COLUMBIA — The Opus Development Co. student-housing project planned for downtown on Locust Street is moving forward with construction.
At its Monday night meeting, the Columbia City Council will have the option to authorize Opus to temporarily close part of the sidewalks and parking lanes on Seventh, Eighth and Locust streets so it can begin construction of a 260-bed, six-story apartment building.
The resolution is on the council's consent agenda, which means it could be voted on as early as Monday's meeting.
The city has already issued Opus a demolition permit and land disturbance permit, Deputy City Manager Tony St. Romaine said. Staff has also received a footing and foundations permit request.
If passed, the resolution would allow Opus to immediately close the sidewalks and parking lanes through July 2015 to accommodate construction, according to the resolution. Opus plans to finish construction by fall of 2015.
"In order to help protect public safety to the best of our ability and allow for feasible construction, we respectfully request this permit to be approved," Opus Senior Director Joseph Downs wrote in a May 8 letter to the council.
Opus has the ability to demolish the site at any time, subject to utilities being cut off and the buildings on the lot being vacated, St. Romaine said. The businesses that still occupy the buildings have discussed relocation plans that could happen within the next month, he said.
Moore and Shryock, a real estate appraisal and consultant group, owns one of three parcels of land that Opus plans to build on.
Allan Moore, co-founder of Moore and Shryock, said Friday that the property had not yet been sold to Opus. He cited contractual agreements for not discussing any negotiations taking place with the developer.
St. Romaine said that Opus could be issued a building permit following the review of building plans by city staff. It may take several weeks for the city to determine if it is satisfied that the developer has met the various building codes and regulations, he said.
Opus should be able to receive one of the permits because it has the C-2 zoning needed for the project, St. Romaine said.
Since earlier this year, every building permit application submitted to the city for the downtown area was initially denied by staff because of inadequate utilities, building regulations supervisor Phil Teeple said. Property owners may appeal to the council for permission to build after receiving a rejection from staff.
But after the council began addressing the downtown infrastructure issue at its June 16 meeting, city staff has been issuing building permits in the area, Teeple said.
At its June 16 meeting, the council approved money for a new power line from the Rebel Hill substation to downtown and asked that city staff draft legislation to pay for the Flat Branch relief sewer projects. These additions would allow for the proposed Opus development to be completed with some additional capacity left over.
City Counselor Nancy Thompson said that without a development agreement, Opus would not be obligated to fund any off-site infrastructure. Like any developer, however, Opus would still need to fund on-site and adjacent infrastructure improvements, such as connecting to the main sewer line, storm water or sidewalks, she said.
Council rescinded a development agreement with Opus at its June 16 meeting. The agreement, which was originally passed by Council on March 19, would have required Opus to contribute $450,000 for water and sanitary sewer improvements, as well as purchase two years of bus passes for is residents valued at $30,680.
The development agreement was placed back in front of the council as the result of a referendum petition submitted by a group called Repeal 6214, which draws its name from the bill number of the agreement. The petition's text cites concerns with the one-week process the council used to pass the agreement with the St. Louis-based developer.
After the development agreement was rescinded, some residents have expressed dissatisfaction that Opus may still build despite petitioners' efforts.
Fifth Ward Councilwoman Laura Nauser said she believes public confusion about the development agreement arose because people are used to the council making zoning decisions. With those zoning decisions come plans for developments that have already been approved by city staff, she said.
The difference with the Opus project is that the company has the C-2 zoning and legal right to build as they wish, she said. At this time, there is no longer a need for infrastructure-related development agreements downtown because the utility issue has been addressed.
"Under any normal circumstance (the Opus) project would have never come before the council," Nauser said. "Typically, this would have been an administrative issue that city staff would have dealt with."
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