What does Columbia have against neighborhood restaurants?

This article on an attempt by the owners of Great Hangups Framing wanting to rezone still has me a little puzzled (or maybe it’s just nostalgia) a week later.

Owners Mark Nichols and Patti Mierzwa have wanted to sell their 0.6-acre property for a long time. It houses the framing shop and three residences. The property is zoned single-family residential; to make the site more marketable, they want it rezoned as planned commercial.

I can understand their sentiments, and this property has long been reminded of an area of Alexandria, Virginia that successfully housed shops and restaurants in a neighborhood setting. Inner suburban types like yours truly flocked to Evening Star Cafe (pictured above) and the funky shops that dotted what was otherwise full of well-maintained, mid-century brick homes. It was a wonderful, vibrant area and had the home values to match (for the record, the main drag likely saw less traffic than Broadway).

Anyway, Columbia has almost no neighborhood dining. Cherry Hill’s only successful eatery (Kostaki’s) is probably 90%+ delivery. J. Barton’s BBQ on McBaine went out of business. After that…well, there’s just not a whole lot out there is there?

I’m not saying added traffic doesn’t present some noise and space issues. But Great Hangups is already a business (and could theoretically have enough space on the 0.6 acre plot for additional parking). Nobody complains about having D&H Drug Store across the street. And it’s already the corner of freaking Broadway and West Boulevard. Just blocks from the farmers markets too, I think it’d be a fantastic location for a restaurant.

My other suggestion:“The Corner” spot at Wilkes and Rangeline. Plenty of issues here but it’s a cute (and historic) property. Cafe Berlin seems to be making a go of it not too far away.

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Author: Scott

I am a married father of two. I graduated from Rock Bridge High School and then Mizzou before spending six years in the Washington, D.C. area. We returned to Columbia, Missouri in 2006.

19 thoughts

  1. Maybe due to so much focus on “The District”? I don’t know.

    Is Lee Street Deli still in existence?

  2. I would guess it’s a decades-old view of commercial and residential being incompatible. We won’t walk a block to shop or dine downtown (“parking’s terrible”). Imagine the reaction-even when homes have driveways and garages-if there was more on-street parking going on in neighborhoods. People’d be pilloried.

    Yes, Lee St. is still around. I imagine this bothers neighbors less because they’re all renters/students/fraternity guys anyway.

  3. Scott, the objections of the neighbors are not primarily about the commercial zoning on the corner. After all, it’s been commercial for decades. I’m sure many neighbors are aware that a quality local restaurant could be an asset to that spot.

    You might want to go back and review the minutes of the previous P&Z hearings about this property. A 5,000 square foot, two-story building would tower over the surrounding houses. The parking requirements for such a space (even if they could be met under current regs) would mean zero landscaping — say goodbye to any trees, and hello to a tall fence. Moreover, the current owners do not have any kind of plan for the property — they are simply requesting planned commercial zoning; any actual plan (showing building height, materials, lighting, parking, access, stormwater impact, and much more) would be submitted by a hypothetical future owner.

    Many of these neighbors have lived there as long as that business has existed. As with many people, their homes are their biggest lifetime investment. Is it unreasonable for them to want some say in what happens to their neighborhood? They’re not NIMBYs, they’re just sensitive to the risk of what might happen here — and there is no assurance from the owners or the City that their worst fears won’t come to pass.

    I agree w/ you about a “prejudice” against commercial uses in residential areas. It can and does work (cf. Alexandria, VA). And I agree that this would be a great spot for a neighborhood restaurant. It would be wonderful if the GH location had an Evening Star Cafe. Sadly, in all likelyhood, it will have a big square box, out of proportion to its surroundings, with a big parking lot & fence, containing some offices, maybe a boutique or two. Hell, there’s enough space there to put a c-store w/ gas pumps.

  4. 1. The owners probably got outlawyered. In land use fights, it really does matter who you hire in Columbia. I don’t know who the owners hired, but the association hired Skip Walther, so unless the owners hired Craig Van Matre, I think they’re outlawyered, big time. I’ve seen lots of naifs, everywhere I’ve lived, think that they could win land-use fights because their position made common sense. They’re funny.
    2. This is such a stupid fight. The owners can have a business there so long as it’s not too successful (i.e., the parking lot is usually empty). Um, at least half that intersection is already purely commercial…oh, wait, let’s pretend that D&H Drug isn’t really there. You know, if you choose to live in a neighborhood that abuts the main east-west artery of the city that doesn’t happen to be an interstate highway, your complaints about traffic automatically lose a fair amount of credence. Don’t get me started on the idiotic schemes to choke off traffic on Broadway.
    3. I have to wonder how much of the fight is personal between the owners and the neighbors. Never discount the power of personal animosity in Columbia politics.

