Oldest building in Columbia could be razed

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) -- A Columbia City Council member wants a closer examination of downtown zoning as the city's oldest building could soon be torn down and replaced by high-rise student apartments.

A St. Louis developer is under contract to buy the Niedermeyer house in downtown at Tenth and Cherry streets in March. The developer has also filed a city permit request to raze the 175-year-old building. Columbia's Historic Preservation Commission will review the permit application and recommend action to city officials.

On Monday, City Council member Barbara Hoppe proposed a six-month waiting period for downtown demolition requests as part of a broader commercial zoning review, the Columbia Daily Tribune reported (bit.ly/12y09Li ).

A city official says Collegiate Housing Partners is considering a building as tall as 15 stories, six stories higher than downtown's current tallest building.

"It's unconscionable not to take any action on it," Hoppe said after the meeting. "For me, there is no question."

A council vote on Hoppe's proposal could occur in early January. The Niedermeyer building carries the city's C-2 zoning designation, which contains no restrictions on building height and no requirements for minimum lot size.

The Niedermeyer home was built in 1837 by Gen. Richard Gentry and his wife, Ann Gentry, who are considered to be the founders of Columbia. The three-story building has been used as private student housing since 1921 but was previously an all-girls private school, a prominent hotel and a university classroom.

City residents and historic preservationists spoke out against the proposed demolition at Monday night's council meeting. Nearly 500 people signed an online petition against the project, which follows the construction of several other student high-rises that some fear could threaten downtown Columbia's small-town charm.

Nina Wilson-Keenan said the St. Louis developer should spare the Niedermeyer and look at other vacant lots instead.

"There are options," she said. "It's not like we live in New York City."

Robert Tucker, the historic commission's vice chairman, told the council that the developers are open to considering a different property for their project.

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