Stephens — are governed by overlay regulations.
The North Central proposal calls for regulations on nearly every aspect of development in the neighborhood, from porch restorations and roof alterations to the appearance and stye of entrances, windows and landscapes. Many neighborhood projects would have to be submitted to a council-appointed design review board for approval. The board would ensure that new developments or projects in the area would conform with the overlay district’s goals and would issue recommendations to city officials.
Kristen Heitkamp, a former Boone County planning commissioner, has worked with overlay districts. As a resident of the Benton-Stephens neighborhood in east-central Columbia, which has had overlay regulations for years, Heitkamp is
familiar with the need for extra regulations.
“Columbia is at a crossroads,” she said. “We can preserve the best of Columbia while we expand,” she said.
The NCCNA is trying to do just that, by preserving the existing mixed-use neighborhood as the city continues to grow, Rootes wrote in the letter to Teddy.
“We need to secure the legislation that will help bring the vision to fruition,” she said.
Teddy and his staff in the Planning and Development Department found a lot to like about the proposal. But in his report to the council, Teddy said, “The main staff concern to date has been the efficient incorporation of design review into our standard zoning and building permit procedures.”
The proposal outlines nine “guiding principles” for the neighborhood, such as encouraging pedestrian-oriented design, supporting sustainable commercial uses and promoting a consistent neighborhood identity and image. It also offers specific development and design standards for six districts within the north central community: Hickman Estates, Uptown, West End, Wyatt’s Market, Shoe Factory and North Village. North Village residents hope their neighborhood will become an arts district for the entire city.
“One of our main strategies for building up the neighborhood was to create a place for artists to live and work,” Rootes said of North Village.
Don Choate, an artist and longtime resident of the Village, said there are lots of things the community is working on to attract artists, from renters and homeowners assistance programs to the new art studio development on Orr Street.
“We’re trying to make the area more conducive to artists,” he said.
Yet, some residents of north-central Columbia worry that the overlay district will work against the whole idea of an arts district. Many of the regulations call for landscaping, streetscaping and other efforts to create a more consistent appearance in the neighborhood’s sub-areas.
“I find it interesting that people want to do (the arts district) in the Village and the overlay,” resident Ruth O’Neill said. “They say, ‘Let’s have creative expression, but only the kind we approve of.’”
Choate is more optimistic.
“I can see where (the overlay) could discourage people because of the regulations, but it’s not as rigid as it looks,” he said.
Some also worry about the overlay’s potential effects on low-income residents.
“We’re lucky to have a neighborhood where people with more modest incomes can still afford houses,” O’Neill said.
She worries that the cumbersome process of complying with overlay regulations, which would require filling out applications and attending multiple meetings, could put people with lower incomes at a disadvantage because they might need to find child care or take time off from work.
Those, she said, are possible “stumbling blocks to being able to participate in the process (the overlay) is creating.”
Rootes thinks the ordinance will have the opposite effect.
“One of the purposes is to preserve the housing in the neighborhood,” she said. “The reality right now is that lower-income residents are being forced out. The idea that the ordinance will hurt low-income residents is an emotional response that’s not grounded in fact.”
The plan has some support within the council already. First Ward Councilwoman Almeta Crayton, who represents the north-central district, agrees that the overlay would have a positive effect.
“I think (the plan) is looking good, and I’m going to try to help them in bringing up the neighborhood,” she said.
It will be some time before the proposal comes back to the council. After receiving the report on June 18, the council referred the plan to the Columbia Planning and Zoning Commission, which will hold a work session to review it and could schedule a public hearing before forwarding it.
THE OVERLAY DISTRICT
The main purpose of the urban conservation overlay district is to recognize the location, architectural character and land-use mix of the North Central Neighborhood. The overlay district would also establish standards for development to guide future neighborhood improvement projects. Here is a list of the “guiding principles” for the overlay district:
• Encourage pedestrian-oriented design
• Promote compatible mixed-use development
• Encourage adaptive reuse
• Support sustainable neighborhood commercial uses
• Preserve desirable residential structures and design
• Endorse landscaping and streetscaping efforts
• Promote a consistent neighborhood identity and image
• Coordinate investment
• Promote public-private partnerships
The overlay district plan also proposes creation of a design review board that would direct neighborhood development. The seven-member board would consist of a design professional, a representative from Columbia College, a representative from the downtown business district and four residents or property owners from within the overlay area.
Source: The North Central Columbia Neighborhood Urban Conservation Overlay District Draft