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Wednesday, December 17, 2014

City council repeals Opus project

The project has been debated for several months now.

During a meeting which continued into the early hours of Tuesday morning, the Columbia City Council voted to repeal the city’s second development agreement with the Opus Group, rather than putting the matter to a citizen referendum.

Opus Group’s plan to put in a 650-bed complex on Locust Street between Seventh and Eighth streets has been stalled twice. Opus’s initial development agreement with the city of Columbia was repealed after a petition filed by Columbia residents, organized by local attorney Jeremy Root, received 3,632 signatures.

The city council approved an amended development agreement May 19, but citizens of Columbia, again led by Root, circulated another petition.

At the heart of Root and citizens’ objections is the fear that Columbia infrastructure is inadequate for future development, said Root. Columbia’s aging sewage and electric systems would be insufficient to carry capacity from a new complex. Opus had agreed to pay $450,000 to upgrade sewage and water systems, but Root said he believed those upgrades would still be insufficient.

“We were suspicious that the city would issue permits without regard to our petitions,” said Root. “We believe that doing so would violate the rights of the citizens of Columbia.”

The day after Root filed his lawsuit, Boone County Circuit Judge Christine Carpenter filed a restraining order on the city of Columbia, which allowed the city to act on pending ordinances, but restricted it from making any new agreements with Opus Group.

The council voted 6-1 to repeal the development, rather than allowing a mutually exclusive referendum on the development. Third Ward Councilman Karl Skala was the only dissenting vote, saying that he thought the matter should be resolved by the people.

Root said he is not opposed to all development downtown.

“If, after six months, the infrastructure has improved such that the city can support new development, we should see what the citizens of Columbia say and allow them to exercise their rights as citizens of a free democracy,” Root said.

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