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Thursday, October 30, 2014

Plan to construct luxury housing in rezoned property struck down by Columbia City Council

Housing developers Park 7 had planned to build a new off-campus housing facility for students.

Plans for a new student housing complex hit a roadblock after the Columbia City Council decided against rezoning property located northeast of Stadium Boulevard.

With a split 4-3 vote, the city council decided against passing ordinance to rezone the property from an A-1 agricultural designation to a PUD-9, or planned unit development with a maximum nine units per acre site. The Park 7 Group, a housing development company, wanted to build a new student housing complex, The Avenue at Columbia, at the site.

The proposed ordinance to rezone the approximately 43-acre property at 1202 Cinnamon Hill Lane would have allowed for the construction of an 899-bed housing complex, which would have been the second largest student housing facility in Columbia, second only to the newly constructed Aspen Heights.

The size of this development would provide housing options for a future increase in students, which aligns with MU’s goal to reach an enrollment of 40,000 students in the near future, attorney Robert Hollis said on behalf of the Park 7 Group. Hollis urged council members to support the proposal so as to not put a cap on the university’s enrollment by limiting potential housing for future students.

“Just because it may seem like we have an abundance of a certain type of housing, it doesn’t mean that that is necessarily so, and in fact it is not,” Hollis said, speaking to the demand for a large student housing complex.

It was the size of the proposed development that worried many residents of the nearby area.

Diane Suhler, associate professor of finance at Columbia College, spoke to the council in opposition of the plan and said its distance from campus would reinforce the perception of the university as a commuter campus.

“Eight-hundred-ninety-nine students will now need to compete with other vehicles to access the inner city. Eight-hundred-ninety-nine students will never be able to walk to campus,” Suhler said. “Building on the periphery of the city would reinforce the perception of MU as a commuter campus and decrease the university’s identity as a pedestrian campus.”

Suhler also added that her students felt there was plenty of luxury housing, but there was a shortage in more affordable housing closer to campus.

Additionally, residents of nearby neighborhoods expressed concern over the safety of large student developments. In her explanation of why she opposed the plan, Sixth Ward Councilwoman Barbara Hoppe cited the 232 calls made to police from August 2013 to the end of the year regarding disturbances in Aspen Heights.

“It puts a lot of extra stress on our police that are already stretched to their limits,” Hoppe said in reference to the type of large-scale student housing designed by the proposal.

In response to concerns of residents of nearby neighborhood, the Park 7 Group had amended its proposal to include several changes requested by neighborhood associations close to the planned development site. These amendments included the construction of 175-foot buffer from the northern edge of the property line adjacent to the Timberhill Road neighborhood, shifting four building units from the northern side of the property to a more southern location and providing transportation services for residents of the housing development.

Second Ward Councilman Michael Trapp, one of the three council members who voted in favor of the proposal, expressed his gratitude for the developers’ willingness to accommodate the requests of local neighborhoods and said the development location was a necessary investment for a growing college town.

“It’s fundamentally a land-use issue,” Trapp said. “You’ve gotta have college students to have college towns.”

Trapp, Fifth Ward Councilwoman Laura Nauser and Mayor Bob McDavid voted to approve the plan. It was struck down by Hoppe, First Ward Councilman Fred Schmidt, Third Ward Councilman Karl Skala and Second Ward Councilman Ian Thomas.

Earlier this year, Park 7 Group was eying the space Bengals Bar & Grill and Casablanca Mediterranean Grill currently occupy. The group was considering the land for a new 24-story luxury housing development.

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