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RED ALERT! Neighbors sound alarm over plan to approve 1,300 new student apartments with zilch public notice

Council considering  $650,000 developer contribution to $6.75 million problem
 
COLUMBIA, Mo 3/12/14 (Beat Byte) -- Three development agreements that will bring 1,335 new student apartments to downtown Columbia and across from the Grasslands and Old Southwest neighborhoods have residents in an uproar over haste, wording, lack of public notice -- and a paltry developer contribution to what city manager Mike Matthes has characterized as an enormous sewer infrastructure problem.     

Five Columbia City Council members voted unanimously at a special meeting this afternoon to fast-track the agreements, placing them before the public for a hearing this Monday, March 17 and reportedly final approval at a Council retreat next Wednesday.   Two Council members -- Ian Thomas and Laura Nauser -- were absent. 

Chairpersons of at least six neighborhood associations -- Westmount, Old Southwest, West Broadway, East Walnut, Benton Stephens, and Quarry Heights -- sent a March 9 letter to Council members, Mayor Bob McDavid, city planners, the Columbia Daily Tribune andColumbia Missourian "asking that neighborhood associations -- especially those adjacent to the downtown area -- and other community members be included as partners in the discussion," Westmount Neighborhood Association president Catherine Doyle explained on the Old Southwest listserv today.  "I received a 'thank you for your letter' response from only two of our Council members, but no other responses." 

The first agreement before the City Council will approve Austin, Tx-based American Campus Communities' 728-unit student apartment complex along Providence Road, Turner Avenue, and Fifth Streets, to open August 2016.  

The second agreement will approve St. Louis-based Collegiate Housing Partners 315-unit student apartment complex along Conley Avenue, between Fourth Street and Fifth Street, set to open July 2015.

The third agreement will approve Minneapolis-based Opus Development's 256-unit student apartment complex on the north side of Locust Street, between Seventh Street and Eighth Street, set to open August 2015.

"These special requests for hurry-up approvals are diminishing and USURPING the right of the City to act as a PUBLIC body," Columbia resident Esther Stroh emailed Council and neighborhood listserv members this morning.      

Although city officials have been arguing for weeks that downtown Columbia cannot support more development for lack of water, fire, electric, stormwater, and sanitary sewer capacity -- the latter requiring $6.75 million in upgrades and additions -- the developers are contributing a combined $650,000* to sewer upgrades. 

Columbia taxpayers and ratepayers will pay the rest.  "The parties acknowledge the City does not currently have the capacity in its electrical system to serve the completed Project," reads one agreement.   "City agrees to construct the Electric System Improvements to serve the Project." 

Equally surprising:   the agreements allow the developers to proceed even if City Hall never improves the sewer.  "Failure of City to construct the Connecting Sanitary Sewer shall not prevent Developer from obtaining a certificate of occupancy following construction of the Project -- or any other necessary approvals."
 
"Just a few weeks ago, we were told there was no way to fund infrastructure improvements downtown other than with an enormous TIF district," Stroh told neighbors.  "Now, these developers are willing to subsidize infrastructure improvements, but they are demanding a hastily stepped-up approval process that limits public comment."

*An earlier version of this story read $450,000 instead of $650,000.



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