COLUMBIA — Developers seeking to build apartment complexes downtown will have to keep waiting. The Columbia City Council extended its moratorium Monday on new downtown residential housing.
The ordinance, set to expire Dec. 1, will be extended through March 31 while the Planning and Zoning Commission finishes its review and overhaul of the Unified Development Code, which sets city development and land-use regulations. That process is taking longer than expected, and the commission plans to hold a vote on the code Jan. 5, according to previous Missourian reporting.
The earliest the council could vote on the development code proposal would be February.
The ordinance was first passed in May after concerns were raised about inadequate infrastructure and dense residential development downtown. The ordinance defines downtown as a 1-mile radius of "an area bounded on the north by Elm Street, the west by Providence Road, the south by Stadium Drive and the east by Hitt Street."
Mayor Brian Treece requested the ordinance in April following his election, saying in previous Missourian reports that downtown apartment buildings have displaced retail and service uses and placed a strain on city infrastructure.
Council members Michael Trapp and Laura Nauser voted against the ordinance in May. Trapp, at the time, said it wasn't necessary or prudent, while Nauser said the development delay would push students out into residential neighborhoods. On Monday night, Trapp and Nauser both voted in favor of the bill.
"I think it's providing a right level of impetus to bring this to a conclusion," Trapp said. "I appreciate the work of Planning and Zoning and staff."
City staff said they were confident the Planning and Zoning Commission could meet the Jan. 5 deadline, but the delay could be extended further if needed. Councilman Karl Skala said he would like to avoid this at all costs.
"I'm really hoping we can wrap this up before the next election," Skala said.
Treece echoed Skala's remarks, wanting to make sure the council would be able to hold its required meetings on the issue before the March 31 expiration date.
After discussion, the council voted unanimously to approve the extension of the ordinance.
In addition to passage of the moratorium extension, city staff presented a report on vacancy rates of apartment complexes in the city. According to a Census Bureau American Community Survey report in 2015, Columbia's annual rental vacancy rate estimate was 1.7 percent.
City staff also collected data from a Moore & Shryock Real Estate Appraisers and Consultants survey as well as a joint survey between the city and MU Off-Campus Student Services. Each survey was conducted through voluntary participation by rental housing complexes in Columbia.
The Moore & Shryock survey, conducted about every two years, received responses from complexes representing 8,477, or 31.7 percent, of the city's 26,727 total registered rental units. The survey found a vacancy rate of 2.8 percent for downtown student units and 13.97 percent for off-campus student units in 2015.
The joint university and city survey represents data from 4,414, or 16.5 percent, of the city's total registered rental units. The survey found an average vacancy rate of 9.78 percent among all participants, and a vacancy rate of downtown and off-campus units of 7.07 percent and 12.79 percent, respectively.
The joint city and university survey defined the downtown sector using the parameters outlined in the ordinance. The Moore and Shryock survey defined the downtown sector as complexes located east of Providence Road, north of Rollins Road, west of College Avenue, and south of Park Avenue.
Both surveys and the report to council come at the concern of a potential student housing bubble in Columbia. According to a city memo, the data in the surveys was not enough to draw any conclusions about the student housing market or to recommend any housing policies.
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