Student apartments win Columbia Council approval

The Columbia City Council approved two apartment proposals but put off a third amid a public outcry.

Two more student apartment buildings will come to Columbia after winning the city councilâ??s approval, despite a public outcry.

At a special meeting early Wednesday afternoon, the council unanimously approved a proposed apartment building to be built at Fifth and Conley, across the street from MUâ??s Mark Twain residence hall. That project has been in the works for some time, but the council needed to sign off on it because it involved major sewer improvements. Collegiate Housing Partners has agreed to put $150,000 toward a new trunk line that would hook into an expanded city line.

Opus Developmentâ??s proposal for a six-story apartment building on what is currently a parking lot on Locust Street between Seventh and Eighth Streets did not garner the same support. The council approved that proposal by a single vote, with Karl Skala, Barbara Hoppe and Ian Thomas voting against it. Thomas said although he liked many of the projectâ??s features, he felt the cityâ??s sewers were not up to the task. He said the council needed to slow down the approval process for the project. Laura Nauser, who voted for Opusâ?? project, said voting down the proposal because of infrastructure concerns would be â??a back door moratoriumâ?? on new construction in the city.

â??If youâ??re going to apply that logic to Opus Development, then to be consistent, youâ??re gonna have to apply that logic to all other developments in the future,â?? she told KRCG 13.

The debate over infrastructure overshadowed the councilâ??s votes. The developers seeking the councilâ??s approval Wednesday all incorporated sewer improvements into their projects and planned to pay for the improvements closest to their buildings. Several residents at the meeting told the council to vote them all down because they feared cityâ??s sewers could not handle the additional development. Eugene Elkin said the city needs to fix its sewers before approving any more development, although city staff said the sewers could handle the projects if the contractors agreed to help pay for improvements.

Infrastructure questions let the council to put a third apartment project on hold. American Campus Communities has proposed building a five-story apartment building along Fourth Street and Turner Avenue, next to CHPâ??s project. City staff recommended a â??noâ?? vote on that project after it was discovered the city would not have enough electrical capacity to meet the buildingâ??s needs. The council decided to put off voting on the project and a related rezoning request until May.

During Wednesdayâ??s meeting, members of the public told the council they were upset by what they considered a rushed approval process, continuing a debate that began at Monday nightâ??s regular city council meeting. City records show the council set special meetings on March 12 and 19 to introduce and vote on the legislation authorizing the apartment proposals, respectively. Those actions would normally have taken place at regular city council meetings, which are held two weeks apart. Katherine Park told the council it has a history of using bad information and then taking emergency measures to correct actions based on it.

â??We find ourselves now, as a city, in a situation of grave institutional dysfunction,â?? she said, adding the city would continue to â??stumble from crisis to crisisâ?? if it was not fixed.

Traci Wilson-Kleekamp said what was missing from the discussion was a conversation on how to finance repairs to the cityâ??s infrastructure. She said such a conversation would go a long way toward rebuilding public trust in the council. Wilson-Kleekamp later told KRCG 13 she thought the council understood what residents were saying but felt they were trying to rationalize their actions.

Council members said they understood why the public was up in arms over the approval process. Nauser said all three projects had been in the pipeline for at least a year, but the failure of a TIF proposal last month pushed them to the forefront.

â??It was quick, and it gives the appearance that, you know, something is happening,â?? she said. But I think, in all fairness, these developers have been on hold and have been waiting. They do have time constraints.â??

Karl Skala said he was fustrated by the fact that all three developers wanted an answer no later than April 1, though he said some of them had legitimate reasons for doing so. He said the fact that all three developers wanted an answer at the same time was a coincidence. Skala told KRCG 13 the city needs to come up with a permanent fix to its infrastructure problems rather than working on them piecemeal.

â??We really need to really need to come up with a strategy that solves the entire sewer exigency problem downtown and the electrical exigency problem downtown before we start allowing more development to occur,â?? he said.

Mayor Bob McDavid said the city would have the option of tabling ACCâ??s zoning and project requests again in May if officials did not think the infrastructure problem had been resolved.