Columbia mayor: Invalidate apartment repeal petition

Columbia Mayor Bob McDavid directed city staff to invalidate a petition asking the city to rescind a vote approving an apartment building for this site.

Mayor Bob McDavid directed city staff early Tuesday to invalidate a petition asking the city council to rescind a vote approving a downtown apartment building.

McDavid said he thought petitioners were not told of the risks the city would be exposed to if the city backed out of a contract with Opus Development for a student apartment building to be located on what is currently a parking lot at Seventh and Locust. He said doing this might result in a credit downgrade, which would significantly reduce the cityâ??s borrowing ability. He called that prospect â??a huge risk, a crippling risk, a catastrophic risk.â?? In addition, he said the cityâ??s court costs would put public safety funding in jeopardy.

â??Itâ??s going to really, really irritate me if weâ??re hiring attorneys to manage this lawsuit at the expense of firefighters and police officers,â?? he said.

McDavidâ??s remarks at a late-running city council meeting come after some 3,600 voters signed a petition asking the council to take back a March 19 vote approving the building. The group, Repeal 62-14, contends the council ignored its bylaws by introducing and voting on a measure approving the building in the space of one week. Municipal legislation normally follows a two-week timetable.

But a representative for the projectâ??s developer, Opus Development, told the council Monday evening the councilâ??s actions on March 19 represent an administrative action rather than a legislative one, which he claimed rendered the section of the city charter dealing with petitions moot. The council had to sign off on the project after the Planning & Zoning Commission did so because Opus had included sewer improvements in its project plan.

In a letter obtained by KRCG 13, Opus representatives threatened to sue the city for damages in excess of $5 million for breach of contract if the action was repealed. Repeal 62-14 representatives said in a letter to the city that court cases have included administrative as well as legislative actions in the scope of issues citizens could ask to repeal. Repeal 62-14 member Deanna Walkenbach told KRCG 13 she thought the company â??would not have a leg to stand onâ?? in the event of litigation.

â??A personal misgiving of mine is, how is it possible for the city manager to sign a development agreement saying that we will have the infrastructure in place for Opus, if itâ??s been stated they donâ??t know where itâ??s going to come from,â?? she said.

Infrastructure concerns derailed another proposed student apartment complex at the same March 19 meeting. McDavid said having to pay $5 million in damages to Opus would take that money away from the cityâ??s infrastructure funding.