COLUMBIA— First Ward Councilwoman Ginny Chadwick and petition group spokesman Jeremy Root held competing news conferences Friday about the Opus Development Co. student housing complex planned for Locust Street and between Seventh and Eighth Streets.
The Columbia City Council on Monday passed an amended and restated agreement with the developer to address public concerns over the one-week process the council used in March to pass the original agreement with Opus and to accommodate updated floor plans for the project. The agreement formalized Opus' $450,000 contribution to the water and sewer utilities needed to serve the project, which were part of the original agreement.
The group has already submitted a petition to repeal the original agreement and began circulating another immediately after the council approved the new agreement Monday.
The new ordinance includes a section that states the original agreement will remain in place if a petition to repeal the new one is submitted.
The new petition includes the full text of the ordinance and no language about the reasons for the signers' desire to repeal. The original petition didn't include the text of the ordinance it was attempting to repeal.
Chadwick's news conference
Chadwick, who sponsored the new agreement, spoke in support of the downtown development and told the public why she felt the petition group should stop trying to repeal the developer's agreement with the city.
"The question is simple. Will the ordinance remain in place to allow the city to recoup nearly a half million dollars for infrastructure and transit, or will the people submit a referendum petition to repeal the ordinance which allows such funding?" Chadwick said.
She said the repeal efforts would only remove the $450,000 Opus is giving to the city for infrastructure upgrades, but a petition would not stop development from moving forward. She said that as long as Opus follows zoning codes, the city would be obligated to grant them a building permit, even if the repeal process is successful.
Although Chadwick gave a statement, she did not personally answer questions during the news conference. Second Ward Councilman Michael Trapp handled that duty after Chadwick's three-minute speech.
"It's not going to stop the development from occurring," Trapp said of the second petition. "It's only going to stop the contract from occurring, which allows that development to pay for infrastructure funding and funding for transportation through the development agreement."
Trapp, like Chadwick, said the developer will receive a building permit regardless of the petition process's outcome.
Chadwick was joined at the podium by Trapp and Fifth Ward Councilwoman Laura Nauser. Mayor Bob McDavid and Fourth Ward Councilman Ian Thomas sat in the crowd. All of the council members in attendance voted for the new agreement with Opus.
Chadwick says that she "felt like she was lied to" by petitioners because their original complaint was centered around the expediency of the proceedings. In response, she engineered the new agreement with Opus, which went through the normal two-week city council process.
Chadwick, in her statements Friday and posts on social media over the past week, said she feels the opposition should cease circulating its petition and instead focus its effort on changing C-2 zoning and development fees.
Root's news conference(s)
A small crowd gathered below the keystone arch outside Daniel Boone City Building at 3 p.m. for the petition group's news conference. Chadwick's followed a half hour later in City Building's conference room 1A. As council members left the room after Chadwick's news conference, Root stepped up to the podium and began to once again field questions.
During his first speech, Root said he spoke outside the building because he and other residents were "starting to feel like we're unwelcome within city hall."
Root said despite the process used to pass the new agreement as well as updated floor plans, the development agreement is fundamentally unchanged with the exception of the section that has to do with a petition to repeal.
"It’s the same number of beds. It’s the same number of toilets," Root said. "It’s the same number of showers. It’s the same insufficient number of parking spaces that they had the last time, so I don’t think those changes are meaningful in any way."
Root said that the reasons for circulating the petition to repeal Bill 130-14 – the new agreement – are essentially the same as for repealing Bill 62-14 – the original agreement – and gave four reasons for the newest petition:
- The project would take land that could be public space, such as retail, and make it available to only those that live at the apartment complex.
- The city's inadequate Flat Branch sewer main would receive additional flow from the project and that would only exacerbate the overflows it experiences during rainy days.
- There is no plan to pay for the entire replacement of the Flat Branch sewer line as far as he knows.
- He said the possibility of the petition process violating the city's contract with Opus wouldn't leave individual council members liable for the company's losses and thus that wasn't a reason to halt the petition process.
Tracy Greever-Rice, a member of the petition group, said there is still a problem with the process the council used.
"We still have not solved the process issue. The first process issue was use of a compressed timeline and special meetings," she said. "The process issue this time is that they wrote a poison pill into the development agreement that tries to deprive citizens of their right to use the charter-guaranteed right to petition for referendum on an ordinance, and that’s an even bigger process issue."
Trapp acknowledged the path to approval hasn't been perfect.
"It's obviously caused some consternation amongst some members of the public," Trapp said. "That's hurt our unity as a city, which is unfortunate."
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