Residents, City Council members criticize fast pace of student-housing proposals

Tuesday, March 18, 2014 | 10:34 p.m. CDT; updated 1:45 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, May 7, 2014

COLUMBIA — The accelerated timeline city staff is using to bring three student-housing proposals to a City Council vote continues to draw criticism from residents and council members.

The proposals will be brought to a vote at a special meeting scheduled for noon Wednesday, one week after a similar City Council meeting, called by City Manager Mike Matthes, where they were introduced.

Proposed development projects

Collegiate Housing Partners: Six-story apartment structure with 351 beds on the south side of Conley Avenue, between Fourth and Fifth streets.

Opus Development Co.: Six-story building with 256 beds on the north side of Locust Street, between Seventh and Eighth streets.

American Campus Communities: Five-story building with 718 beds at the intersection of Turner Avenue and Providence Road.

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At Monday's City Council meeting, numerous residents asked the council and city staff why there was such a rush to meet the developers' desire for having building permits by April 1.

There was also confusion about the legality of the compressed timeline.

"We don't understand why if you change your mind you then have to force it through in a period of a week," East Campus resident Clyde Bentley said. "You're letting yourself seem like you're doing something wrong. You may not be, but your credibility is shot."

Bentley, a Missouri School of Journalism associate professor, was citing statements made by Mayor Bob McDavid and Matthes following the failure of the tax-increment-financing initiative Feb. 17 that there would be no further downtown development without tax increment financing, which is not part of any of the proposals.

During statements supporting the Collegiate Housing Partners project, resident Dan Cullimore said, "What should not be supported is the process that permits us to approach development in this manner. Policy is what's needed. Policy that's been asked for and directed by the citizens of Columbia and council has failed in their exercise of policy."

Deputy City Manager Tony St. Romaine said he disagreed that the process was rushed.

"This expedited schedule was necessary due to proposed construction deadlines on the part of Collegiate Housing Partners," he said. "And contract commitments on the part of Opus Development Co. and American Campus Communities which could not wait until the first regular meeting on April 7."

McDavid also defended the city's actions and process. He said the city was doing the best it could due to the unexpected pace of the development process.

Council members also shared their thoughts on the suggested lack of transparency and frenzied pace of the process during the meeting Monday night.

"I'm incredulous at this process," Third Ward Councilman Karl Skala said. "I respectfully disagree with the mayor, I don't believe we're doing the best we can. I think we must do better."

"I would be happy if we just extended this process, so we could restore some confidence," he said.

Fourth Ward Councilman Ian Thomas said the process has been poorly communicated to the public, leaving it feeling confused and suspicious.

City Counselor Nancy Thompson and St. Romaine began negotiating with developers immediately after the failure of the TIF proposal. Those negotiations allowed the city to reach agreements with developers to help pay to expand downtown utilities' capacities, St. Romaine said.

The proposed contributions from the three developers, which would help pay for sewer and water improvements, are in addition to standard fees paid by developers to the city. City staff gave a presentation outlining these fees and the monetary commitments made by developers.

The speed of these procedures is out of the ordinary for the council, but it's within the bounds of the law according to Chapter 2 Section 81 of the City Ordinances. The section states "at least one week shall elapse between the introduction and final passage of any bill."

It takes most bills two regularly scheduled council meetings to be passed because the same section of Chapter 2 states that a bill's name and number must be read at least three times before its passage.

Bills are usually read once at a first meeting and then twice at a second meeting once before public comment and once before it's put to a vote.

The three proposed development agreements are with Collegiate Housing Partners, Opus Development Co. and American Campus Communities

There was widespread support among residents and council members for the Collegiate Housing Partners project.

The Opus Development Co. project was endorsed by McDavid. Other members of the council declined to offer opinions on the project until the second public hearing during the meeting Wednesday.

City staff no longer recommends passing American Campus Communities' proposal because its electric load estimate has doubled since the original agreement — from 2.5  to 5 megawatts. This will be outside the city's capacity in August 2016, the project's projected completion date, city staff said.

You can watch City Council meetings online by visiting the city's website.

Supervising editor is John Schneller.

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