The fate of a new student housing complex in downtown Columbia still remains up in the air.
City Council voted 5-1 during a meeting May 19 to approve an amended and restated development agreement between the city and the Opus Development Group to build a 650-bed complex. The new agreement replaces the older, similar one being contested with a petition started by local attorney Jeremy Root.
However, another referendum petition will be circulating to repeal the new agreement with Opus, again backed by Root.
“Frankly, we should not have to gather signatures again on the same project,” Root said. “The only reason we do is because council is interfering with our repeal efforts on the first project.”
The new development agreement still does not satisfy the arguments that were made when the first petition was created, Root said.
“The only change, as far as we can see, is that the agreement was passed and approved through two normal council meetings instead of two special council meetings,” Root said. “I appreciate the use of normal process, but the normal process should not include disregard of all citizen input, which unfortunately this did.”
The new agreement was discussed during a meeting May 19, where public comment about the development was available. A majority of the residents who spoke expressed opinions that the development would not benefit Columbia.
Major concerns expressed by residents were the lack of adequate infrastructure and how the makeup of the downtown would change with more young undergraduates becoming a major part of the downtown scene.
“They’re pricing out graduate students, they’re pricing out young professionals who want to utilize and take advantage of the wonderful things we have downtown,” said resident Isa Dasho during the May 19 meeting. “These undergraduate complexes change the dynamic in such a way that we can’t even really foresee.”
The city has no need for out-of-town developers, Dasho said.
“We’ve seen so much organic revitalization in the past five years and it’s beyond sad and borderline criminal that we would allow these out-of-town developers to decide the future of this city’s soul,” Dasho said. “We can get the developments ourselves.”
Columbia would come under fire from certain environmental groups, resident Dan Cullimore said during the meeting.
“Will we be recognized by (Missouri Department of Natural Resources) or (the Environmental Protection Agency) for adding load to an already recognized deficient sewer system?” Cullimore said.
Joe Downs, a senior director for Opus, spoke before the council about the benefits Opus will have to the community.
“In terms of economic impact of our project, we cannot overlook the hundreds of construction jobs we’re going to create, the significant increase in property tax and all the money our residents will spend in the district,” Downs said.
With crime occurring at many student complexes in Columbia over the past year, Downs said the security Opus would have for their building is appropriate.
“At our development review committee meeting, the police officer present expressed that our security system is exactly what the city is looking for,” Downs said. “We have two points of residents’ access, and they’re both secured with a fob, and they’re both monitored professionally.”
Despite Opus agreeing to pay $450,000 to upgrade sewer and water lines and additionally helping repair a storm water line underneath the building, the infrastructure will be unable to be fixed by the timeline of the project, Root said.
“It is literally impossible for the City of Columbia to have remedied sewer inadequacies by August of next year, being where we are right now,” Root said. “That’s a very serious problem.”
The main reason for the petition is the city government ignoring the preferences of its citizens, Root said.
“The idea that we can, in the face of citizen opposition, to grant Opus a building permit without anything in place to support our inadequate infrastructure makes no sense,” Root said. “We believe it’s necessary and important for our Columbia government to be accountable to their citizens.”
Should Opus come to Columbia, the results to the infrastructure will be disastrous, Root said.
“It’s clear how it would play out — the citizens would be required to subsidize (the Opus complex’s) infrastructure impacts, and unless and until the citizens are willing to do that, their sewage would flow into our streets and into our streams,” Root said.