City Council defeats demolition moratorium

The moratorium would have given the council a chance to investigate C-2 zoning regulations.
Columbia residents rise from their seats to show support for the demolition moratorium at Tuesday's City Council meeting. A supporter for the moratorium took the podium during the public comment period and asked for all those who want to save the Niedermeyer building to stand.

At 920 Cherry St. rests a nearly 200-year-old, cream-colored apartment building with a dark green roof.

This building, the Niedermeyer, is the oldest building in Columbia and has recently sparked a city-wide debate on development downtown.

In response to an application filed to demolish the Niedermeyer building, Sixth Ward Councilwoman Barbara Hoppe proposed moratorium on downtown demolitions to give the council time to analyze C-2 zoning designation.

The council voted on the moratorium at Tuesday night's meeting after hearing statements from the public for more than an hour.

Dozens of Columbia residents shared their views Tuesday night with council members. People read poems, shared stories and spoke out in support of saving the Niedermeyer building, while opponents of the bill addressed issues of property rights and concern regarding the legality of the moratorium.

Columbia resident Cathie Brooks created an online petition asking the council to save the building. She collected 1,600 signatures for the petition.

"Our historic preservation commission, our planning commission, our zoning commission, the downtown leadership council and all three surrounding neighborhood organizations are strongly in support of a temporary abeyance so we can have the time to look at what is necessary," Hoppe said. "(To look at) the basic fundamental needs for development downtown and what should be in C-2 and take a look to see whether we have the necessary historic preservation provisions."

In the 3-3 tie, the bill was defeated. The usually seven-member council has been one member short since Nov. 30, when Fifth Ward councilwoman Helen Anthony left the position. Proposed bills require four votes to pass, but in this case, with a six-member council, a tie results in a measure being defeated.

Mayor Bob McDavid, who voted against the bill, found it unnecessary because the Niedermeyer can't be demolished until the summer due to its current tenants' leases.

"It can't be demolished until the demolition permit is given, which can't happen until the last client is out of there, which is not going to be until the summer, which is going to be after this abeyance is over," McDavid said. "So the abeyance fundamentally has no effect on the future of the Neidermeyer."

McDavid also showed concern that the owners of the Niedermeyer and the developers that wish to build in its place could sue the city as a result of the bill.

A moratorium would have created a feeling of distrust among property owners, said Carrie Gartner, executive director of Downtown Community Improvement District Board.

Despite the defeat of the bill and the issue of the Neidermeyer, zoning regulations and the future of downtown Columbia remain in question.

"Although people may disagree on this moratorium, what I do hear more agreement on is the fact that we need to have a discussion about how residential (developments) happen in the downtown area," Gartner said. "To do so, we need all the groups to come together and reach some sort of consensus. Not everyone will be happy, but we can have some consensus."

Currently, C-2 zoning lacks the necessary regulations, Hoppe said.

"Right now, with our present C-2 zoning, anything goes — no setbacks, no height requirements, no parking requirements, no requirements on tree scape areas (and) efficiency of sewers," Hoppe said.

As to the fate of the Neidermeyer, there don't seem to be any alternatives, said Brent Gardner, Downtown Columbia Leadership Council member.

"It appears that the mayor and some of City Council are scared of a lawsuit," Gardner said. "Unless there's an alternative found, I don't see the Neidermeyer building being saved. It would be great for the city to step in, but the mayor said he'd have a hard time justifying the cost (of purchasing the building)."

Within 90 days, four members could vote to bring the bill back for another vote, City Counselor Fred Boeckmann said.

Gardner said, depending on who is elected to the Fifth Ward seat Feb. 5, the bill could be brought back to a vote.

"I don't know how any of the candidates stand on the issue, but it could be a possibility," he said.

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