The Missourian solicited written answers to a set of nine questions from the six candidates for the Columbia City Council.
Bill Weitkemper, Jim Meyer and Andrea Waner are seeking a three-year term representing the Second Ward, while incumbent Betsy Peters and challengers Randy Minchew and Philip Merriman are competing to represent the Sixth Ward. The election is April 6.
Here are the candidates’ answers to the following question:
Columbia’s Unified Development Code has been in place for four years now. What are your thoughts on how well it is working in guiding the development of the city? If you perceive problems, what are they and what would you do to address them?
Meyer: I opposed the UDC at the time it was being developed and adopted and believe it needs to be reformed. As an overview of my concerns, the UDC creates administrative barriers and increased cost for property owners who wish to develop or redevelop their properties without providing significant benefits to the public at large. These complicated regulations empower small, politically active groups to interfere with property owners’ exercise of their rights in furtherance of narrow concerns. For example, the changes to the subdivision regulations add costs that are hidden from view but are incurred by the developer and passed on to the home builder in the cost of a vacant lot and then passed on to the homeowner in the cost of a new home. For example, the expansion in the amount of tree preservation takes more private land out of productive use than the previous regulations did.
Waner: Using a uniform code is helpful in giving developers a consistent and predictable set of guidelines. We should always be willing to examine and improve the way our city works. The UDC is currently being reviewed and refined by the Planning and Zoning Commission. The commission is taking into account places where staff and developers have found the code is unclear or doesn’t work. They are also working to put as many land uses into automatic approval as possible so that our code is transparent and predictable, helping developers make decisions without going through a political approval process. I am grateful to have a dedicated group of commissioners who can go through the complex code in detail and make suggestions on ways it can work better.
Weitkemper: The UDC seems to be working, but there are still a few minor problems. The March 1, 2021, City Council meeting consent agenda included at least 17 ordinance amendments to the code: the definitions of an arterial street; the definitions of a bank and a financial institution, consumer-lending institution and pawn shop; the clearing of trees; the definition of a wall sign; the definition of a corner side yard; yard area exceptions; parking and loading exceptions for small lots; maximum parking limits; correcting a scrivener’s error as it relates to the location and design of stacking lanes; neighborhood and subdivision lot lines, re-subdivision or re-plat and an administrative plat; subdivision monuments; powers and duties of the Planning and Zoning Commission; correcting a scrivener’s error regarding optional development standards approval; criteria for approval for the issuance of a conditional use permit; and designing standards for residential, non-residential and terminal streets.
Minchew: The UDC has some benefits, but the city has been slow in adjusting the known errors with the code. Builders and developers have found the problems, and the city is not responding in a timely fashion.
Merriman: There are items in the unified code that do need specific attention, and we should be partnering with developers to create guidelines that are practical, not arbitrary. I think that having a codex of guidelines such as the Unified Development Code is agreeable, so long as the developers have the final say in its content. As well, the issue of enforcement comes up. These codes are regularly not enforced, and if we don’t plan to enforce rules, then we need to decide if they are worth having in the first place.
Peters: I have heard very few complaints about the UDC. It was put in place to help standardize building codes. The plan was to have the new UDC reviewed for problems after five years or so. I expect there will be unanticipated issues that will need to be addressed. So this issue will come back to Planning and Zoning as well as the City Council in the next year or so. The Unified Development Code is a living document, so I’m sure there will need to be changes.
Missourian reporters Dylan Schwartz, Anna Ortega, Paul Schloesser, Charlie Drape, Alexandria Wells and Kelsy Armstrong helped gather candidate responses to the Missourian questionnaire.