Opus lawyers say lawsuit against city meant to ruin housing project

Thursday, August 28, 2014 | 9:45 p.m. CDT; updated 8:02 a.m. CDT, Friday, August 29, 2014

COLUMBIA — If students are going to move into a six-story, 259-bed apartment building on Locust Street next August, the clock is ticking for construction to begin. 

The city of Columbia has stated Opus Development Co. is ready to proceed, but a restraining order has kept the city from issuing the developer the permits it needs to demolish the site's existing buildings and begin construction. 

The restraining order is the result of Columbia residents Betty Wilson and Michael MacMann's civil rights lawsuit, which was first filed in state court and then moved to federal court. The plaintiffs are suing the city for allegedly violating their First Amendment rights by allowing the project to move forward despite two petitions against the city's agreements with Opus. Wilson and MacMann signed and helped circulate both petitions.

On Thursday, Opus' lawyers said the lawsuit's sole intention is to thwart the project. The plaintiffs' legal team has argued against Opus being allowed to intervene in the case. They  say the city would protect the project's interests, according to court documents.

In reply, Opus' attorneys wrote the plaintiffs' fight against Opus' intervention is designed to delay the legal proceedings and further delay the project, according to court documents.

As relief for the city's alleged violations, the plaintiffs want the city blocked from issuing Opus permits for six months after the repeal of the latest agreement with Opus or until proper infrastructure is in place. Opus' legal team wrote that the plaintiffs' request  "has little to nothing to do with the Plaintiffs' " 'civil rights.' "

According to the reply, further delay would get the project off schedule, and every day of delay pushes it "closer and closer to failure." It states, "Completing and opening a student housing project ... after students begin the fall semester is like opening a shopping mall after the holiday shopping season."

The reply concludes by stating the restraining order should be immediately dissolved or allowed to expire Tuesday without any action from U.S. District Judge Nanette K. Laughrey.

There will be a hearing via teleconference on the motion to intervene and a discussion of issues with the restraining order at 1 p.m. Friday, according to court documents.

Opus attorney Thomas Harrison of Columbia declined to discuss the case, and one of his co-counselors, Minneapolis attorney Jason Asmus, did not return a call seeking comment.

Opus's reply can be viewed below:

Supervising editor is Bailey Otto.

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