How zoning laws shape downtown Columbia

Apr 26, 2013

The vast majority of downtown Columbia is zoned C-2
The vast majority of downtown Columbia is zoned C-2
Credit www.gocolumbiamo.com

  An influx of student housing downtown has Columbia wondering what will become of its beloved District, for better or worse. And the Niedermeyer house, the city’s oldest building, was almost demolished to make way for another high-rise apartment building. But why is this happening?

City Council member Barbara Hoppe, Alley A Realty owner John Ott and Doug Wheeler, Planning and Zoning Commission chairman, spoke on Intersection this week about the issues that surround development in downtown Columbia.

What is C-2 zoning?
C-2 zoning includes commercial space and covers downtown Columbia and a little beyond. However, there are very few restrictions on what can be built through C-2. For example, there is no limit on how tall a building can be, and developers do not have to provide parking. Because of these loose restrictions, high-rise apartments are fair game even as parking space becomes more and more scarce.

“That’s the attraction for some people -- they refer to it as ‘open zoning,’” said realtor John Ott on Monday's show.

Why is it this way?
In the late ‘80s, businesses wanted to allow tenants to move into apartments above them, and the city obliged. At that time, the city did “not [contemplate] high-rises at all,” Hoppe said.

Rather than rezoning downtown businesses or requiring them to apply for special permits, the city simply added the ability to build residences onto the existing C-2 regulations.

Why are some people upset about this?

  1. The parking situation is deteriorating
    Downtown wasn't designed to store cars 24/7. “The problem is we have a car culture, and it’s not going to change overnight,” Ott said. “We have to make it really impractical to live downtown and have a car that sits there all the time.”

  2. Downtown is becoming too youth-focused
    The high rises being built are proxy dorms, turning downtown into a student-centered environment. “It would seem that the downtown area is being transformed to a demographic that’s 18 to 24,” Wheeler said. “The thing that’s made downtown what it is is that all Columbians enjoy it.”

  3. The city is losing its “look”
    “I lived in the downtown area for 30 years,” caller Craig said. “I’m distressed because the development is sucking all the charm out of the city... The high-rise buildings have no soul.”

What do you think Columbia should do to solve these problems? Listen to KBIA’s CoMo Explained podcast to learn more about zoning in Columbia.

Hoppe, Ott and Wheeler spoke with KBIA on Intersection earlier this week. View the program and follow us on Twitter.

Catch Intersection on KBIA every Monday at 2 p.m. to hear experts discuss Mid-Missouri issues. Next week’s topic: Immigration in Missouri.