COLUMBIA — Seated in a circle in the lobby of the Daniel Boone City Building, residents of the Benton-Stephens area argued back and forth with developers Tuesday evening in another attempt to protect their neighborhood against redevelopment.

"We just want to protect the neighborhood and … keep it as a family area," said Michael Ugarte, who lives next to a proposed six-plex apartment development on Windsor Street. "There has been an increase in student rentals without enough resistance" and it "causes all kinds of problems" for us.

Residents met Tuesday to try to persuade developers to scale back the number of bedrooms proposed for the Windsor Street project. They also spent time discussing how to prevent redevelopment from occurring in the first place.

WoodCliff Investments, LLC, plans to replat several lots and move a property line on Windsor Street between Ripley and William streets to make way for six, two-story town homes that would have as many as three bedrooms each.

Senior City Planner Steve MacIntyre said the Columbia Planning and Zoning Commission would consider the replat request at 6 p.m. Dec. 8, and the Columbia City Council could hear the proposal as early as Jan. 17.

The controversy on Windsor is just the latest in a long line of resident battles against developers in Benton-Stephens. Residents of the area, many of whom belong to the Benton-Stephens Neighborhood Association, say they want to protect the character of their neighborhood, keep older single-family homes standing and minimize development that could bring college students as well as parking and traffic problems.

Resident Kurt Albert noted that Benton-Stephens has an "overlay district" that aims to preserve the area's single-family home feel, but that R-3 zoning in the area could invite the "Manhattan-ization" of the neighborhood.

"It's just kind of a kick in the teeth when we've spent so much effort making it a nice" neighborhood, Albert said.

To try to minimize the permissiveness of the area's R-3 zoning, neighbors recently submitted what planning staff call the largest mass downzoning request they've seen in decades. Property owners for 37 residential lots in Benton-Stephens are asking the city to change their zoning from R-3 to either R-2 or R-1 zoning. The Planning Commission will consider those requests in January, and the council likely would see them in February.

R-1 zoning allows single-family homes, while R-2 zoning allows duplexes. R-3 zoning allows for denser multi-family construction such as the six-plex town homes and buildings as large as Brookside on College. It also would allow different uses such as group homes.

The downzoning intends to throw a wrench in any future dense redevelopment plans for the neighborhood, said resident Rita Fleischmann, who requested R-1 zoning for seven properties she owns in the area.

The restrictions of downzoning might not be limited to the property owners asking for them. An upcoming overhaul of the city's zoning codes — a project the council is slated to consider this spring — proposes new rules on development of properties abutting R-1 or R-2 land. Specifically, the new code would prohibit buildings more than 24 feet tall if they are within 25 feet of an R-1 or R-2 property. Properties touching R-1 or R-2 land also would have additional yard setback requirements of 10 feet.

Those limits would be compounded by proposed changes to the Benton-Stephens protective overlay district, Development Services Manager Pat Zenner said. Residents want to increase the amount of green space required by the overlay from 25 percent to 50 percent of a development area, tweak parking requirements to control development size and require more screening for developments adjacent to single-family or duplex lots.

Overlay changes would prohibit new developments from using on-street parking to meet parking requirements, Zenner said. New standards also would require dense residential development to provide more guest parking and parking spaces based on the number of bedrooms instead of apartments, he said.

The new code could result in "increases to required on-site parking spaces, and they won't be able to put them in the street," Zenner said. "That's going to have an impact to how many bedrooms people build because they may not have enough land area to put more parking spaces in."

"There is certainly going to be more governing of density," he said, adding that overlay amendments also impose more strict stormwater compliance requirements.

Regarding the Windsor Street project, the downzoning requests are coming too late. City planners say there is little the city can legally do to deny the request.

Replat requests are generally considered a property right under state law, MacIntyre said, so the neighbors' best strategy might be negotiating with property owners. The overlay rules don't block property owners from consolidating lots as part of a replat, he said.

Mark Stevenson, who is partial owner of the Windsor lots in question, said Benton-Stephens area is a "prime" location for redevelopment such as the six-plex because so many people want to live in the neighborhood. An application for a building permit was submitted for the project a few days before the council passed a moratorium on central-city multi-family housing developments, which means the request can move forward uninterrupted.

"If something meets all the codes and all the laws, we don't have much to talk about," Stevenson told neighbors on Tuesday. "I don't want to fight about if this is something you want" because "this is something I want."

"It's better than a CVS," he said.

Supervising editor is Scott Swafford.

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