MOSCOW — After years of debate, the Moscow City Council decided Monday night to prohibit new colleges and universities downtown and to disallow the expansion of existing ones.

The council approved an ordinance prepared by the Moscow Planning and Zoning Commission that does not permit “colleges, universities and professional schools” and “elementary and secondary schools” in the Central Business Zoning District, which essentially encompasses downtown.

Assistant Community Development Director Mike Ray told the council the Planning and Zoning Commission recommended the exclusion of elementary and secondary schools downtown because they are similar in nature to colleges and universities.

“All other schools and instruction,” which Ray said would include businesses like yoga, gymnastics and karate studios, will be allowed downtown with a conditional use permit.

In 2005, the city council changed the city’s zoning code to allow public and private colleges and universities within the CBZD with a conditional use permit.

The city has issued four conditional use permits for public and private colleges and universities downtown in the 14 years since the amendment.

The existing New Saint Andrews College on South Main Street was the first. The NSA parking lot on South Jackson Street was the second permit the city approved for an educational use downtown. NSA purchased the lot to meet the parking condition required for its downtown college.

In 2017, the city approved a conditional use permit for NSA to expand into the former Cadillac Jack’s building on North Main Street. The city granted the fourth permit in 2017 for the University of Idaho WWAMI Medical Education Program in the new Gritman Medical Center Medical Office Building on South Main Street.

Ray said NSA will still be allowed to expand into the former CJ’s building even though it has not yet.

The city sent out two surveys — one to 1,200 Moscow residents and another to 276 businesses and property owners in the CBZD last year — to gauge interest in downtown educational institutions. Roughly 60 percent of the respondents “strongly agreed” or “agreed” additional public and private colleges and universities should not be allowed within the district.

No one spoke at the public hearing in regards to the ordinance Monday.

The council approved the ordinance, except for one modification, with a 4-2 vote.

Councilors Gina Taruscio and Art Bettge cast the dissenting votes.

The modification, which Councilor Anne Zabala motioned, changed “parking lots and garages” from a permitted use to a conditional use in the CBZD.

“If someone wanted to build a large parking structure downtown, I think that would warrant a discussion at the Board of Adjustment,” Zabala said.

Ray said the modification means instead of an individual gaining administrative approval through city departments, he or she would need to gain a conditional use permit with approval from the Moscow Board of Adjustment.

Taruscio said she does not see the conditional use permit as a barrier to build a parking structure, for example, downtown.

A couple of councilors, including Jim Boland and Taruscio, along with Mayor Bill Lambert, said it is unlikely a parking structure would be built in the district anyway.

Garrett Cabeza can be reached at (208) 883-4631, or by email to gcabeza@dnews.com.

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