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Columbia City Council opens downtown plans for public comment

It took two minutes for mayor Bob McDavid to open and close the city council’s special session Wednesday afternoon. He called it an “administrative action,” necessary to put three apartment complex proposals up for public discussion.

“We can’t, by the rules that we live by, vote on something until it’s been in the public domain for a week.”

The public will have two opportunities to voice opinions on the proposals – the first at Monday evening’s city council meeting, the second on Wednesday at noon. Following the Wednesday session, the City Council will vote on the three plans.

Deputy City Manager Tony St. Romaine said the quick meeting schedule is due to the construction companies’ deadlines. Some of them end April 1, meaning the City Council needed to hold a special session next Wednesday, instead of wait for its next regular meeting date, April 6.

The city delayed voting on the proposals because of utility issues. Both McDavid and St. Romaine say the sewer system in downtown Columbia is at capacity. So to accommodate the companies, the city asked the developers to pay the costs for widening the sewer systems near their future property.

Collegiate Housing Partners and ACC OP plan to build apartment complexes (351 beds and 718 beds respectively) between Providence Road and Fourth Street. Both will pay for a widening of a sewer pipe underneath Fourth Street – CHP paying $150,000 and ACC OP paying $300,000. Opus Development wants to build a 256-bed building on Locust Street, between Seventh and Eighth Street, and would be responsible for a $450,000 repair of the sewer system and storm water system on Locust Street.

“This is not really the way we would prefer to do business, to basically have to ask developers to fund 100-percent of the infrastructures that’s going to support their development,” St. Romaine said. “We felt it was necessary, we felt it was the only way their projects would get approved.”

“Unless we accommodate a change in infrastructure, we are fundamentally closed to any kind of rehabilitation, growth in the downtown area,” McDavid said.

St. Romaine said he’s never experienced a situation like this while with the city. He said developers would not mind paying for the expansion of city utilities, as long as the city is upfront and aware of utility problems.

“There ought to be an equity buy-in,” St. Romaine said. “What we want to do is put together a policy, a framework by which developers know when they come in, they know up front what their costs are.”

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