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Thursday, July 31, 2014

Rezoning sparks student housing concerns

The zoning proposal would allow residents in two-family units to construct and rent out other dwellings on their properties.

March 5, 2014

A new zoning amendment considered at Monday night’s Columbia City Council meeting could expand student housing options in nearby neighborhoods.

The Planning and Zoning Commission drafted an amendment that would allow residents in R-2, or two-family zoned dwellings and larger dwellings, to construct secondary units on the property. If approved, the amendment would allow for the rental of the extra units at the property owner’s discretion.

The commission's report suggested the exclusion of neighborhoods strongly opposed to the proposed changes, according to documents submitted to council. The plan was met with opposition from some R-2 and higher zoned areas, specifically from East Campus and Benton-Stephens neighborhoods, Community Development director Tim Teddy said during a report to the council.

Because the accessory units could be used as student housing, some council members like Mayor Bob McDavid expressed concern over the range of the ordinance and advocated for a limited testing area as proposed by the commission.

“This sounds like student housing,” McDavid said. “We need to be very careful in picking a pilot area or very confined overlay to roll this out.”

Not all lots in R-2 or higher zoning would be feasible options for this type of construction, which would occur gradually and through the current property owner’s means, Teddy said.

The ordinance could allow older residents on fixed incomes to supplement their income with a rental property and stay in their homes without exclusively catering to students, said Fourth Ward councilman Ian Thomas.

“There has been some fairly significant opposition to this idea, but it’s not my impression that it’s limited to students,” said Thomas.

To account for varying levels of support for the zoning amendment in different neighborhoods, the commission presented various options for implementing and testing the ordinance. These options included applying the drafted plan and setting a termination date in a pilot neighborhood. A second option was to apply the amended zoning regulations with permit limits for construction that would be revised after a determined period of time.

The subordinate dwellings fit into the city’s history of diverse housing options and could also benefit homeless residents, Columbia resident Eugene Elkin said.

“If you go around in the First Ward you will see that Columbia was once built with what we would call the mother-in-law house,” Elkin said. “These would be beautiful set-ins for the homeless to transition into and get on their feet.”

Before the council can vote on the drafted amendment, the commission would need to prepare the ordinance and advertise a public hearing on the issue.

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