LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Stop Opus from building an unnecessary student housing complex

Friday, August 8, 2014 | 12:00 p.m. CDT; updated 9:42 p.m. CDT, Friday, August 8, 2014

We, the citizens of Columbia, respectfully request that Opus Development Company abandon its plan to build a 259-bed, 62-parking-space upscale student housing complex on Eighth Street, the heart of our downtown business district.

This project should be stopped for the following reasons:

1. The sewer main into which this apartment complex would feed is aging and inadequate.

The high-density nature of the development has significant public health and quality-of-life consequences for residents living in neighborhoods adjacent to downtown.

We are already plagued with street flooding and sanitary sewer overflows after heavy downpours.

Sewage backs up into the basements of homes near downtown and explodes out of manholes along our creeks, in our parks and on our recreational trails. Any increased sewer load from large residential complexes stands to compound this problem.

Although multiple areas of the city are struggling with problems caused by aging sewers, our council has voted to fast-track construction of a relief sewer to facilitate downtown development. To pay for this relief sewer, council has voted to divert funds from other sewer projects around town, causing delays in their completion. Some of those funds are revenues from a sewer bond issue passed overwhelmingly by voters in 2013.

Although everyone agrees that downtown sewer problems do eventually need to be addressed, why do developers such as Opus get to go to the front of the line for sewer upgrades using money earmarked for other long-promised, voter-approved projects?

2. The Opus project is incompatible with Columbia residents’ vision for their downtown.

Over a decade of visioning that involved intensive citizen input concluded that the best plan for our downtown is a mix of retail and residential space that accommodates a diverse demographic of students, professionals, families and retired people. The “highly amenitized” Opus development will target only a single demographic: MU undergraduate students from affluent families.

3. Columbia is overbuilt with respect to student-specific apartment buildings.

Data from the U.S. Census Bureau shows that the number of 18-year-olds has peaked nationally and will continue to decline over the next 15 years. Although MU plans to increase its enrollment, it will be competing with other universities for a shrinking pool of college-age individuals. MU may in fact already be experiencing the impact of this decline, because for the first time in several years, enrollment fell in the fall 2013 semester.

A survey conducted by Moore and Shryock L.L.C. for the Columbia Apartment Association found that in fall 2013, Columbia had a 4.72 percent vacancy rate in student-specific apartments. This surplus can be expected to grow given that five more student apartment complexes with a total of 1,111 beds are slated to open around town this coming fall.

When supply outstrips demand, the student housing bubble must inevitably burst. We residents of Columbia will then be left to deal with a plethora of unrented and unrentable purpose-built structures throughout the city.

As you are aware, a citizens’ referendum petition signed by thousands of Columbians has been submitted to the city. This petition directs the council to either repeal the ordinance approving your project or submit it to a citywide vote in November 2014.

Is Opus prepared to spend additional time, energy and money attempting to defend this controversial project?

Those of us who make Columbia our home have invested our incomes, our tax dollars, and thousands of volunteer hours to try to create a community that considers the health, safety, and well-being of all of its inhabitants, not just a privileged few.

In doing so, we abide by the motto of the state of Missouri: “The welfare of the people shall be the supreme law.” We ask you to do the same.

Signed on behalf of all the citizen organizers of Repeal 6214: Jeremy Root, Pam Cooper, Ken Green, Mary Hussmann, DeAnna Walkenbach and Dan Cullimore. This letter was originally addressed to David J. Menke, president, Opus Development Company, Minnetonka, Minn.



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