Downtown infrastructure unable to support growing Columbia

A district and rezoning for the downtown area has been proposed to help pay for the necessary upgrade of public infrastructure.

Columbia is growing. MU’s population has grown in recent years, and more and more student housing developers are flocking to the city to take advantage of the growth before Columbia gets too full.

The city of Columbia, however, is already struggling to fit all the high-density living areas without any issues.

Currently, around four student complexes are building new living spaces near downtown Columbia in the next two years. The infrastructure of downtown, however, is currently not able to support the growth within the area, Assistant City Manager Tony St. Romaine said.

“I’d kind of characterize it as a perfect storm right now,” St. Romaine said. “There’s obviously a lot of interest in Columbia right now as far as development … that’s already occurred over the past few years. The amount of utilities we have to serve the central city area is inadequate to support all of this high-density residential (demand) right now.”

To alleviate the problem, the city council has proposed a Tax Increment Funding idea, designed to help pay for infrastructure upgrades. Right now, a consultant for city council is creating a cost-benefit analysis to determine how much property tax revenue the new properties could bring.

St. Romaine said that if a proposed TIF area currently brings $100,000 in property taxes, with new properties, it would bring in $120,000. The extra revenue would be placed in a fund. The $100,000 would continue to go to the previous properties it supported, while the rest would go toward fixing the infrastructure.

“If the TIF passes, we think we will have sufficient increment being generated so that we can increase the capacity of our water, sewer, electric and storm water in this area for way into the future,” St. Romaine said.

Before the council can decide whether to accept the TIF proposal, the proposal must first be reviewed by a TIF commission. The commission is made up of 11 members, six of whom are appointed by the mayor and approved by City Council.

“They look at the redevelopment plan, they look at the cost-benefit analysis and then they provide a recommendation to the City Council, who will ultimately be the final decisionmaker on whether this TIF district would pass or not,” St. Romaine said.

The proposed TIF district would consist of College Avenue to the east, Providence Road to the west, Elm Street to the south and Interstate 70 to the north.

The area also had to be rezoned to accommodate the new structures, Development Services Manager Pat Zenner said.

“The area is currently an R3: a medium-density, multi-family area with 17 units per acre,” Zenner said. “It’s looking to be rezoned into a PUD60, which is a Planned Unit Development with 60 units per acre.”

Each zone has different limitations, which is why the area had to be rezoned to account for these new high-density buildings, Zenner said.

St. Romaine said the infrastructure improvements will be extensive. Although he has already seen opposition in the media, St. Romaine said he hopes everyone will wait for all of the information to become available.

“We have not seen that cost-benefit analysis yet,” St. Romaine said. “We believe when we do get it, that we can structure the TIF in such a way that none of the taxing jurisdictions will be hurt.”

St. Romaine called downtown vital to Columbia.

“If the downtown is allowed to degrade, that begins to affect the entire city,” St. Romaine said. “I think as a city, we need to make a decision that we want to continue to invest in our downtown area which in the long term, I think, benefits the entire community.”

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