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Unified development code unveiled at planning and zoning meeting

City planners on Thursday will present an overview of their draft for the city’s new “unified development code.”

City planner Pat Zenner said there will be two parts to the presentation at Thursday’s meeting. They will talk about the code process, how it began and what it hopes to achieve.

The meeting is open to the public and the public is encouraged to make comments on the information presented.

Planners will also summarize the six code test sites that were used by the hired consultants to test different development scenarios related to the content of the new code.

City staff has worked over the last year to update and alter current land development-related issues. Zenner said it was a change in response to the city’s comprehensive plan for how the community envisioned itself to grow.

Zenner clarified that it’s not a building code. It has more to do with subdivision requests, zoning and land preservation requirements.

“It is basically unifying all things (related to) development,” he said.

The form-based code is supposed to address the physical form of the community, keeping the look of downtown Columbia similar after complaints that the city is losing its historic character.

“Form based code deals with character and how buildings look as it relates to downtown character,” said Zenner.

The code will also update zoning regulations involving infrastructure, multi-family housing, and parking standards.

Zenner warned that the new code likely won’t address all issues in the community but he said planners can add to or take out of the code changes that residents bring up, but planners might have missed.

“We’re not done yet. If they have a specific concern about an element in the code, about what it may or may not address, then they can say what their concern is and then we can address it,” said Zenner.

Zenner also clarified that designing a code to fit current issues is challenging because the current issues facing the city might not be relevant in the future.

“You want to be respectful of what the public wants but you have to look long term,” he said.

The city also ran “tests” of various developments in the city under the new rules to see what would need to change. The Lofts on Broadway, an apartment building at the corner of Tenth Street and Broadway, would need another entrance along Tenth Street. Apartment buildings downtown would also need to dedicate 15 percent of its space to “private open areas,” like balconies are accessible rooftops – which the Lofts on Broadway would need to have, if built under the new code.

“It’s a requirement that mixed use buildings simply not be just packed with leasable space, but there be some common area to add an aspect of quality to those buildings,” Community Development Director Tim Teddy told the commission Thursday night.
Throughout the summer, planning and zoning officials will hold informational meetings for residents and go through specific details of the code.

“We will take the month of August and all those comments. We will look at them and incorporate those that can be added,” said Zenner. “Those we can’t, we’ll identify them.”

The basic structure of the code will stay the same, Zenner said, but the content is flexible enough to be changed slightly after resident input.

Zenner said the planners are tentatively hoping to have a final draft in front of council by September.

“Ultimately, council has control over the end product and what they feel they need to have to be responsive to their constituents,” he said.

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