Columbia's City Council reexamines downtown zoning classification

Dec 19, 2012

The ordinance was introduced after a demolition permit was filed for the Niedermeyer building in downtown Columbia.
Credit Ryan Famuliner / KBIA

Columbia City Council is considering an ordinance that would put a temporary abeyance on demolition permits in downtown Columbia. This comes after a petition to demolish the oldest building in downtown Columbia to possibly make way for high-rise student housing. 

City development services manager Pat Zenner says the petition to demolish the 175-year-old Niedermeyer building at 10th and Cherry downtown theoretically could be approved in a matter of weeks.

"Basically, the applicant has made a legitimate request to demolish a building,” he tells KBIA.

But Zenner says his office hasn’t approved it because utilities are still on as there are still tenants in the building and likely will be until the summer. But he says the building’s C-2 zoning classification makes development pretty easy -- especially once the property is cleared to build.

“It is a pretty wide-open, by right zoning district, meaning that there are no height restrictions associated with construction, there are no parking requirements," he says. "That is a unique element within our zoning code.”

Both are concerns among opponents of the project – a St. Louis-area firm is considering developing a five to 15 story housing complex on the site. Also of concern, of course, is the historic value of the Neidermeyer building. With C-2 zoning, Zenner says, the historic preservation commission has no real power to stop a demolition; it’s just given 10 days to try to talk the property owner out of it.

City Council member Barbara Hoppe says the council says this has sped up the process, but the council needs to take time to look at the C-2 zoning classification, anyway, as housing development booms downtown.

"I think we just need to have some careful planning on where and how that goes and what we preserve in the process and how it functions,” she says.

Zenner says C-2 zoning is almost exclusively used in the downtown central improvement district, and aims to facilitate denser housing developments, compared to more spread-out neighborhoods in other areas of the city. And he says he does support downtown development, but as it is, C-2 zoning leaves his office with little enforceable power on some issues.

“The only thing that we can do is try to maintain a decent dialog with the development firm and try to coach them to ensure they make the appropriate choices to be a member of the city and not the bane of it,” he says.

This story originally aired as part of Business Beat, a weekly program about business and economics in mid-Missouri.