Planning and Zoning adds flexibility in bid to attract tech companies

Thursday, November 8, 2007 | 11:18 p.m. CST; updated 9:24 p.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

COLUMBIA — If the city wants to attract high-tech companies, the Planning and Zoning Commission says it needs more flexible zoning regulations.

The commission unanimously voted Thursday night to recommend changes to the city’s zoning code relating to “live/work units.”

“Live/work units” are single units where people live and no more than three work — for example, an artist with an at-home studio and gallery, or a entrepreneur who works at home with two employees.

The recommended changes are thought to be attractive to the high-tech industry because they would offer companies more flexibility, Planning and Development Director Tim Teddy said. If enacted, they would allow for mixed-use districts.

Changes include:

— Units where people can live and work were recommended for planned office zones.

— The commission also recommended that retail activity be allowed in research development and office park zones.

— Similar “live/work units” and light industrial activity were recommended for planned business zones.

“Light industrial” covers any kind of inside activity that doesn’t produce air, water or noise pollution or truck traffic, Teddy said.

In 2003, the zoning ordinance was revised to allow “research and development laboratories” in certain office, commercial and research zones. But this doesn’t allow for manufacturing, product servicing or sales — activities common in high-tech companies, according to a report by the Planning and Development staff.

The recommendations are the result of the City Council’s July request for Planning and Zoning staff to study ways the zoning code might be updated to encourage high-tech industry growth. No citizen or developer petitioned for changes.

In drawing up the proposal for the changes, Planning and Zoning staff decided not make an exhaustive list of activities that would be allowed in the planned office and business zones, Teddy said.

“In the high-tech industry there is constant innovation,” Teddy said. “It’d be hard to make a list of specific uses.”

No one spoke in favor or against the zoning changes during the public comment period of Thursday’s meeting.

“We should have done this a long time ago,” Commissioner Jeff Barrow said, echoing other commissioners’ approval of the changes. “We’ll continue to look at this and be as forward-thinking as possible.”

Teddy said before the meeting that zoning alone won’t attract businesses.

“However, it’s good to make it flexible where we can, since that’s probably one of things that potential investors or companies are looking at,” he said.

The commission’s recommendations will be forwarded to the City Council for a final decision.

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