Cityâ??s approach to apartment projects upsets residents

Upset residents packed a city council meeting Monday to decry a series of apartment projects.

Dozens of frustrated residents told the Columbia City Council Monday night they were exasperated by how the city was handling a trio of student apartment projects.

The councilâ??s Monday meeting agenda included discussions of three different apartment buildings geared toward MU students. One project by Columbia Housing Partners would go up at 5th and Conley, across from MUâ??s Mark Twain residence hall. A second proposal by Opus Development Company would put an apartment building downtown along Locust Street. A third development by American Campus Communities would be located next to CHPâ??s project, along Providence Road.

As the hearings began, City Manager Mike Matthes told the council all three projects involved major sewer renovations because the cityâ??s current sewer infrastructure is inadequate. He noted CHPâ??s project is ready to go but needed the councilâ??s approval because it involves sewer improvements. Further, Matthes said electrical infrastructure would not be able to meet the ACC projectâ??s needs.

â??We are approaching the last drops in the barrel,â?? of the cityâ??s infrastructure capacity, he said.

Residents lined up to tell the council it was moving too fast with too little information. They told the council they regarded its actions as a violation of the cityâ??s written procedure for approving such projects. Reuben Stern said approving the apartments would force the city to make promises it could not keep with existing infrastructure. John Clark said the city does not â??even remotely have enough informationâ?? to make a good decision. Clyde Bentley told the council it needed to slow down and take its time on projects of this magnitude.

The debate became so heated that when one resident sat down after demanding to know who called a special meeting for Wednesday and Matthes said he had done so, the resident immediately challenged his method of doing so. McDavid told the man he was out of order, prompting a brief shouting match between the two that led McDavid to call a five-minute recess. Following this exchange, Matthes stood up and said he would have anyone removed who was declared out of order.

City records show the council held a special meeting on March 12 to introduce the legislation authorizing the development agreements for the three projects. The council is scheduled to vote on them at another special meeting on Wednesday, just one week after introducing the legislation. Under normal procedure, introductions and final votes are held at separate regular city council meetings, which are held every two weeks.

At least two members of the council appeared to share residentsâ?? concerns. Karl Skala attacked claims that the city was doing the best it could with its existing infrastructure, noting sewer capacity was a major concern when he was on the council ten years ago. Ian Thomas called for stiffer infrastructure fees to better divide costs between the city and developers.

Mayor Bob McDavid defended Opusâ?? downtown apartment project. He said the 251-bed building would mean 251 students would not have to drive to campus and find a place to park. He said he planned to vote in favor of the project on Wednesday.

Robert Hollis, an attorney representing ACC, said the company did not discover until late last week its electricity capacity estimates were off. He said the company thought the right capacity would be available by 2016, but now it looks like it wonâ??t be available before 2018. He insisted the council make a decision whether to approve the zoning for the companyâ??s project by April 1, citing contractual obligations with suppliers.

Wednesdayâ??s special meeting starts at noon in the city council chambers. The council plans to vote on the projects after additional comments by the public. Some council members said they were generally happy with CHPâ??s proposal but were uneasy about the other two, and Matthes said city staff would recommend against ACCâ??s proposal due to the electrical capacity issues.