A planned mixed-used development at the former Veterans Administration building at the corner of Laurel and Assembly streets received unanimous approval for a requested parking variance on Thursday.
The city of Columbia Board of Zoning Appeals voted to approve the variance for the planned project at 1801 Assembly St., which will include 83 residences and 23,000 square feet of commercial space.
The building is in the City Center Design/Development district, one of four urban design overlay districts with individual guidelines, making it eligible for a 50% reduction in city regulations requiring 238 parking spaces. Columbia architectural firm Garvin Design Group requested a variance to waive the remaining 119 spaces to allow zero off-street spaces for the property, which would include five floors of residential apartments, a rooftop bar and pool, and a basement commercial office space.
Andrew Rogerson of Garvin Design Group told the board during Thursday’s online meeting that project developers are in discussion with area parking garages to lease as many as 180 parking spaces. Those discussions are preliminary, pending approval of the variance and other remaining design details, but “they’ve shown promise,” Rogerson said.
The property does not allow for onsite off-street parking, according to documents filed with the board, as the building takes up the majority of the parcel. The application notes that “downtown structures often rely on offsite parking to meet demand” and states that “the existing building cannot be redeveloped without a parking variance because the site has no room for off-street parking.”
The zoning board did not receive any letters regarding the variance, and one member of the public addressed the subject by phone. Main Street district resident Meg Southern told the board she supported more residential housing to increase density in the downtown area, calling the project “a fantastic reuse of the historical structure.”
The board agreed, with members noting modes of transportation including the Soda Cap Connector city bus would be available to residents.
The project must still be approved by Columbia City Council.
Justin Etzin, an international developer and the listed owner of the property, is a hospitality entrepreneur and diplomat who previously served as consul general and tourism ambassador to the U.S. from the Republic of Seychelles. He is the owner of privately funded investment and development company Global Ocean Investment and an angel investor who has assisted several startups, according to his website. He is the founder of riverside entertainment venue Altitude London.
The planned Assembly Street project would include 52 one-bedroom units, 20-two bedroom units and 11 three-bedroom units, according to submitted plans. Amenities would include a health club, a co-working space, and a sauna and steam room.