COLUMBIA — A timeline for the last round of discussion on new city zoning rules that have been in the works for years has been established by the Columbia City Council.
After months of public hearings and work sessions this past summer and fall, the Planning and Zoning Commission unanimously passed the proposed ordinance on Jan. 5, beginning the council phase of the zoning overhaul.
The council on Monday night passed a resolution setting its first public hearing on the 400-page document, known as the Unified Development Ordinance, for Feb. 20. The council will have the option of continuing that hearing to subsequent meetings on March 6, March 20 and perhaps beyond.
The council also will hold a special meeting solely dedicated to the code on Saturday, Feb. 25, when it will make additional revisions and accept more public comment.
“It’s important to me that we provide an extensive period of due process and public input on these changes,” Mayor Brian Treece said. “That being said, we have … one hearing spread across four meetings to get everybody an opportunity to testify.”
The ordinance would replace the current development regulations outlined in Chapters 20, 23, 25, 29 and parts of Chapter 12A in the city code. Those provisions have been in place for years.
The proposed new code covers a wide range of rules, including zoning districts, permitted land uses, subdivision standards, parking and loading, landscaping and screening, Neighborhood Protection Standards and downtown zoning rules.
The two parts of the proposed code that have drawn the most attention, and dissent, are the Neighborhood Protection Standards, which outline zoning rules for the entire city, and the new downtown zoning, known as the M-DT district, which would replace the C-2 central business district and remap the boundaries of downtown Columbia.
The new downtown rules would move the city toward form-based zoning, which emphasizes architectural features and design over land use.
Sean Moore, president-elect of the Columbia Board of Realtors, said the new downtown rules "are a very contentious matter that has caused a lot of strife between developers and the city." He said the city should take time to listen to experts.
"The city is trying to do too much, too soon, too fast," Moore said.
The Neighborhood Protection Standards are intended to preserve the character of residential neighborhoods that have special zoning rules and that have apartments. Those changes have received backlash from developers and property owners worried about stricter regulations for new apartments, such as height restrictions.
The council noted that this phase of the zoning overhaul should not replicate the detailed, section-by-section approach of the Planning and Zoning Commission sessions.
“I look at our job as more of a community balancing act for the interest of the community and so on and rather a broader perspective than the detail,” Third Ward Councilman Skala said. “I’m not looking here to change ‘40 feet’ to ‘50 feet’ and that kind of thing.”
Council members agreed to open the first hearing on Feb. 20 with 15 minutes each for staff presentation and council questions, followed by an hour and a half block for public comment. Treece said the ordinance will mostly likely be discussed from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. at the meeting.
The special session on Feb. 25 will start with two hours of public comment, followed by council discussion with staff during lunch. The council will reopen the meeting at 1 p.m. for two more hours of public input.
Commenters will have to sign up before each meeting and will be granted six minutes to speak. Subsequent comments will be allowed only after everyone in the room has had an opportunity to speak. If final amendments are approved at the March 6 meeting, public comments on those amendments only will be allowed on March 20.
The council encouraged any written public comments to be sent by March 1 so they can be included in the council meeting packet for the March 6 meeting.
At the Planning and Zoning Commission work session last month, City Development Services Manager Pat Zenner said it could be months before the new codes are implemented, even after they are adopted. He hopes to see them in place by the end of December.
Zenner said that even after the whole ordinance goes through, the council could throw contentious parts of the bill such as the Neighborhood Protection Standards back to the Planning and Zoning Commission for additional review.
Supervising editor is Scott Swafford.