UPDATE: City repeals development agreement with Opus

Tuesday, August 19, 2014 | 6:37 p.m. CDT

This article has been updated to include further details about the council vote and the status of the Opus project.

COLUMBIA — An ordinance authorizing City Manager Mike Matthes to execute an amended agreement with Opus Development Co. for construction of a downtown apartment building was repealed by the Columbia City Council early Tuesday morning.

The 6-1 vote marked the council's second repeal of ordinances authorizing agreements with Opus. Both repeals came after a group of residents known as Repeal 6214 successfully petitioned against the measures.

If the council had voted against the second repeal early Tuesday, it would have been forced by the Columbia City Charter to put the matter before voters on Nov. 4. The developer plans to build a 259-bed student apartment building on the north side of Locust Street between Seventh and Eighth streets. The agreement would have formalized a $450,000 contribution by Opus to off-site sanitary sewer and water utility projects.

Before the council's decision, Matthes said putting the matter before voters would be a long and costly process. Only Third Ward Councilman Karl Skala voted against repeal and in favor of putting the ordinance on the ballot.

City Counselor Nancy Thompson said the second agreement was never executed because of the referendum petition effort against it. She also said Opus had told her it had no intention of signing the agreement even if the ordinance allowing it remained in effect.

Sixth Ward Councilwoman Barbara Hoppe wondered whether the council might be able to adopt a third and better development agreement with Opus. Thompson, however, said no agreement is required for the developer to proceed with construction. That's because the Opus site is zoned C-2.

Matthes said the council's approval of measures that address electric and sanitary sewer capacity downtown solved the problems that prompted the development agreements. The council in June approved a $1.4 million feeder line from the Rebel Hill substation that will pump an additional five to seven megawatts of power into downtown. In July, it shuffled planned sewer projects to allow the city to move forward with work on sewer lines in the Flat Branch area.

First Ward Councilwoman Ginny Chadwick, after negotiating with Opus, sponsored the "amended and restated" agreement that the council approved May 19. In addition to contributing $450,000 for infrastructure, Opus also changed its site plan to eliminate ground-level apartments in its building.

The amended agreement came after Repeal 6214's petition against the first one. The group in that effort criticized the council for using special meetings to approve the agreement in the course of a week in March. It also cited the lack of adequate infrastructure. The first agreement was repealed June 16.

Repeal 6214 immediately contested the second agreement as well, collecting 3,512 valid signatures against it. That's 303 more than the 3,209 required by the Columbia City Charter.

Repeal 6214 spokesman Jeremy Root said the second petition process should never have taken place because the city charter requires a six-month waiting period before the council reconsiders the subject of an ordinance that's been repealed. He said that Chadwick's effort to rectify the city's process had failed and that the council violated the city charter by approving the second agreement while the petition against the first was ongoing.

Those allegations are included in a lawsuit filed by Root and Josh Oxenhandler on behalf of two petitioners, Michael MacMann and Betty Wilson. They said they would suffer irreparable harm if the city allows the Opus project to proceed. The lawsuit has temporarily stopped the city from issuing building or demolition permits. Boone County Circuit Judge Christine Carpenter issued a temporary restraining order Wednesday that blocked the city from taking any action on the project other than voting on whether to repeal the second development agreement or place it on the ballot.

Opus has asked that the city shut off utilities to its building site, but Thompson said in an email to the Missourian that the city will take no action until the restraining order is either dissolved or more clearly defined.

A hearing on the lawsuit was scheduled for Monday but was canceled after Oxenhandler asked for a change of judge. Opus on Friday filed a motion to intervene in the case and to dissolve the restraining order.

It was unclear Tuesday morning when the hearing would be held.

Supervising editor is Scott Swafford.

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