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Proposal for University District Would Set New Height Limits

Brent Warren Brent Warren Proposal for University District Would Set New Height LimitsNew apartments under construction on Lane Avenue in the University District — Photo by Walker Evans.
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The City of Columbus is moving ahead with plans to change the zoning code to better reflect recommendations made in the University District Plan. That plan was adopted in 2015 after more than a year’s worth of community meetings, but discrepancies between its recommendations and existing zoning (which the plan did not change) have been an issue in a neighborhood that is seeing many large-scale development proposals.

The proposed changes would establish two new zoning sub-districts for commercial development. A Regional Mixed Use (RMX) district would allow 72-foot tall buildings along North High Street, south of Norwich Avenue. A Neighborhood Mixed Use (NMX) district would set a 45-foot limit on new construction along West Lane Avenue, between High and the Olentangy River.

That’s an increase compared to the existing zoning along much of High and Lane, with it’s 35-foot height limit. In practice, though, developers have been able to build much higher, either by obtaining variances or by taking advantage of a provision that allows for increased height if upper floors are set back further from the street – known as “step back, step up.”

university-plan

The original proposal for the View on Pavey Square development, for instance, called for a new 11-story building on High between Northwood and Oakland avenues. A building that tall was not in compliance with the recommendations of the University District Plan, but it did conform to existing zoning because of the way it stepped up a floor at a time as it moved further back from High.

The primary goal of the city’s proposed changes — officially called the University Area Planning Overlay Update — is to simplify the code and establish uniform standards based on the guidelines set forth in the plan.

Some of the other goals of the update, according to information provided by the city;

  • Focus density along High and Lane adjacent to OSU, reducing development pressure in other areas
  • Codify lower-intensity development in NMX sub districts, consistent with existing development
  • Reduce commercial parking requirements, in recognition of the pedestrian and transit-oriented nature of the neighborhood
  • Tie residential parking requirements to beds rather than units, encouraging more diverse unit mixes
  • Eliminate duplication and confusion caused by the Urban Commercial Overlay
  • Consider expansion of the area covered by the University Area Review Board

A public meeting to discuss the proposed changes is scheduled for Monday, July 25th. More information on the process and a chance to provide feedback can be found on the city’s website.

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