Columbia Residents Protest Student Housing Plans

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COLUMBIA - Columbia residents against building more student housing in downtown Columbia presented the City Clerk with a petition on Tuesday.

Organizer Jeremy Root said Repeal 6214 has more than 3,600 signatures. Root is against the city's plan to build a six-story student-housing complex at the intersection of Eigth and Locust.

Root turned in the signatures Tuesday, surpassing the 3,200 needed for a petition to overrule the city council.

Many Columbia residents were at the City Council meeting Monday night to express how they felt. 

Columbia resident Christian David Robinson said, "A large number of the community smells a fish. It just smells fishy." His wife Ariel Robinson agreed. "We know that we don't have the infrastructure for it, we don't have the sewer, we don't have the electrical, we don't have the water. And I think big developers from out of state either need to pay or need to stay out of Columbia."

Protester Sara Fox said, "Personally I don't think that it's okay that they would allow a company to come in downtown and increase our energy consumption for locals."

Root said he wants his children to live in a community they can enjoy. "This cause is important to me really because I love Columbia," said Root. "I want my children to grow up here in a town that embraces democracy and embraces diverse values and I want them to be able to come to our downtown and have the same diverse and valuable experience that I have." Root's wife was born and raised in Columbia.

There is also the issue of students taking over the downtown area.  "Some folks, including Jeremy, have said they don't want any more students. I personally... I am puzzled how you could feel that way in a college town. So, I think it's a little bit short sided and fool hearted to pretend we won't have students in a college town," said City Manager Mike Matthes.

Ultimately, "It's for the community to weigh in on and the council to decide," Matthes said. The city will continue to debate this topic for years to come as the city grows and students continue to come into Columbia. 

The City Council will look at problems that could come if more housing developments are built.  "We have an infrastructure shortage you might say downtown," admitted Matthes.  "The questions the council has to answer which are complicated are 'What can we fit?' and 'How much more can happen downtown?' without a giant increase in expenditures."

Since the petition did meet the signature requirement, the City Clerk will validate each of the signatures to ensure everyone who signed is a registered voter in Columbia. Then if they are validated, the city council will discuss a repeal at an upcoming meeting and could vote on it. If the council repeals the petitioned ordinance, a decision would be put before voters on a ballot in August or November.