‘Protest Opus’ vows to block expensive student housing

Volunteers have twice gathered adequate signatures to force a vote on the project.
Long-time Columbia resident Jeff Frey holds a sign Sept. 16 during a protest of the OPUS student housing development. The Columbia City council has turned down a petition twice that would put the approval of the development up to a citizens’ vote.

Since its introduction in March of this year, the agreement to allow the Opus Group to construct a new luxury student housing complex in the heart of downtown Columbia has sparked a community-wide conversation.

Through petitions, meetings and a string of agreements, the residents of Columbia and City Council have been communicating with regards to the fate of the development project.

However, as residents lined the sidewalks of Eighth and Locust streets on Tuesday armed with brightly colored posters, an array of chants and a list of grievances, it is clear that some citizens do not feel their communications have been heard.

“We’re trying to raise awareness that there’s opposition to this construction,” resident and Opus protester Jeffery Frey said. “We want to overturn this construction and make it so that it is something that people want and that the community wants, not just the product of out-of-town interests having their way.”

Some of this opposition, listed on the “Protest Opus” flyer distributed by protesters, points out that “Columbia has enough upscale student housing,” “the city sewer adequacy for Opus in our downtown will not be accomplished until 2016,” noting that Opus plans to house students as early as 2015 and the “overabundance of expensive student housing is changing the character” of downtown Columbia, making many feel reportedly “unwelcome.”

Along with these points, it is also listed that volunteers have twice gathered adequate voter signatures on initiative petitions to allow the Opus project to be placed on the November ballot for a formal vote.

“I think that City Council has not handled this,” Frey said. “They have been heedless of the will of the people, of the community and of their constituency. They’ve been greedy, they’ve sold out to Opus, to out-of-town developers. I understand that students need housing, but we need sewage; the infrastructure can’t handle this.”

In a previous Maneater article published on April 30, local attorney Jeremy Root, who backed the petitions to ban Opus, detailed his perception of the apparent “danger, recklessness and irresponsibility” of approving a development project without the certainty that it will be supported from an infrastructure standpoint.

Root added that if Columbia has a current problem with infrastructure, it should refrain from creating additional developments and running the risk of overloading the system.

“There are so many more important things to allocate our funding to as a city,” junior Marcus Thurmond said. “(This project) is only serving to take away the finances and sustainability of our community by charging these outrageous prices for students to live in college. We aren’t supposed to have the best of the best right now at this point in our lives, and we really need to come together and think about how we are going to sustain our community as it is. “

Allowing this number of undergraduate students to reside in this area will change the dynamic of downtown Columbia, protesters said.

“We need to realize that (students) are just a part of this town, and there are other people in this town that need affordable housing,” said Aaron Johnson, a graduate student who attended the protest. “It’s very important to me that we not only have these affordable housing options, but also that democracy is listened to, and during this process I don’t feel that democracy was listened to by City Council.”

The organization said in its flyer that along with hundreds of other residents and local lawyers, it will continue to push for this project to be stopped and for the Opus Development Group to be turned away from Columbia, highlighting that they will not give up until they have exhausted “all avenues that our democracy promises.”

“If we don’t get out here and do something, we’re not going to get anything done,” protester and Columbia resident Victor Chapman said.

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