Columbia city planners are working to arrange a meeting this week with University of South Carolina officials, community neighbors and a Tennessee-based student housing developer to resolve a conflict over plans to build a 15-story apartment tower at south Main and College streets.
EdR, a student housing developer based in Memphis, won site plan approval from a city zoning board last week to build a tower on the location of Sandy’s Famous Hot Dogs and the Baptist Collegiate Ministry student center.
But Columbia’s Design/Development Review Commission would not sign off on the $60 million housing project despite city staff recommending approval. Instead, the design commission sent the project back to a subcommittee for discussion and review. No reasons were given for the delay, city officials said.
At issue is the population density the apartment tower would create.
The zoning appeals board approved EdR’s variance request to raise the density above the allowed 150 person per acre limit. The tower on the 1.26-acre site will have 704 beds, according to site plans.
The tallest buildings in the immediate area are roughly four to seven stories, critics, including USC, noted. The Cornell Arms apartments, located to two blocks away, is 18 stories tall, but dates back to the 1950s as one of the city’s first high rises.
USC, the largest developer and operator of student housing in Columbia, had objected to that proposal before the City of Columbia Board of Zoning Appeals, citing the proposed tower’s proximity to the university’s iconic Horseshoe.
The tower would block the line of vision from the historic campus area westward toward the Vista and the riverfront, the university said.
The tower also would hurt the character of the Innovista neighborhood just west of Assembly Street that the university has worked to develop over the past decade, the university said.
“USC and the city have worked together to establish criteria for the Innovista District and believe that South Main Street offers a similar opportunity to create a live-play-work district,” USC President Harris Pastides wrote in a June 8 letter to Board of Zoning Appeals chairman Ernest Cromartie.
“Development along this corridor should be consistent with its surroundings,” Pastides wrote. “The proposed height of the building will overshadow USC’s historic Horseshoe as well as the State Capitol located blocks away.”
Of nearly two dozen private student housing developments under construction or announced in the Columbia area since 2011, the College and Main Street proposal is the first USC said it has opposed, a school spokesman said.
“In this case the density of the project drives the height of the project,” USC spokesman Wes Hickman said. “We don’t object to student housing going there, we don’t object to private student housing going there, we certainly don’t object to this developer – they do very good work.
“Our objective is purely around the density of that project exceeding the beds per acre limit by such an extreme amount, driving the height of the building up to 15 stories, which causes two issues – that’s a lot of students in a small space,” Hickman said. “Secondly, is the aesthetics that that resulting height interrupts.”
EdR, deemed reputable by Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin and described as a good developer by USC, has built student housing around a number of college campuses including the University of Georgia, the University of North Carolina and the University of Texas.
Efforts to reach EdR officials were unsuccessful last week.
No date has been set for a meeting this week with city and university officials to discuss the tower.
At least six city design/development commissioners have signed up for the meeting. Architects and designers from EdR and USC also have been invited to express concerns and attempt to work out the differences, said Lucinda Statler, City of Columbia’s urban design planner.
“This will be a meeting where (the design commission doesn’t) take action, but it is open to the public,” said Statler, who concentrates on the City Center Design/Development District, the Innovista Design District and the North Main Street Corridor.
In July, the hope is EdR will come back to the design commission with a plan more acceptable to the commissioners, city officials said.
EdR has proposed to build a 545,000-square-feet high-rise with 246 apartments.
The first floor of the tower fronting Main Street would be dedicated to retail space, the Baptist student center and a lobby for the housing units, according to the plans.
The tower would include a seven-story garage with 550 spaces.
Reach Burris at (803) 771-8398