COLUMBIA — The same day city officials certified a petition intended to stop downtown development, a controversial six-story apartment complex was cleared for all its necessary permits.
On Thursday, Opus Development Co. was approved for a demolition permit to destroy three buildings and their associated parking lots, a land disturbance permit to prepare the site for construction and a building permit for an apartment complex north of Locust Street, between Seventh and Eighth streets.
Although Opus' plans have been approved by city staff, the developer will not receive any permits until several steps have been taken. First, the utilities of buildings currently standing at the construction site will have to be disconnected. Second, an existing tenant at the site will have to relocate. Third, Opus will have to post a performance bond, as required by Columbia's building code, Deputy City Manager Tony St. Romaine said.
Chong's Oriental Market, the existing tenant, plans to close as early as Aug. 10 and relocate to 700 Cherry St. by late August or early September, manager Trung Duong said.
Demolition can begin once these requirements are met and Opus pays $319,779 to the city in charges and permit fees, St. Romaine said. The permit fees have nothing to do with a development agreement between the city and Opus, which is still pending, he said.
The development agreement, which was approved by council on May 19, formalizes a $450,000 contribution by Opus to the city's sanitary sewer and water utilities, as well as the purchase of $30,680 worth of city bus passes for its residents. Neither the city nor Opus has signed the agreement because a referendum petition was placed on it by a group called Repeal 6214, St. Romaine said.
Second petition certified
That petition was certified Thursday by City Clerk Sheela Amin.
In a letter to Repeal 6214's spokesman, Jeremy Root, Amin said the petition had garnered a sufficient number of signatures. The petition needed 3,209 signatures — one-quarter of the votes cast in the most recent mayoral election — to be valid, and it ended up with 3,512.
"I think the total number of signatures we have on the second petition was more than the first," Root said. "It is clear the citizens of Columbia don't want the city to proceed with development at this time."
According to Section 133 of the City Charter, the council has 30 days to act on the certified referendum petition. The council may either vote to repeal the ordinance that approved the development agreement or allow voters to decide its fate in November.
Opus is under no obligation to sign the development agreement, St. Romaine said. At this time, Opus does not need a development agreement to move forward with construction.
Repeal 6214 originally submitted the petition June 9. Amin notified the group that the petition was 140 signatures short July 2, and the group submitted additional signatures July 16. The group had 14 days to submit additional signatures after the notification of insufficiency, a process which is outlined in Section 131 of the City Charter.
Public streets would remain open during construction of the apartment complex, which is expected to be completed by the fall of 2015. On July 7, council approved temporary closures of sidewalks and parking lanes adjacent to the project through July 2015 to accommodate construction.
Supervising editor is Landon Woodroof.