Council to consider controversial student-housing project, changes to College Avenue

Sunday, May 18, 2014 | 6:00 a.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — An amended agreement with the developer who plans to build a student apartment complex on Locust Street downtown promises to be the main action at the Columbia City Council meeting Monday.

The council also is scheduled to vote on College Avenue pedestrian safety projects, which include building a wall in the middle of the street where it borders MU.

Opus Development Co. project

The council is considering an "amended and restated" development agreement with Opus Development Co., a St. Louis-based developer. The new ordinance would repeal the city's existing agreement with Opus and allow it to build in exchange for contributing more than $450,000 to the water, stormwater and sanitary sewer utilities needed to serve the project.

Citing concerns about the project's environmental impact and the agreement's approval process, citizens petitioned to repeal the original agreement, Bill 62-14, that was passed by the council in March.

The council approved that agreement in a week. It was introduced during a March 12 meeting, then debated during public hearings on March 17 and March 19, right before the council approved it later that day.

First Ward Councilwoman Ginny Chadwick forged the new proposed Opus agreement, in part to address citizen concerns about the process that led to the orginal's approval. She said she wanted to address worries that the project lacked an active ground floor.

Opus has amended its plan to provide a street-level fitness area, lounges and other common areas for residents of its proposed six-story, 260-bed project to be built between Seventh and Eighth streets.

The new agreement, Bill 130-14, also says the arrangement with Opus will remain in place if another petition to repeal is issued. City Counselor Nancy Thompson said the section will protect the city from violating Opus' contract. 

Jeremy Root, spokesman for the group trying to rescind the original Opus agreement, said that provision is "a poison pill against the referendum process" and is designed to warn the group against circulating another petition to stop the Opus project.

“Council is essentially saying we will respect your wishes and repeal the prior ordinance as long as you abandon the referendum process," Root said.

Thompson said the new ordinance as she understands it is intended to make the street-level design of the project more palatable. She also said it is an alternative to challenging the referendum petition's validity.

The petition was ruled invalid by City Clerk Sheela Amin on May 1. Amin said in a report to the council that the petition had only 3,118 valid signatures but needed 3,209. She also said it failed to include the full text of the ordinance it sought to repeal, as required by the city charter.

On May 9, the petition group submitted an amended petition with about 400 more  signatures and a copy of the full text of the ordinance. Those signatures are currently being validated. But Thompson said the group's efforts don't remedy the problems with the original petition.

"The referendum petition has not been amended; the petitioners just submitted additional signatures on May 9 because the original submission lacked the requisite number of registered voters," Thompson said. "The inclusion of the ordinance on top of the stack of additional signatures does not amend the original petition, nor does it remedy the deficiencies of the original submission."

College Avenue safety project

City staff is presenting the council with two preferred options for improving pedestrian and vehicle safety on the stretch of College Avenue that borders MU.

According to the project's report, there are 2,500 illegal pedestrian crossings every day along the stretch of College Avenue between University Avenue and Rollins Street. There have been 20 accidents involving pedestrians and motorists along that stretch of road since 2005.

Most of the proposed designs call for building a vertical barrier in the middle of the street. That barrier would funnel pedestrian traffic to two new High-Intensity Activated Crosswalks, or HAWK signals, eliminating the illegal pedestrian crossings, Cliff Jarvis, the city's transportation engineering supervisor, said.

The design options A and B would eliminate left turn access to East Campus. According to the report, Option A features a corral rail on top of the wall on a raised median and would cost $750,000. Option B involves constructing a fence on top of a raised median and would cost $490,000.

Jarvis said the difference in cost is due to the cost of the concrete foundation that would be needed below Option A's median. This plan's concrete wall makes it more permanent, he said. Option B’s fence would need to be replaced if a car hit it.

The project will be funded by a Missouri Department of Transportation grant of more than $650,000, and the city of Columbia and MU have agreed to split whatever cost the MoDOT grant doesn’t cover.

The council will choose one of the designs Monday night. Construction on the the project is expected to begin in spring 2015, Jarvis said.

Supervising editor is Scott Swafford.

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