COLUMBIA — Opus Development Company LLC and First Ward City Councilwoman Ginny Chadwick have hammered out an agreement to tweak a proposed downtown apartment building while removing the threat of litigation against the city.
Chadwick approached Opus on April 16 — two days after being sworn in — to ask the the developer to use the ground floor for non-residential space. Opus would replace the ground-level apartments facing Eighth Street with bigger windows and amenities such as a gym and a lounge. She also asked that they pass the new agreement through normal Columbia City Council procedures.
- Feb. 17 — City Manager Mike Matthes announces downtown utilities are maxed out and no new development can occur.
- March 3 — City staff details which projects could still proceed. Opus Development Co.'s Locust Street building is not on that list.
- March 11 — An agenda is posted on the city website for a special noontime Columbia City Council meeting. The only things on the agenda are three student-housing development agreements, including Opus'.
- March 19 — City Council passes Opus' and Collegiate Housing Partners' agreements; American Campus Communities' plan is tabled until May.
April 8 — A group of residents hands City Clerk Sheela Amin a petition to repeal the agreement that they claim has 3,633 signatures — 424 more than needed.
- April 17 — Opus claims the language of the petition was flawed and issues an ultimatum: declare the petition invalid by April 22 or face legal action.
- April 21 — Mayor Bob McDavid urges city staff to declare the petition invalid.
- April 22 — Opus' deadline passes, and no lawsuit is filed.
Opus will still pay $450,000 toward sewer and water utility improvements, which was part of the original agreement.
Chadwick will sponsor an ordinance to replace the current development agreement, Ordinance 62-14. The new ordinance will have its first reading at Monday's council meeting, setting it up for a possible May 19 vote.
A group of residents had submitted a petition to repeal the initial Opus agreement because they felt it was rushed through City Council. Opus threatened to sue the city for $5 million if the petition wasn't ruled invalid.
"There's 3,600 reasons that that petition was signed," Chadwick said. "Everybody has a different reason for not wanting the Opus project, but what the petition was for was for the city's lack of due process."
The petition group’s spokesman Jeremy Root sees the new deal as a step in the right direction, but “until we see what the development agreement says, we can’t judge whether or not it’s not a good idea.”
He added that the agreement doesn't solve the problem of overloaded sewers, but it would at least follow normal order.
Opus plans to build a 256-bed apartment complex in downtown Columbia.
On March 12, City Manager Mike Matthes convened a special noontime council meeting to introduce the initial Opus agreement, along with two others. They were debated at the regularly scheduled meeting March 17, then passed at another noontime meeting on March 19. Council typically takes two weeks to consider ordinances.
Opus said the company needed to buy land and begin construction as soon as possible to remain on schedule for a August 2015 opening. Matthes pointed to that timetable to justify the noontime meetings.