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Columbia City says no to commercial overlay zone

Proposal opposed at crowded City Council meeting


by: MARK MILLER - Columbia City resident Bert Cannon criticizes the proposed Village Center Overlay at a City Council of Columbia City public hearing Thursday, April 16. Also pictured in foreground are Bob and Shelly Sandford, also of Columbia City, who rose to speak in opposition to the overlay zone during the meeting as well.The City Council of Columbia City bowed to the wishes of the public who turned up for the council’s meeting Thursday, April 17, to consider a proposed overlay zone to allow retail and commercial services developments in the heart of Columbia City.

Residents who came to City Hall Thursday to testify on the proposal were uniformly opposed to it, expressing concerns that it could fundamentally change the character of the mostly residential community.

“I don’t understand why we are trying to change the character of the town that brought us here in the first place,” said Bert Cannon, who lives within the proposed overlay zone in downtown Columbia City. “We like it because it’s quiet, it’s safe, our kids and our grandkids can walk around, we know everybody.”

Gertie Byers, who lives along the Columbia River just blocks from City Hall, said, “Why change our community? Our community is just fine the way it is.”

“None of us want it,” said Bud Hickey, another resident of the area, of the overlay zone. “If anybody else wants to go anywhere else in this city and do anything, all they have to apply for is a variance for that particular type of use. Anybody that’s ever applied for any variances in this city to put in anything, whether it was commercial, residential — the city has never denied it. So why do we have to do this?”

The Village Center Overlay, as the concept was known, was included in a pair of otherwise unremarkable amendments to Columbia City’s comprehensive plan and development code — key documents for city planning. City officials said it was developed through a public advisory process that began in 2011.

by: MAP COURTESY OF COLUMBIA CITY - A map of the Village Center Overlay posted to the Columbia City website. If it had been approved, the overlay zone would have encompassed virtually the entire downtown area of the city, from the Port of St. Helens-owned Columbia City Industrial Park south to the Caples House Museum, as well as a small slice of land along the Columbia River.“A lot of these are similar or identical to what you currently have,” City Planner Lisa Smith said of the items included in the amendments. “However, item number four is related to providing a small-scale, local, village-style retail and personal service in a portion of the original Columbia City plat, and to take on some goals to develop pedestrian- and environmentally friendly design standards for infrastructure — particularly streets — in that village center.”

The City Council held public hearings for the amendments at the start of its April 17 meeting after receiving a recommendation from the Columbia City Planning Commission to approve them.

But as members of the public at the council meeting made their opposition to the overlay zone clear, Smith produced a recommendation of her own.

“I wasn’t going to reveal this early on, but you guys see this?” Smith said, holding up two packets. “This says ‘VC.’ This says ‘no VC.’ Because I already knew. ... So we have one set of ordinances that takes out the VC [overlay zone]. We have one set of ordinances that puts in the VC.”

Smith recommended the council remove the Village Center Overlay language from the amendments, an action she said would take the overlay zone off the table for the time being, while leaving the door open to the concept being revisited in the future if there is interest in it.

The City Council voted unanimously to accept Smith’s recommendation.

“I have always been open to hearing the discussions, and I don’t just let people talk and then go and do what I want,” Mayor Cheryl Young told Hickey. “The council has listened very carefully to our residents, and then of course, many times, we abide by the democracy that the majority wishes and everything.”