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Columbia City Council combines downtown lots for planned apartment

This story has been updated to provide the latest information from councilman Karl Skala and city planner Pat Zenner.

A 6-1 vote of the Columbia City Council allowed a California developer to get closer to building a multiple story apartment complex downtown.

While the apartment complex hasn’t even been approved yet, residents are voicing opposition to even the idea of the plan.

Eran Fields of California-based Fields Holdings told ABC 17 News he wants to build a ten-story building on Locust Street, between Ninth and Tenth Streets. Fields has already bought the properties, which include Quinton’s Bar and Deli and Britches Clothing store on Ninth Street, and the residential James Condominiums on Tenth Street.

Columbia’s development director Tim Teddy said Fields has already applied for demolition, and the city’s Historic Preservation Commission was still reviewing it for the properties on the national historic registry.

Fields has not yet submitted architectural details or designs of the building to the city, called the Rise Apartments, but has indicated general features, such as space for businesses on the first floor and parking on the second floor.

City Manager Mike Matthes said Monday city staff would review the plans to see if it met zoning codes for downtown, as well as if utilities could handle the development.

The city council approved combining the two plats of land along the block of Locust Street into one. Matthes said the council may not see the issue again. If the project follows all rules, Matthes said, the project would move forward with no need of council approval.

The group would only need to vote on it if the company was looking for a “variance” in the rules, or they needed to close a street or sidewalk for construction.

City attorney Nancy Thompson said the council has “limited discretion” in deciding to re-plat subdivisions.

“As long as a plat comes forward, and it meets the standards that are set forth in the city code, the general rule in Missouri is that there’s limited discretion to deny that act,” Thompson said. She added that denying the re-plat could open the city, and council members, up to legal action taken by Fields Holdings.

Additionally, city planner Pat Zenner said there might be legal action if the city doesn’t approve plans in line with zoning codes.

“You meet the zoning standards; property owners are free to exchange or sell property to other individuals that are willing to buy, then you meet the regulatory standard,” he said. “If we choose to deviate from that or deny the permit, the course of action that is possible is that we can be challenged in court.”

While many council members cited what they saw as a legal necessity to approve the re-platting, Third Ward Councilman Karl Skala voted against it. While he said he understood the legal situation, he repeated a sentiment those in his area gave to him – “What is going on downtown?”

When ABC17 News spoke to Skala on Tuesday, he repeated the same sentiment.

“We need a more balanced and a more distributed approach. Some on the fringes of the downtown area, some right next to the university and so on, but when that starts to encroach on the real retail areas and the commercial areas in the downtown area, I think that’s a step too far,” said Skala. “People are asking me and suggesting, ‘what’s left for the adults’?”

Skala said he did speak to Fields, calling him a “wonderful guy” at Monday’s meeting.

Skala complimented him on his concern for the historic preservation aspect of the project, but on Tuesday Skala did express concern that the building couldn’t be saved.

“Certainly there’s an opportunity to harvest useful or valuable kinds of things but that’s a far cry from a real consideration of preserving the historic downtown, which we’re losing,” he said.

Zenner said from a planning perspective, they’re developing a new zoning code currently that should help keep the character of downtown, but still allow for new development.

“As we grow, we have growing pains like this. We want to preserve our character of downtown,” he said. “It’s character, it’s not qualify who lives downtown or not. It’s the characteristics of downtown, what makes downtown enjoyable.”

Skala said he’s also concerned about whether the infrastructure will hold if the complex is built, but he said he’ll have to wait on more specific calculations and plans to be released by Fields.

Fields told ABC 17 News that his building would dedicate 65% of the residential spaces to “students and non-students.”

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