COLUMBIA — Any voting on 30 amendments to the city's Unified Development Code will have to wait.
After 2 1/2 hours of public discussion and a 30-minute tornado warning delay, the Columbia City Council voted unanimously to continue discussion on the amendments during a special session at 1 p.m. on Saturday.
The public hearing during Monday night’s council meeting was the third of four sessions on the proposed zoning and development code overhaul, referred to as the Unified Development Code. The council heard comments from residents during its Feb. 20 meeting and a special session on Feb. 25. A final public hearing and council vote are scheduled for the March 20 council meeting.
Monday night’s hearing focused on 30 amendments that council members, city staff and residents suggested after the Feb. 25 special session. Several of the amendments focused on changes to the neighborhood protection standards and the form-based zoning proposed for downtown.
Neighborhood protection standards
Neighborhood protection standards in the code, which continued to be hotly contested, are intended to preserve the residential character of single-family and duplex neighborhoods from new apartment developments. The standards, if approved, would restrict building heights, parking and lighting on new developments that share a border with single-family or duplex lots.
For example, the code would require developers to either "step down" to no more than 24 feet tall any part of their building that is within 25 feet of a lot line shared with a single-family home or duplex or to build their development no closer than 10 feet from the lot lines.
The slew of requests for amendments and public comments to the protection standards reflected the continued debate among homeowners, developers and rental property owners on the code’s potential encroachment on building and property rights versus the need to protect historic neighborhoods.
Columbia Board of Realtors President Jim Meyer said the neighborhood protection standards should be sent back to the Planning and Zoning Commission for reconsideration. He said the neighborhood protection standards in particular would impose unreasonable screening and buffering requirements that violate property owners' rights to expand their existing businesses or redevelop their properties.
"So the neighborhood gets to have privileges, and residential users privileged in general can burden property rights of all the other landowners," Meyer said. "That just destroys the principles and quality of the law."
Columbia resident Chris Provorse said he is worried that the protection standards will prevent property owners of existing buildings taller than 24 feet from being rebuilt to their previous configuration when damaged by fire or natural disaster. City staff said developers would be able to rebuild their properties to their prior configuration under the nonconforming provision in the code.
A number of commenters, including East Campus Majority Housing Association attorney David Brown and property owner Austin Ball, complained that the neighborhood protection standards and addition to the proposed changes to the amendment procedures to the Urban Conservation Overlay District contradict the purpose of the original East Campus overlay created in 2003.
Changes to downtown zoning
The Unified Development Code, if approved, would replace the current C-2, central business district, designation with M-DT, mixed-use downtown designation. The proposed M-DT label would levy "form-based" zoning rules on new construction downtown. "Form-based" zoning pertains to building appearance as opposed to building use.
The M-DT zoning generally would encompass the area from Park Avenue on the north to Elm Street on the south and from Garth Avenue on the west to Willis Avenue on the east. The M-DT district also would govern some sections of the city that do not have downtown’s current C-2 zoning.
The proposed code overhaul contains four different building forms: "urban general," "urban storefront," "urban general — west" and "townhouse/small apartment." The "urban general" classification would include most of downtown and could be slated for commercial, residential or municipal uses.
Meyer argued the city was overstepping its authority by imposing "form-based" zoning in the M-DT.
"If all Columbia residents want me to paint my living room blue, I don't have to do this; I can paint my living room beige," Meyer said. "There is no public benefit of the city government micromanaging the fenestration of buildings because it infringes on private property rights."
Some residents voiced their concerns about Mayor Brian Treece's amendment that would increase the required number of parking spaces downtown from 0.25 spaces per bedroom to 0.75 spaces per bedroom for apartment complexes with more than 20 bedrooms. They said increasing the requirements would create an overabundance of parking downtown.
"The data shows us that we have bad parking management, not that we need more parking," Lawrence Simonson said. "More young people are not owning cars."
Katherine Lee, a member of the Parking and Traffic Management Task Force, which made recommendations to the Planning and Zoning Commission regarding parking requirements downtown, cautioned the city against increasing parking in The District. She said blindly adding parking to downtown without considering enhancing parking management could cause the supply of parking to outstrip demand.
"Parking downtown is like toothpaste in a tube," Lee said. "Once you squeeze the tube, there's no way to put the toothpaste back in it."
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