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UPDATE: Council votes to repeal first Opus agreement

Monday, June 16, 2014 | 11:37 p.m. CDT; updated 8:54 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, June 18, 2014

COLUMBIA — The Columbia City Council unanimously repealed the city's agreement with Opus Development Co., which was brought back before the council by a referendum petition seeking its repeal.

Fourth Ward Councilman Ian Thomas was absent.

The rescinded development agreement would have required Opus to contribute $450,000 for water and sanitary sewer improvements, as well as purchase two years of bus passes worth $30,680 for its residents. The council did not rule out the possibility of still issuing Opus a building permit.

The council had two options Monday night: It could have voted to rescind the ordinance or put the issue before the voters on Nov 4. These options are outlined in Section 133 of the city charter, which deals with the effect of referendum petitions.

Council utilized an unusual, one-week process to pass a student-housing development agreement with Opus Development Co. on March 19. The group Repeal 6214, which draws its name from the bill number of the agreement, submitted a referendum petition on April 8 in an attempt to repeal the agreement. Petitioners were angry with the abbreviated process the council used to pass the agreement and concerned with the inability of downtown infrastructure to support the development, according to previous Missourian reporting.

Repeal 6214 spokesman Jeremy Root said he thinks the council made the correct decision by repealing the development agreement.

"I hope that council and city staff understand that citizens are vigilant, particularly with their downtown," he said. "Projects that interfere with our vision for downtown will come under scrutiny."

First Ward Councilwoman Ginny Chadwick said the ordinance was only in place to secure the extra $450,000 in infrastructure funding Opus agreed to contribute. The Opus development still conforms to the current zoning laws, she said.

Fifth Ward Councilwoman Laura Nauser agreed.

"Opus has the zoning to build what they want," Nauser said. "They have done everything they have been asked."

Sixth Ward Councilwoman Barbara Hoppe and Third Ward Councilman Karl Skala said they had concerns with the development agreement from the beginning, and that the development would overburden an already failing infrastructure system.

Hoppe said that Opus would consume far more of the overall Flat Branch trunk line sewer capacity than they were paying for.

"Clearly, we are not charging enough," she said.

Some council members expressed dissatisfaction with the public's desire to repeal the agreement.

Nauser said that she finds it, "really disheartening" that the public feels there is a problem with developers investing in a property. Investors build communities, she said.

"That is what has made our country what it is," Nauser said.

The council passed an amended and restated development agreement with Opus at its May 19 meeting. Repeal 6214 submitted an additional referendum petition on June 9 in an attempt to force the council to consider the repeal of the second agreement.

City Manager Mike Matthes said the second development agreement never went into effect because of a petition submitted against it.

If a petition to repeal the second agreement had not been submitted, the city's original agreement with Opus would have been repealed.


Confused by what has happened with this ordinance? Scroll through the timeline to find out more.


Downtown sewer funding report

During Monday's meeting, the council was presented with a report that outlines several options for funding downtown sanitary sewer improvements. In order to increase sewer capacity downtown, the city is considering rescheduling current sewer projects on the city's capital improvement program project list.

The Flat Branch trunk sewer runs well below capacity on dry days and experiences overflows after one inch of rain, according to charts shown by city staff. Additional residential developments have been proposed in the downtown area, but city officials have stated in the past that adequate sewer capacity is not available until the line is replaced.

Public Works Director John Glascock said in a request for engineering proposals on the project that the Flat Branch Watershed, which contains approximately 2,450 acres, is made up of some of the oldest sewers in Columbia, with the majority of the system built prior to 1950.

The report, submitted to the council by Matthes, lists four sewer projects that officials say could be delayed in order to fund the replacement of the Flat Branch Watershed sewers, which includes a main trunk sewer line — also known as Project 1 — that serves downtown and MU and three other pieces that span in and around downtown. The proposed Flat Branch improvements are labeled on a map attached to Matthes's report and are labeled Projects 1, 2, 3 and 4.

Deputy City Manager Tony St. Romaine said that the city will eventually return to any projects it puts off to fund the Flat Branch Relief Sewer projects.

"We selected lower priority projects," he said. "They are projects we can divert to a later time."

The report lists three possible options for funding the Flat Branch Relief Sewer projects, including:

  • Postponing several sewer projects and utilizing funds from various accounts and savings.
  • Raising sewer rates by $10.72 per month.
  • Combining the first two options by postponing certain sewer projects, utilizing funds from various accounts and savings and increasing sewer rates by $6.15 per month in order to pay for the improvements.

According to the report, postponing six sanitary sewer projects would release approximately $2.1 million that could be used to fund sewer improvements. An additional $1.6 million could be appropriated from unrestricted cash reserves, $1 million from the 2013 sewer bond issue and $500,000 in savings from the wastewater treatment plant, which is running more efficiently and is now under budget.

Each of the funding options would need to raise approximately $5.4 million to pay for the construction of two of four planned downtown sewer projects. The two projects include construction of a new main trunk sewer line that would stretch between Stadium Boulevard and Elm Street, and a line that extends from the main trunk at Elm Street and runs along Elm and Sixth Streets.

The total cost of all the Flat Branch Relief Sewer projects is estimated at approximately $9.4 million, according to the report.

Several downtown developers have offered to pay for a portion of the project. Two housing developers, Collegiate Housing Partners and American Campus Communities, could share the $450,000 total cost of Project 2. Collegiate Housing Partners $150,000 contribution to the project was approved by the council in March. The city's development agreement with American Campus Communities, which includes $300,000 toward Project 2, has been tabled until July.

Following the repeal of an development agreement with Opus Development Co., the St. Louis-based developer will no longer have to pay $200,000 toward Project 4.

All of the developer contributions would be in addition to the standard sewer, electric and water utility connection fees that are required for new developments.

Construction on the Flat Branch Watershed would take place from March 2016 to March 2017, Glascock wrote in the request for the proposal.

Rebel Hill Substation approved

The council also approved an electric circuit extension project that will route power from the Rebel Hill substation to the downtown Columbia area.

The new feeder line will bring 5 megawatts of electric capacity to downtown, according to previous Missourian reporting.

Sixth Ward Councilwoman Barbara Hoppe proposed an amendment to the ordinance that would require Columbia Water and Light to coordinate installing the electric lines underground on Ann and Anthony streets with the nearby Boone Hospital Center.

Hoppe also raised questions about the possibility of placing more lines underneath Anthony Street going west toward William Street.

The initial proposal had planned to use existing overhead lines in that portion of the extension. Tad Johnsen, director of Columbia Water and Light,  said such a change would require significant time to secure easements from the residents along Anthony Street and estimated it would increase the extension's cost by $500,000.

Matthes suggested proceeding with the project as it exists with the amendment and making additional installation a capital improvement plan project.

The amendment was approved by unanimous vote.

Renovations on the circuits will begin on Anthony and Paquin streets this month, where above-ground electric circuits need to be updated or replaced. Work on the project will be complete by the end of the year.

Supervising editor is Samuel Hardiman.


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