Columbia discusses plans for new student housing

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COLUMBIA - A new student housing complex could be built in Columbia in the near future. 

Columbia is holding a public information meeting Tuesday at 5:30 p.m. at city hall to discuss a zoning request for roughly 32 acres of land to be called "The Avenue at Columbia". 

The Park 7 Development company is seeking a 321-unit student housing complex that would go alongside Cinnamon Hill Lane off the corner of Highway 63 and Stadium Boulevard. 

Columbia Development Services Manager Pat Zenner said residents in a neighborhood to the north of the site, called Timber Hill subdivision, opposed the initial request in 2013 that asked for 42 acres of the site. 

"Obviously, having a 321 unit development just to the south of them wasn't the most appealing thing in the world," Zenner said. "They wanted to have the nature of peace and quiet that they've enjoyed for many years."

So, Park 7 has changed its plans over the past year or so to keep a little over ten acres of the site as open space to serve as a buffer zone separating the neighborhood from the proposed student housing complex. 

Zenner said the two sides had begun making a compromise when the request first went to the Columbia City Council. 

But, the council recommended denial of the project because the residents of the nearby subdivision were not yet satisfied with the agreement.

Park 7 then had to wait a year to seek re-approval on the project, as is required by requests denied by the Columbia City Council. 

In that time, Zenner said the two sides have had more discussions regarding how the ten and a half acres would be used as a buffer zone.  

"The neighborhood is still concerned about the transition," Zenner said. "There still is an expressed concern by the neighborhood association in relation to the compatibility of the use."

Zenner said another issue for nearby residents is the separately proposed extension of Timber Hill Road to Cinnamon Hill Lane that would allow emergency vehicles to access the planned complex. 

"The residents really enjoy their semi-isolation from other influences," Zenner said. "The only other way to access to Timber Hill subdivision is off of Highway WW. It's not a very convenient access so they don't really get a lot of visitors into the neighborhood."

Zenner said the fact the planned complex is meant for student housing and not residential housing probably led to more opposition for the plan. 

In considering other recent student housing developments like The Domain, The Den and Aspen Heights, he said the city has a need for continued development.

"The population of our student bodies has continued to increase at all three of our academic institutions," Zenner said. "There is a lack of student housing that is created year to year."

The Planning and Zoning commission will vote on approval for the land request at its meeting March 19. 

If approved, the request would then head to the Columbia City Council.