Future students will have to wait at least another year for American Campus Communities’ new 718-bed downtown housing complex. The project has been delayed due to lack of proper electric infrastructure.
The complex, which was to be open in Columbia by fall 2016, might find its timeline pushed back to 2017 or 2018, Deputy City Manager Tony St. Romaine said.
Company representatives originally thought the complex would need 2.5 megawatts of electricity from the city grid, but the real estimate was 5 megawatts, a requirement the city’s ailing infrastructure cannot meet. Following the discrepancy, City Council tabled the company’s development agreement.
“With our limited electrical capacity, as it stands right now and what is being proposed right now and in the near future, there was no way the city could guarantee that we’d have the electrical capacity in place to serve them with their required time frame for their project,” St. Romaine said.
The project had been through the zoning commission twice before reaching council. At its typical rate of growth, the city adds about 10 megawatts of power every five years. The American Campus Communities development, along with two other downtown housing developments, would require 10 megawatts coming to Columbia within a few short years, according to the minutes from the March 17 meeting.
Even with the delayed timeline, it is unclear whether the project can go forward in the future, St. Romaine said.
“We’re still discussing these types of issues with them, but we have not come to a conclusion yet as to whether we’ll be able to provide them with their necessary power at this point, or even at a later date,” St. Romaine said.
City Council suggested the development company scale back their project to accommodate the limited electric infrastructure, but the company did not think that would be possible.
The council is weighing a ballot issue that would allow two feeder electricity lines to run from the Hinkson substation south of town to the downtown area. If City Council approves the initiative, it would go on the ballot in November.
“As of today, these are just estimates and proposals until council actually votes to put that on the ballot,” St. Romaine said.
The cost of the feeders would be around $10 million. St. Romaine said American Campus Communities is considering how long to extend their construction timeline.
“Even with the two feeder lines we’re potentially proposing this fall for the ballot, there’s no way we’ll have that power in place,” St. Romaine said. “They know we’re working on an extended time frame, so it’s just a question of what that extended time frame will be.”
When a rezoning and development agreement first went before City Council last month, many residents asked council to not rush the development process.
“We don’t need to rush into a project with 700 beds that’s right next to a project we’re poised to approve with 250 beds,” Columbia resident Jeremy Root said at the meeting.