COLUMBIA — Residents will get a bit more time to review a proposed overhaul of city zoning and development rules, which means developers planning to build more student apartments might need to wait longer.

During a Wednesday afternoon meeting, members of the Columbia Planning and Zoning Commission and city planning staff agreed to extend their review of a proposed overhaul of the zoning and development code, often referred to as the "Unified Development Code." The project, which has been years in the making, includes more than 1,000 changes to city development and land-use regulations.

The group agreed to hold four more public hearings. They will be next Thursday, Nov. 17, Dec. 8 and Jan. 5. The commission plans to vote Jan. 5 on whether to recommend the Columbia City Council approve or reject the proposal.

Development Services Manager Pat Zenner said the December meeting would be the most important for people to attend, as it will be the final public hearing for people to comment on any code provision they choose before the Jan. 5 vote on the final product takes place.

The entire document is available online for people to look at, and we encourage them to still contact us with comments,” Zenner said. “It is a long document at” more than 400 pages, “but all of the Planning and Zoning Commission meetings are also” on video “online to help people understand the project.”

Although the updated code has been years in the making, it was spurred on by concerns about inadequate infrastructure and dense residential development downtown. Earlier this year, the council approved a moratorium — set to expire Dec. 1 — on new central-city housing to try to slow development as residents reviewed the new rules.

Council members initially hoped to have the zoning overhaul adopted before the moratorium expires, but the longer review means the council will have the option to extend the moratorium later this month. A bill that calls for extending the moratorium until March 31 will be up for first reading during the council's Monday meeting.

The earliest the City Council could vote on the Unified Development Code is February, Zenner said.

Third Ward Councilman Karl Skala said several members of the council hope the code will be adopted before the April election so that it won't be a political issue during campaigns for the First and Fifth Ward council seats. Skala also said he does not want to delay the project further.

“There just has to be some closure here. We have been working on this since 2008,” Skala said. “As usual, people are coming out of the woodwork saying it's been rushed, but that is a delay tactic, and people have had plenty of time.”

Aside from the Planning and Zoning Commission, numerous other city boards and commissions reviewed or are still reviewing the proposal, opening up the possibility for significant changes prior to the code’s adoption.

Although the Parking and Traffic Management Task Force has not completed its final report, the group compiled an interim list of parking recommendations for the code that support current parking ratio requirements for new development.

In an Oct. 12 letter to the commission, the Downtown Columbia Leadership Council also commented on parking requirements for new residential development downtown, but the group said it supports requiring more parking.

The city is still waiting to hear from the Historic Preservation Commission, which on Tuesday began reviewing the code and drafting a letter on how to build in protections for historic buildings.

Some of the biggest changes in the proposed new code involve downtown zoning. Those include new zoning districts, limits on building height that vary by block, potential expansion of downtown zoning and “form-based” guidelines for new construction. Form-based zoning regulates building appearance rather than property use.

The proposal also would tweak zoning rules citywide. It would change required parking for new construction, for example, and it would alter landscaping, sign, neighborhood protection and subdivision codes.

Supervising editor is Scott Swafford.

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