Repeal 6214 Fights to Put Brakes on Student Housing Downtown

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COLUMBIA - In March, the Columbia City Council reviewed three downtown student housing developments. It voted to approve two of the proposals, one from Collegiate Housing Partners and the other from Opus Development Group.

The developments have sparked debate on whether or not downtown is the best place for student housing apartment complexes.

"I learned of this idea to submit three new developments for approval at two noon time special meetings of the city council within one week of each other," Repeal 6214 organizer Jeremy Root said. "That's never happened before in Columbia that as far as I can tell."

Root said, City Clerk Sheela Amin told him on Thursday, May 1, that the Repeal 6214 petition against the developments proposed by the Opus Group is 91 signatures short of the required number.

Root said by May 15 the group has to collect a minimum of 3,209 signatures, that's the required amount needed from registered voters in Columbia.

The reason why some Columbia residents oppose the Opus Group's proposal is because the city does not have the necessary water, electrical and sewer infrastructure. American Campus Communities announced it will table its development a year until water and electrical infrastructure is adequate for its proposed complex between Turner and Conley Avenue. (Read more.)

DeAnna Walkenbach, 58, has lived in Columbia for nearly her whole life. She said while she isn't opposed to development downtown, the reason she supports Repeal 6214 is the infrastructure is not adequate to support further development.

"The piece that bothers me the most is the fact that we've been told by our city manager that we do not have enough infrastructure downtown," Walkenbach said. "Our infrastructure down there is over 100 years old."

Columbia Development Services Manager Patrick Zenner acknowledged the city has infrastructure and parking issues it needs to address.

"Infrastructure is the critical lynchpin in order to allow anything else to happen in the downtown," Zenner said.

Root said the Opus Group's six-story project at the intersection of Eighth and Locust will make Columbia's infrastructure worse. However, under First Ward Councilwoman Ginny Chadwick's new bill, Opus would pay $450,000 for improvements to sewer and water infrastructure, as it had agreed in the original approval of the development. Root said that's still not enough.

"It will fund the placement of a larger outflow pipe to service their development," Root said. "What it will not address in any way is the existing capacity problems that are in the main sewer line that the development will feed into."

Zenner said the reason downtown housing developers are targeting the downtown area is due to the increase in student population with the University of Missouri.

Total MU Enrollment according to the MU Registrar's Office:
• 2007: 28,477 students
• 2008: 30,200 students
• 2009: 31,314 students
• 2010: 32,415 students
• 2011: 33,805 students
• 2012: 34,748 students
• 2013: 34,658 students

Between 2007 and 2012, the student population at MU has increased every year. In 2013, student enrollment decreased for the first time in 18 years.

MU is in its fourth phase of a five-phase residential life master plan designated to replace or renovate all residence halls on the MU campus. Part of the plan is to replace Jones Hall, which is scheduled to close December 2014, with two new residence halls opening in the fall of 2016 and 2017, respectively. Johnston Hall is scheduled to reopen in fall 2014 and Wolpers Hall in fall 2015.

"The University of Missouri has stated publicly that they're not providing enough housing for its students, nor do they have a desire to do so," Zenner said. "What we've seen is private industries picking up the gap."

Root said the City of Columbia should partner with MU to provide enough housing for its students.

"I find it shocking that the mayor indicated to the public he had never spoken to anyone at the university regarding student housing until the March meetings around this project," Root said. "I expect more from our city leadership."

"I don't want us to end up with a bunch of empty student housing," Walkenbach said. "I find it hard to believe we don't have enough already."

Root argues the ideal location for a student housing is adjacent to campus, but not at the heart of downtown. Zenner said he thinks the district makes the most sense.

"The question that perplexes us as a staff, if not downtown, where?" Zenner said. "Where would you prefer to have students that are wanting to attend our academic institutions? The academic institutions that are really the driving force of Columbia."

Root said he believes too much downtown student housing could ostracize other Columbia residents.

"As we increase our downtown with single demographic residential housing that is targeted towards students, people will become less comfortable," Root said. "Businesses may be pushed out and replaced with businesses that cater exclusively to those students."

Zenner said the city has a plan called Columbia Imagined to identify the types of development and the location of development in Columbia.

"It acknowledges we have an infrastructure allocation issue, and we need to identify solutions as to how to adequately allocate those costs," Zenner said. "We need to keep an open mind...We probably need to look at what is the economic driver of the City of Columbia, and ensure that we're not going to be short sided in ensuring its future success by taking positions, or making decisions based on fear of the unknown," Zenner said.

The city council is scheduled to have a first read of the new Opus bill at its meeting on May 5. The city council is scheduled to vote whether or not to go through with the bill at its meeting on May 19.