Columbians wanting to affect the big-picture plan for how to develop the Capital City are invited Wednesday for a close-up look at maps that depict the latest draft of a road map to the future.
Months in the making, the proposed land use plan would replace an outdated one that city planners say is so vague it approaches being useless in guiding where to locate construction – whether it’s commercial, mixed-use projects or housing.
“I looked at the land use plan, and it gave little to no direction – it didn’t provide a vision,” Krista Hampton, Columbia’s director of planning and development, said last week.
The public’s feedback on Wednesday might tweak the plan that already has been vetted by businesses, neighborhood leaders and other stakeholders. A three-day public workshop in June drew a cross section of about 200 residents to the Metropolitan Convention Center, Hampton and planning administrator John Fellows said.
The city Planning Commission is to vote on the plan at its Dec. 1 meeting, and City Council is scheduled tentatively to finalize it in January, they said.
A revised land use plan is tightly intertwined with Columbia’s 50-year-old zoning laws, which Hampton described as “byzantine” in their complexity, frustrating developers, homeowners and the public.
A new land-use plan then will guide the daunting rewrite of zoning laws adopted in the late 1970s and frequently amended, Hampton said. Adoption of new zoning ordinances will take another 18 months, she said.
Hampton and Fellows described the connection between a land-use plan and rezoning this way: A land-use plan is the big picture, and zoning is the “paint by the numbers” instructions that fill in the picture.
To illustrate the problem, Hampton and Fellows said that Columbia’s development in the past four decades has centered on a then-popular development trend called “suburbanization.”
That meant the guiding vision for development was to encourage tidy, stand-alone projects in the suburbs that separated living, working and shopping. Shopping tended to be clustered in large malls and strip shopping centers.
The future of urban development is to zone properties to mix those elements of life in close proximity – often called “walkable” communities.
Columbia’s current land use ordinance was adopted in 2008 to be a 10-year plan, which is required under state law, Hampton and Fellows said. But the plan needs to be reworked before the zoning laws can be rewritten, Hampton said.
The proposed land use plan would be flexible enough to allow for a wide range of construction, including single-family housing, Hampton said.
Columbia is projected to gain between 35,000 and 59,000 new residents by 2040, planners estimate. The city has a relatively low residential density of about four housing units per acre in the densest neighborhoods, they say. Much of the city has about three units per acre.
In 2010, 38 percent of the city’s households were single-family dwellings. The ratio of owners to renters is about 50-50, according to figures supplied by the city.
The proposed land use plan is intended to help promote strong neighborhoods that offer a range of housing options and a strong city center. A meandering greenway park system, which is a long way from being accomplished, would connect communities.
Though city limits are not enlarging quickly, Columbia’s neighborhoods still have vacant land and buildings that could attract new single-family homes – a process that planners call “in-filling.”
The proposed land use plan has six development designations: Activity centers, special districts, a central business district, gateways, corridors and greenways that include Harbison Forest in the northwest area of town.
Activity centers, along with corridors, are the destination areas for commerce and entertainment. They would attract visitors from within the city and even the region.
The largest of the 32 activity centers is the Main Street business district. Other examples include North Main at Monticello Road, the Harbison shopping area and portions of the 165-acre Bull Street development.
A special district would be a large area dedicated to a unique land use with distinct character. It would include but not be limited to college campuses, business parks or industrial parks.
Examples include the Bull Street neighborhood, the Broad River Road area that is home to state prisons and state agencies as well as large parcels in the southern part of Columbia stretching from Williams-Brice Stadium to the less-developed area along Bluff Road to Atlas Road.
About 18 gateways and corridors form their own development category at key entrances into the city. They serve as first impressions of Columbia.
In effect, these designations are overlays to other development categories in the plan.
The thoroughfares stretch from Harbison, across the three rivers to Garners Ferry Road.