  5. A two-story, 5,000 sq. ft. structure would be out of place here, for sure. But I’ve been to Great Hangups four times in recent months for framing work and the property’s a bit of an eyesore anyway right now. A nice little neighborhood restaurant would be perfect. You’d have to do some serious and open-minded community relations work, but it would seem like reasonable people (with good lawyers) could work something out.

  6. @cyrano:

    1. I’m sure you’re right, since AFAIK, the neighbors aren’t represented by an attorney.

    2a. Don’t think you’re representing the views of the neighbors. It’s not the occupancy of the parking lot, it’s the size/scale of the building, AND the fact that who knows what might go there? Go back and read the public comments. Traffic is a minor concern.

    2b. No one is “pretending that D&H isn’t there.” D&H doesn’t back up to the neighbors’ back yards.

    3. Yes, there’s no doubt about that.

  7. @Scott — absolutely. GH IS an eyesore. A nice little neighborhood restaurant WOULD be perfect. (Yeah, w/ craft beer taps, Zac.) Unfortunately the owners (current/future) are going to maximize what they can do with the property — not a judgement there, just stating the obvious — and there are no guarantees of any kind. Moreover, City ordinances & policies are laughably inadequate when it comes to infill-style redevelopment. It’s not just the applicant and neighbors involved here (or shouldn’t be).

  8. The corner of West Boulevard and Broadway is a commercial-use intersection, as it should be, given the intersecting streets. Candidly, I don’t believe that the concerns of the neighbors are totally sincere– or alternatively, if they are, that they’re realistic. I think they’re alleging whatever’s necessary to stop the rezoning. That’s why I raise the D&H land use across the street. The highest and best use of the land in question has changed. It’s been commercial for 68 years.

    As to lawyering up, the neighbors hired Skip Walther, at least last time an attorney was mentioned in the Trib’s coverage. Good choice, at least insofar as getting insider juju.

    To me, this is simple– take out the framing shop (which had to have been marginal all these years), put a cafe in the same space– voila! (espcially if it’s French) If that could be done without rezoning, then I say do it. That probably means the owners would get less than under their rezoning plan, but they’d get market value, the neighbors would get a boite that would enhance their neighborhood (and being a neighbor of the neighborhood, I could walk or bike there). People lose track of what’s important here.

  9. Am I imagining things, or was there at some point talk of Brian Ash moving Bambino’s into the GH property? This was a few years ago, before he put the business up for sale, but I could swear I thought I heard that idea somewhere.

    I agree that a neighborhood cafe, deli or coffee shop would be a great addition to the area, although I can see why neighbors would be cautious about a change in zoning. A few blocks north is where they tore down Cleek’s and I was really hopeful that something more useful for the neighborhood would go in there. It would be a perfect spot for a small grocery store, or a coffee shop. Alas, it’s going to be another rent to own business. Wonderful.

    I used to live in downtown Fayetteville, Ark., and one of the things that I loved about their downtown was that it was woven in with actual neighborhoods. The bars, restaurants, government buildings and shops managed to co-exist with residents of all stripes–college kids, families, young professionals.

  10. @cyrano: “I think they’re alleging whatever’s necessary to stop the rezoning.” Not true. Or at least, only half true.

    Planned zoning consists of two steps: the rezoning to a planned district (e.g. C-P), which is what the applicants currently seek; and the development plan itself, which includes a building plan, stormwater, parking, lighting, etc. The two steps can occur in the same hearing, or can be months or even years apart.

    A C-P zoning without a development plan and with a statement of intent (SOI) that’s too “loose” means that the rezoning party can simply get the zoning, then sell the (suddenly more valuable) land to whoever wants to pay for it. The buyer can then submit the development plan, or not. The problem w/ GH is that the current owner has no idea what will go there, and doesn’t really care — he just wants the land to be worth more. With that in mind, the goal from the owner’s perspective is to keep the allowed uses (listed in the SOI) as broad as possible.

    The neighbors oppose the zoning because (a) there’s no development plan to look at & say, “hey we like that”; (b) with a too-broad SOI, the neighbors have less leverage to help determine the ultimate use; (c) the current owners have no intention of developing a cafe, restaurant, commercial, retail or anything else — they just want to sell it for as high a price as possible. (Again, not a criticism of the owners’ motives.) So at this time, & given the current request, opposing the zoning is really the only choice the neighbors have, if they want any kind of say in what ultimately happens there.

