Student Housing: Council OKs Regency Aspen Heights project after long hearing

The Columbia City Council gave approval Monday night to a controversial proposal to rezone the Regency Mobile Home Park to allow for the construction of a 936-bed student apartment complex.

The council decided after nearly three hours of testimony from mobile home residents, University of Missouri students and activists speaking mostly in opposition to the rezoning request and from some Regency residents and representatives for Texas-based Aspen Heights, a student housing company that submitted the rezoning request, speaking in favor. Attendees who opposed the request sported yellow ribbons as a show of solidarity, and most statements on either side were met with applause from a divided audience.

Regency residents found out about the rezoning request in September from a public notice in the newspaper and were told in October by the Colo.-based Churchill Group, the owner of the property, that the residents would have to vacate the property by Feb. 29.

Aspen Heights has offered some incentives that could lessen the burden on the rezoning on Regency residents, such as offering a $1,800 moving allowance for single-wide trailers and a $3,000 moving allowance for double-wide trailers. The company has also given more time for the residents to leave the land: Most residents would have to vacate the premises by April 30, and families with school-age children can stay until May 31.

The rezoning request was passed with a 5-2 vote, with Fifth Ward Councilwoman Helen Anthony and Sixth Ward Councilwoman Barbara Hoppe casting the dissenting votes.

Anthony said she was siding with the Columbia Planning and Zoning Commission, which in September unanimously rejected a recommendation to approve the rezoning request. She said more student housing in southeast Columbia could make the area more dense, increase traffic and place additional stress on infrastructure.

“We have too much student housing in that area,” Anthony said.

Hoppe, who represents the ward that encompasses the trailer park, echoed Anthony’s concerns. She warned that traffic congestion could become an escalating problem if there any service cuts from Columbia Transit to the area.

“I can’t vote for a project and have it have so many negative effects on so many people,” Hoppe said.

But Mayor Bob McDavid said it was presumable that, if the measure did not pass, Regency residents are “going to be out on the street.”

“Their life is tough enough to be thrown out of their homes,” McDavid said.

First Ward Councilman Fred Schmidt argued that the development is consistent with other development in the area and said he did not oppose dense development in the area.

“Density is good,” Schmidt said. “Density is green.”

The measure was passed with several amendments intended to lessen the burden on the redevelopment for Regency residents, including a guarantee that none of the financial incentives offered to residents by Aspen Heights would end up in the hands of the property owner.

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