Columbia group submits revamped petition to halt student-housing development

Friday, May 9, 2014 | 8:07 p.m. CDT; updated 12:34 p.m. CDT, Saturday, May 10, 2014

COLUMBIA — A group of Columbia residents handed in a petition Friday to repeal the city's agreement with a student-housing developer for the second time, and they didn't rule out circulating another petition if the project proceeds.

On April 8, the group handed in a petition with 3,714 signatures, but some signatures were duplicates or didn't match voting records, and others were not registered Columbia voters, according to the Boone County Clerk's office, which validated the signatures for the city.

On May 1, City Clerk Sheela Amin sent a letter to the group's spokesman, Jeremy Root, informing him the original petition was 91 signatures short of the required 3,209. The number represents one-fourth of the number of votes cast in the mayoral election in 2013.

The group handed in the amended petition Friday with an estimated 401 more signatures, in addition to the 3,118 that had previously been validated. 

The group has until May 15 to collect more signatures. Petitioners have 14 days to submit an amended version of an invalid petition, according to Section 131 of the City Charter. The new petition was handed in early because the group was confident it had enough signatures, said Tracy Greever-Rice, a member of the petition group.

Anger about the abbreviated process the Columbia City Council used to pass the agreement with Opus Development Co. and concerns about the environmental impact of the proposed six-story, 256-bed project prompted residents to circulate the petition, according to its text.

But the group's efforts may never bear fruit because the agreement could be replaced before the petition is validated. First Ward Councilwoman Ginny Chadwick is sponsoring an ordinance that would repeal the current agreement, Ordinance 62-14, and replace it with a new one.  The new agreement shows changed floor plans for the Locust Street site. The developer would pay $450,000 toward infrastructure improvements, which is the same contribution as the original agreement.

The new development agreement could be voted on at the next council meeting on May 19. The new ordinance is going through the normal two-week council process, while the original one was considered and passed in one week.

Amin said she would hand the petition over to the Boone County Clerk's office to begin the validation process either Friday or Monday. According to the city charter, the city has 30 days to validate an amended petition.

Root said if the new agreement passes, there would be a discussion among the group about circulating another petition and that some people who signed the petition would definitely be willing to sign again.

Residents have 20 days after an ordinance is passed to submit a petition for its repeal, according to Section 128 of the City Charter. If the revised ordinance passes on May 19, the deadline to submit a petition would be June 8.

After Root handed the petition over to Amin, he asked if the deadline would change because it falls on a Sunday. Amin said she would check with the city's legal department and get back to him.

Greever-Rice said the group isn't just focused on stopping the Opus project and has become a grass-roots movement to advocate for proper land use. It also aims to protect the neighborhoods adjacent to downtown from the adverse effects of new large-scale developments beyond the city's infrastructure capacity with development plans that don't agree with city planning documents.

Before the petitioners walked into the City Clerk's office, they posed for a photo.

"Smile, we're doing something amazing," Greever-Rice said as she snapped the photo.

Supervising editor is Allie Hinga.

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