Columbia City Council on Tuesday gave its last stamp of approval to the zoning of the proposed Bull Street neighborhood, despite a written public notice that there would be a second vote.
Council also decided against issuing refunds for sewer bills that improperly imposed base-rate fees. Instead, council changed the rate law and removed from the citys website an erroneous explanation of the fee structure.
The zoning plan for the 183-acre Bull Street development passed by a 5-1 vote.
Mayor Steve Benjamin said the official agenda issued Friday that stated the first of two votes was a typographical error.
City attorney Ken Gaines said the final vote Tuesday was legal because City Council had given a similar plan tentative approval on March 27.
That answer did not satisfy Ryan Nevius, director of the environmental group Sustainable Midlands.
Its unfathomable to me, she said. Its listed on the agenda as first reading (vote). That calls into procedural question (the validity of the vote). We all thought we would have time to discuss it.
Only Councilman Moe Baddourah cast a no vote. Councilwoman Leona Plaugh was absent.
Baddourah said the city needs to know more detail about Greenville developer Bob Hughes construction plans and how much public money he will seek from the city for streets and public utilities.
Im hesitant to go forward, Baddourah said, asking for a delay. There are a lot of unanswered questions.
Councilman Cameron Runyan also suggested council wait for a staff evaluation of the so-called development agreement from Hughes. That document was to spell out how Hughes planned to develop the property in phases, city officials have said repeatedly since early this year.
Runyan said he worries the city might lose bargaining power with Hughes if zoning is approved before the development agreement is hammered out.
Benjamin said the city will have influence through the decisions it will make on how much money to put into streets, water and sewer lines and parking garages, among other expenditures.
Hughes, in a statement, said, We hope that one day we will all be able to look back on tonights vote as the beginning of something that was very special.
Over the months, we have met with many developers and companies expressing interest in getting information about this property, Hughes wrote. But all of the discussions so far have been hypothetical because we had not yet established clear policies and guidelines from the city. Tonights vote has provided many of the details that are necessary.
As it turns out, city administrators have had the development agreement in hand a while and are reviewing it.
Krista Hampton, Columbias director of planning and development, said her staff and the city manager are studying the agreement. She made that announcement after speaking quietly with city manager Steve Gantt before answering a council members question about the status of the agreement.
Council gave Hamptons staff two weeks to present its analysis of the agreement.
Hampton said she and her staff would prefer to have the development agreement while the zoning proposal was being considered. But that is not the case with the Bull Street property, she said.
Demetri Baches, a key member of Hughes development team, told The State during the council meeting that the document was submitted at the same time that city staffers and Hughes team reached agreement on the revised zoning plan.
The new zoning plan with significant changes in it has cleared the citys planning commission a second time. That would mean the city has had the development agreement for weeks.
Further, the agreement does not spell out phases of construction or identify details of housing or commercial construction. Instead, its Hughes request for infrastructure needs, Baches and Hampton said.
Construction details will become public when a newly created body, the Consolidated Review Committee, hears formal requests from developers, Hampton said.