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Student apartment complex gets second shot at approval despite USC, neighbors' opposition

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Veritas student housing

Indiana-based developer Trinitas Ventures is proposing an eight-story, 271-unit apartment building near the University of South Carolina’s law school. Provided

COLUMBIA — An Indiana-based developer will get another chance to pitch its project for new student apartments near the University of South Carolina's historic campus core next month.

The city's Design/Development Review Commission rescinded its previous decision after having shot down developer Trinitas Ventures' design application for its proposed eight-story, 271-unit apartment building near USC’s law school.

"I think we could have benefited from some more time to consider," said commission member Harris Cohn after he made the motion to rescind. 

In her 15 years working for the city, principal planner Lucinda Statler said this is the first time she can recall the board taking back a decision.

The apartment complex was mired in controversy over its 75-foot height and block-long footprint that concerned nearby homeowners.

Residents also sounded the alarm over students in the apartment complex moving through their neighborhood late at night on their way back from bars in the Five Points village entertainment district. Tom Gottshall, neighborhood association president, estimated there are under 1,000 students living in the neighborhood in homes that have been converted into apartments. Trinitas' building alone would bring in 540 more.

Historic Columbia and USC joined the neighbors in their opposition.

This is the second time USC has taken action to thwart a student housing project. Meanwhile the school's enrollment has risen by more than 5,000 students in the past decade, according to the state Commission on Higher Education, and the school needs places to put its upperclassmen.

Lawyer and Sen. Dick Harpootlian, D-Columbia, who also previously aided the University Hill neighborhood in its fight against Five Points bars, made the argument that a motion to rescind would indicate commission members did not have enough information to make a decision.

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"Everyone made their presentations," he said. "What was it that you didn't know?"

"Now the applicant gets a mulligan," Harpootlian added. "That's not fair or just to these people who would be impacted by another student dorm."

Harpootlian and others also made thinly veiled allusions to their belief commissioners decision to reconsider was influenced by an unspecified outside source.

Trinitas submitted a letter to the commission in favor of reconsideration that stated the previous vote was based on "mistake of fact," took into consideration the use of the property rather than just its design and relayed new evidence the company would like to submit based on questions asked during the previous hearing.

"They (Trinitas) can appeal to the circuit court if they don't agree," Harpootlian argued, adding that he believes a court would have sustained the commission's previous decision.

Opposition to the project hearkens back to a project from five years ago by another national student housing developer from Memphis, Tenn., EdR pulled out of its plans for a 15-story tower amid protests by the USC Alumni Association.

Trinitas said it kept the building height as low as possible, while also balancing financial feasibility with the cost of below-ground parking.

The by-the-bed rental agreements common to student housing are one of the leasing options the apartment building will offer but they're not the only type, Linda Irving, Trinitas' project manager said during the original presentation. She said it was built with the nearby law school students in mind, as well as young professionals wanting to live near Columbia's downtown Main Street District.

Trinitas also says its complex is similar to the height of the 70-foot-tall Home2 Suites hotel and the law school's more than 60-foot height. The McMaster School and Christian Science church are both around 45 feet tall. The company noted that the project met all zoning guidelines.

Trinitas' project would join a spate of other student housing projects expected to add 4,000 new beds for college students in downtown Columbia. That includes the university's own 1,800-bed Campus Village that will replace aging dorms on the side of campus.

Jessica Holdman is a business reporter for The Post & Courier covering Columbia. Prior to moving to South Carolina, she reported on business in North Dakota for The Bismarck Tribune and has previously written for The Spokesman-Review in Spokane, Wash.

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