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Developer Threatening to Sue Columbia for Millions

Posted: Apr 18, 2014 2:07 PM by William Joy, KOMU 8 News Reporter
Updated: Apr 18, 2014 6:12 PM

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COLUMBIA - The City of Columbia could face a lawsuit worth millions of dollars if it allows a petition blocking downtown development to continue.

On March 31, the Columbia City Council voted in favor of an agreement for Opus Development Group to build a new housing project on the north side of Locust Street, between 7th and 8th streets.

After a group called Repeal 6214 submitted a petition with 3,633 signatures which is more than enough to force the city to review it. Columbia has to decide whether to support the petition and face the lawsuit or rule it as invalid.

The law firm, Van Matre, Harrison, Hollis, and Taylor submitted a letter to the city on April 15 saying, "If the city fails to immediately reject the petition and declare it invalid, or if the city allows the petition process under section 129 of the charter to inappropriately move forward as a conflicting enactment, the city will be in breach of the agreement, resulting in damages to Opus in excess of $5,000,000."

The petitioners responded with a letter as well, pointing out that section 128 of the city's charter says, "The voters shall have power to approve or reject at the polls any ordinance passed by the council, or submitting by the council to the voters, excepting emergency ordinances...ordinances for the levying of taxes, or for the issuance of special tax bills."

The letter from the Van Matre law firm that section applies, "only to acts, including ordinances, which are legislative in character", so the petition should be invalid.

"I think they misunderstand the rights of the citizens of Columbia under the Columbia city charter," Jeremy Root, the leader of the Repeal 6214 movement said. "And I think they misinterpret applicable case law to reach the conclusion that this ordinance is not properly subject to repeal."

McDavid says the petition isn't worth the risk.

"I believe the effort to run Opus out of town is dangerous. I think it's reckless, and I think it's irresponsible," McDavid said. "If we go that road, we're going to be in a multi-year legal swamp from which the outcome is unclear."

Root said his problem is not with the development itself or with downtown development as a whole.

"I'm not opposed to students residing downtown," Root said. "I'm opposed to hasty process that leave too many questions unanswered."

The city now has to decide whether to declare the petition invalid, repeal the development agreement with Opus, or put the repeal of the development agreement on the next ballot and leave it up to voters.

The law firm's letter gives the city till the close of business on April 22 to declare the ordinance invalid or face the suit.

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