TOWN SQUARE: Why is development in Columbia so disproportionate?

1 year 1 month 1 week ago June 09, 2016 Jun 9, 2016 Thursday, June 09 2016 Thursday, June 09, 2016 10:50:00 AM CDT in News
By: Stephanie Sierra, KOMU 8 Reporter and Rose Schmidt, KOMU 8 Digital Producer
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COLUMBIA - Kevin Kelly has been a mid-Missouri lover for 22 years, until a recent trend became frustrating for him. 
 
"I love Columbia and I don't intend to leave until they blast me out on a stretcher," Kelly said. "But now our lifestyle is different because of all the development and now things just aren't the same."
 
KOMU 8 News asked viewers about overall development in Columbia, how it affects them and whether they support the Columbia City Council's decision to freeze development of student housing downtown until December 1, 2016. (Tune into our special edition of Town Square today at noon.)
 
What we learned from the survey
 
It turned out the Kelly wasn't alone, in fact our survey indicated over 86 percent of viewers who participated indicated they supported the freeze, leaving a little over 12 percent of respondents opposing the freeze.
 
 

Support

Many who support the freeze said, with student enrollment down at the University of Missouri, they don't see a reason to develop more housing for students.

"There will not enough residents to fill more of these student housing complexes. The city needs to focus on creating more standard apartments to appeal to the growing number of Columbia's permanent residents," said a Second Ward resident who lives in the Northeast.

A Fourth Ward resident of southwest Columbia asked: "If enrollment at MU has peaked, who will fill the existing apartments?"

A Sixth Ward resident from southeast Columbia said, "There are fewer students expected and two dorms are closed in anticipation of the decreased enrollment. The private student housing should follow suit."

Following the May 1 national decision date for college choices, a university representative said the entering freshman class of fall 2016 will be fewer than 5,000.

Many survey respondents also said most apartment complexes downtown are too expensive for many families to afford. Some one- or two-bedroom apartments downtown can cost more than $1,000 per person each month.

A survey respondent from northeast Columbia said, "Until the developments downtown become affordable/suitable for non-student residents, I will support the freeze. Per bedroom rents are not an option for regular people."

"It drives up the average cost for housing. Not everyone has rich parents to pay about 700$/month," said a resident who lives in the southwest.

Many supporters of the freeze said student housing makes it challenging or unappealing for residents to go downtown. At least 20 survey respondents mentioned parking concerns.

"Our office is at 8th and Locust, with these developments all around us. Some of our clients are elderly and cannot park blocks away to come to our office," a survey respondent said.

"The new, student housing complexes look cheap and ugly and are horrible examples of 'architecture,'" a Third Ward resident from northeast Columbia said.

"Development has ruined downtown. Downtown no longer belongs to the residents of Columbia. The city has let the University take over," said a resident who lives in southwest Columbia.

That respondent continued with, "Downtown used to be a place you could take your kids. Now it's full of trash and beer cans."

A Third Ward resident who lives downtown said, "They are taking the charm away from my alma mater making it more difficult to visit on the weekends with our old watering holes."

Another respondent who lives downtown echoed this sentiment with, "It's a tragedy that old buildings were demolished and the character of this fine old town reduced to a bunch of high rise apartments. It's just awful."

Opposition

But some people said the freeze is misguided because downtown development largely benefits the community.

A downtown resident who responded to the survey said, "It puts more residents on the streets, brings more business and services to downtown, supports those businesses economically. It adds tax revenue, it is taking the in-fill development model rather than creating more sprawl. Downtown residential pulls cars off the roads and puts pedestrians and bikes in their place. We should encourage new development to be inclusive of rooftop solar arrays and green roofs. Downtown infill development reduces runoff and removal of trees."

Others said they feared that freezing student housing would have unintended effects elsewhere in the city.

"I don't want any new student housing in the out-lying neighborhoods. Keep them all downtown out of my hair," a Fifth Ward resident who lives in southwest Columbia said.

The most common reasons respondents listed for opposing the freeze were that it should be up to the business owner to decide where to create a business, and the market should determine need.

"I'm a supporter of property rights. As long as zoning requirements are met and adequate infrastructure is in place, we should allow projects to proceed," a Fifth Ward resident who also lives in southwest Columbia said.

"They should not be infringing on people creating new businesses," a First Ward resident said.

A Fourth Ward resident from southwest Columbia said, "You can't discriminate against just one type of development. Columbia is going to grow regardless of the anti-growth council and mayor."

Disproportionate development

While combing through survey results, KOMU 8 News discovered many respondents felt that development in Columbia was largely centered in the downtown and southwest areas, leading other areas of the city to be neglected.

