City planners agreed Monday that any changes in how the old state mental hospital property develops will be overseen by the city of Columbia, not real estate developers who propose an ambitious urban project for the 181 acres.
The Columbia Planning Commission voted unanimously in favor of the city retaining greater oversight of the project than initially proposed by Greenville developer Bob Hughes. A Hughes representative nodded approval when asked by city planners if he was comfortable with the tougher controls.
Hughes had originally proposed allowing him to pick most members of a committee to review certain modifications to the Bull Street project. Now, city staff will handle that task. Their duties would include deciding whether to reduce the number of parking spaces or decreasing setbacks. Major changes would be approved by City Council.
“This seems to be far superior to what we had earlier considered,’’ the commission’s Mark James said. “It brings more meat to the bones.’’
The Bull Street project is one of the most ambitious development plans brought to Columbia in years. It would transform the mostly vacant mental hospital property into an urban neighborhood of stores, homes, offices and a minor-league baseball park. Private college dormitories also could be on the land.
Specific details of the project are still emerging, but zoning rules would require protection of many historic buildings now on the tree-shaded site. Zoning rules also contain some oversight of large, majestic trees on the property, although the zoning does not protect all trees. The property is north of the state capitol between Bull and Harden streets.
Recommended zoning, known as a planned unit development, allows for the type of large project Hughes proposes on Bull Street. City Council could vote as early as Oct. 2 to approve the zoning. A public hearing will be held that night.
In other matters, the planning commission voted to recommend:
• Zoning changes that allow for more paved parking at Carolina Stadium, USC’s popular baseball park. The area being rezoned from a residential designation to one allowing for parking is 1.14 acres at the northwest corner of Catawba and Williams streets. The new lot will accommodate 91 vehicles. Granby neighborhood leader Bob Guild said his community supports the zoning changed, but urged the commission to seek completion of a nearby greenway.
• Rezoning to commercial a half-acre parcel in the University Hill neighborhood adjacent to the USC campus, despite protests from many neighbors upset about potentially undesirable businesses locating there. City staff recommended denying the zoning change on Barnwell Street, but planning commissioners said the developed property will continue to be used as office space.