Columbia, a city where swift growth is causing zoning and infrastructure problems, hired a land-use and real estate consulting firm as part of a two-year process to overhaul its development codes.
Tim Teddy, Columbia’s community development director, said the city has recognized the need for an updated development guide “for a number of years.”
“We’ve just completed a new city comprehensive plan, and after finishing it, it was a good time to do [the update],” Teddy said. “Really, you can trace our zoning map and structure all the way to the mid ’30s.”
The City Council voted to pay Clarion Associates $150,000 for a comprehensive update of the development codes.
City Council member Laura Nauser said during a meeting in December that hiring an outside consultant would take the “political nature” out of staff decisions and provide an independent analysis, along with a broader look at what’s being done around the country for customization in Columbia, according to the minutes.
Clarion Director Don Elliott said such an overhaul is rare, occurring around every 40 years for most towns and cities. They typically hire a third party to assist in the process, Elliott said.
“It’s pretty rare to find a big city that does it on its own,” he said. “That just takes so much staff time. [The towns] only know the problems across their town, not how other towns have dealt with that same kind of problem.”
Teddy said it would have taken three times as long if Columbia had chosen to address the comprehensive update in-house
Clarion Associates has completed 130 zoning reform projects. They ranged from towns smaller than Columbia to cities as large as Detroit and Philadelphia. Regardless of its size, each location faces similar problems, Elliott said.
Elliott said updating codes is all about blending what the towns decide is broken and what the third-party firms see that could be fixed. In today’s development world, this resolution is all about making codes visual with drawings and diagrams and following form-based controls.
“Traditionally, zoning codes were driven by what uses could be made in development,” Elliott said. “It has changed in the last 20 years to focus on ‘how will the building that will be built fit in with the buildings that are around it?’”
He said the separation of businesses from homes under traditional zoning is eroding in multi-family areas. The movement toward environmental protection has made a huge impact in code changes, he added.
“Almost all the codes we’re asked to write have the words green, sustainability and livability in them,” Elliott said.
Teddy believes city residents are on board with this idea. “We think the community will come together on this and we’ll get a good product,” he said.