Facebook user Cj Macintosh said, "Columbia years ago divided up their Section 8 so the city does not grow naturally like geographically other cities."

Macintosh continued with, "It's a simple fact if your areas being underdeveloped it's because your crime is too high; you're called an undesirable area."
 
A survey respondent who supports the downtown development freeze said, "Though it's inevitable that these buildings will go up in their designated spots anyway, why not build on the OTHER side of Providence?"
 
A resident who lives in northeast Columbia said that area of the city is a "developmental wasteland."
 
The respondent continued with, "They are ignoring it and letting it go. The entire fairgrounds at Lake of the Woods exit on both sides of the I-70 are empty and ripe for development, but it seems it will never happen, even with the 2 new schools that recently opened."
 
Despite the majority of respondents who answered yes, we found in a separate question that a majority also indicated the decision to freeze didn't personally affect their home or work.
 
The survey indicated respondents who agreed with the freeze because of issues like increased rent prices, inability to find parking and frustration over a majority of housing built in one area over other parts of the city.
 

The view of a leading realtor

Jim Meyer, president-elect of the Columbia Board of Realtors, came into the KOMU 8 News studio to talk about the issues. (See video below).

He said many cities have a hot spot and, for Columbia, it's obviously the city's southwest quadrant.

He said a "reinforcing" loop is in play: The area's reputation attracts more residents, which pushes up land values, which means people with higher incomes move there. Commercial interests such as grocery stores and restaurants are drawn in because residents meet their target demographics, especially in terms of income, and then those amenities help add to the area's appeal and thus increase its reputation, drawing in more residents.

Negative perceptions can also be reinforcing, Meyer said, especially on the matter of crime. He said crime happens throughout Columbia and really isn't confined to any one area. But, he said, once a person thinks crime is an issue in an area, then every report of crime, such as shots fired, just backs up that view, whether it's an accurate reflection of the entire area or not.

Meyer said the unfortunate side effect is that many quality neighborhoods in Columbia are overlooked, even though they appreciate at about the same rate as more popular areas. In fact, Meyer said data indicates the north side, called "neglected" by KOMU 8 News viewers, earns an equal return on investment, in terms of percentage, than the southwest side.

Meyer said the area returning the highest value is a central core bordered by I-70, Highway 63 and Stadium Boulevard. A comparison of mean housing prices show it has appreciated at about four times the rate of both the north side and southwest area.

As for downtown, Meyer said he believes much of the criticism of development there is misguided. He said the "character" of downtown, with its street level shops, is not essentially changing, even as the city "grows taller."

He said two of the common arguments against development directly contradict each other. He said it can't be argued that development is killing downtown and keeping people away, at the same time people are saying that there are too many people downtown and that's causing traffic problems.

Meyer strongly suggested residents throughout Columbia pay careful attention to what is happening with zoning regulations as a result of the development freeze. He said they will have a ripple effect on every neighborhood.

What city management has to say

KOMU 8 News reached out to Patrick Zenner, Columbia's development services manager, who specializes on the city's re-development code. 
 
Zenner explained how development throughout the city is largely based off of market demand.
 
"It's generally always driven by the market first responding to a need," he said. 
 
The process required to re-zone property is quite extensive and often goes through many stages before final approval.
 
"An applicant has to come in, they come to us to provide a review of their request, we do that review, prepare a report for the planning commission, and then the planning commission makes a recommendation to council and then council ultimately has the final say in rezoning a property," Zenner said.
 
The re-development process also involves a great amount of market research.
 
"We look at our land use plan, we look at transportation, and infrastructure networks to pre-select properties or areas that we believe are appropriate for redevelopment for something more intense," Zenner said.
 
Infrastructure problems were cited by several KOMU 8 News survey respondents.
 
"The residents that may live in an outlying suburban environment are probably in a position where the infrastructure that was placed in their neighborhoods is newer, doesn't require as much maintenance," Zenner pointed out.
 
"The investments that are being made downtown are to replace sometimes hundred-year-old infrastructure systems that have never been replaced or have never been upgraded," he said.
 
On the matter of amenities, such as gas stations and supermarkets placed throughout the city, Zenner said those requests have to go through many steps before final approval, and residents' opinions can have a "significant impact on the outcome."
 
"Even if they oppose that type of request, and again, perceived impacts they may create can influence the impact of the planning and zoning commission as well as city council," Zenner said.
 
For more information on the re-development process, the city's website has detailed definitions for the specific zoning rules in each part of the city.
 
(Additional reporting by Annie Hammock, KOMU 8 Interactive Director)
 

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