City looking to rezoning for job growth

The city hopes to bring high-tech jobs closer to residents.
Thursday, July 19, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 12:15 p.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

The city of Columbia hopes bringing industry closer to its residents will attract higher-paying jobs.

The Columbia City Council and the Planning and Zoning Commission are looking at moving industrial areas closer to residents to accommodate technology-based companies. City Manager Bill Watkins requested a brief explanation on how high-tech industry might be accommodated in the Columbia zoning ordinance.

This is just another step to meet the needs of high-tech industries. Discovery Ridge and the Business Incubator are two projects planned to work with MU’s research and development to create jobs and businesses, Watkins said.

Fourth Ward Councilman Jerry Wade, who spoke with Watkins on the matter, said a change in zoning would be a great opportunity for Columbia.

“It’s important that we find ways for the city to be more competitive in the world of high-tech companies, but we need to have the zoning capabilities,” he said.

The current zoning ordinance allows industries geared toward research and development laboratories. These laboratories are facilities that engage primarily in things such as scientific research and experimental design and aren’t located in residential and general business zones.

“Industries are usually seen as something to be separate from residential and retail areas to protect the public,” said Tim Teddy, city planning director. “These things we’re talking about are clean operations conducted in enclosed buildings.”

If changes are made to the city ordinance, a more flexible approach would be taken to facilitate the location and accommodate the needs of high-tech companies, including allowing light industrial operations (low-tech work) to be conducted in enclosed buildings.

“We want to look at bringing industry to districts that don’t currently allow it,” Teddy said. “This would offer more flexibility to where those industries can locate.”

Wade said the types of locations industries are interested in and where they fit are very different.

“They fit well into mixed-use developments, and we don’t have the things that make a community attractive to them,” he said. “We simply haven’t created the capabilities in our zoning to accommodate to their needs.”

Wade said that if the ordinance is adjusted to accommodate a broader industry base, it could mean good things for Columbia and its residents. As Columbia becomes more competitive, more high-wage employment opportunities are created.

“This isn’t just competitiveness across the country, but it’s a global competitiveness,” he said. “If we want to be in that world, we have to have what it takes to be attractive to those companies.”

Watkins said other land uses, such as offices and retail, could be incorporated.

Regional and Economic Development Inc. President Bernie Andrews said that it’s a good idea to create a mixed-use district and that it’s worth exploring.

“It would give companies a chance to locate here; people can basically live and work in the same general area,” he said.

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