    You’re also incorrect about the neighbors hiring Skip Walther. He works for the applicant. (Unless he’s recently switched sides?)

    Your “simple” suggestion can’t be done without rezoning — GH is a nonconforming use. They have to rezone. If they do what you suggest with rezoning (i.e. limit allowed uses to a cafe and similar low-impact uses), I guarantee the neighbors would support it.

  11. As former senator Alan Simpson said, ‘We’re all entitled to our own opinions, but no one is entitled to their own facts. Facts are facts.”

    I don’t want to pick a fight, but, Cyrano is incorrect in his opinion stipulating that this is historically a ‘commercial’ corner. To this day, three of the four corners are zoned residential, R-1 – single family residential. With the exception of the non-conforming GH, the D&H building and neighboring office building, everything for blocks, and blocks, and blocks in either direction is zoned residential and used as residential. That is the fact.

    Unfortunately for all of us, Scott, our existing rezoning and development process simply does not provide sufficient protection to neighboring property owners to ensure a redevelopment that is of appropriate scale, aesthetic, and use to not take value from their properties.

    This is terribly unfortunate for our community. This policy failure puts folks in contentious roles, when everyone involved has a legitimate right to advocate for protecting their investment and quality of life.

    While it might make sense to grant rezoning to the actual building that is currently GHs, it makes no sense to rezone Nichol’s current residence, nor the two small rental properties on Broadway. His personal residence is not on an intersection. It’s part of residential West Blvd – a long-term, stable residential neighborhood.

    Also, we have to quit rewarding ‘demolition by neglect’. I don’t want to single Mark out for this unfortunate reality of BoCo development culture, but we must disincentivize the stra-tee-gery that encourages property owners to purposefully blight their own properties in order to argue that they need to develop it into something else. Instead of being rewarded by a Council ruling that will – at the pound of the gavel – increase their personal wealth by an order of magnitude, we need to focus public resources on requiring upkeep and maintenance of property values within a property’s current zoning designation.

    To Scott, I don’t think Columbians hate neighborhood retail and restaurants. I, like Glenn, Zac, Cyrano & lots of others, get it that well-done neighborhood commercial can actually add value to residential property owners. We just don’t currently have the proper rules in place to protect neighborhoods. While the history of why is long, complicated, and requires the ability to smoke cigars in backrooms, it’s a foregone conclusion that we have the smarts in Columbia to achieve that goal if only we could get the political culture to the place where neighbors could feel confident that they would be protected…

  12. “if only we could get the political culture to the place where neighbors could feel confident that they would be protected…”

    “We” just voted in that political culture, didn’t we? 😉 Now I’m really stirring the pot.

    I think what needs to happen (with somebody else’s money) is for 1) someone to buy the property with current zoning, 2) create the development plan WITH the neighborhood association (no more of the 5,000 sq ft silliness either) and 3) work with planning and development to rezone. Oh, and then rehab the whole property and open a small, kickass restaurant.

    That can’t be too hard can it?

  13. Scott,

    Don’t tempt me. It’s got to be more lucrative than farming. How about a farm-table cafe like Broadway, with a variety of ethnic and American specialties, changing with seasons and lots of simple and take-outable dishes? And fresh-made ice cream from local milk?

    Yes, I’m writing this after 5″ of rain the last few days and delaying going back out to work in oppressive humidity. A fellow can dream, yes?

  14. A lot of thoughtful, interesting and well-informed comments here. Thanks to all.

    Rachel: I don’t remember hearing of this as a potential Bambino’s location…had heard about moving onto Broadway downtown once, but nothing since.

  15. Would a two-story building really tower over it’s neighbors? That sounds somewhat silly, considering there are two-story houses in the area (yes, I know commercial vs. residential is different).

    And frankly, would it be bad to have more than one thing besides a neighborhood restaurant in that space? Why not leave room for more than one use? Surely the zoning could be designed to eliminate the possibility of something undesirable going in. Chicago, Minneapolis, etc., are filled with 1 and 2 story building within existing older neighborhoods. And there are all kinds of uses within those spaces. A nice antiques store, a restaurant, a small theater, apartments on top: those all would be nice additions to the area. A little flexibility would increase the chance that something of value would take root. Dictating specific uses would increase the chance of failure, or worse, that nothing would take root at all.

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