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USC joins neighbors in fighting proposed student apartments near historic heart of campus

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 — The University of South Carolina needs places to house its growing student body, yet the school joined in opposition to one such project near its campus center.

The university, Historic Columbia Foundation and residents of the surrounding neighborhood on Thursday protested as Indiana-based developer Trinitas Ventures sought a final design approval for its proposed eight-story, 271-unit apartment building near USC’s law school.

It's the complex's 75-foot height and block-long footprint that has nearby homeowners concerned, said Tom Gottshall of the University Hill Neighborhood Association, especially when compared with the largely two-story, early 20th century homes in the area.

“To have a building of this mass overwhelms what’s been preserved here,” he said.

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

Gottshall argued that in 40 years there has been no other high-rise construction in the neighborhood.

These protests over the project's size were enough for Columbia's Design/Development Review Commission to unanimously vote down the project.

Nearby 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. Gottshall estimated there are currently less than 1,000 students living in the neighborhood in homes that have been converted into apartments. Trinitas' building alone would bring in 540 more.

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 only type, said Linda Irving, Trinitas' project manager. Rather than the four bedrooms and a common area layout typical of student housing, the apartment would have units ranging from studio to three bedrooms.

Irving 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.

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University architect Derek Gruner said the school is sympathetic to the neighbors in voicing its opposition to the project and sited an agreement USC has with University Hill to concentrate its new housing projects farther west.

USC 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.

The proposed site for the apartments is on property currently owned by Richard Quinn, an embattled consultant facing ongoing perjury charges who was also on the university payroll for $1 million worth of fundraising services.

The opposition raised harkens 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 that it would cast a shadow on the school's historic Horseshoe a block away. The half-acre site that included the former Sandy’s Famous Hot Dogs is now a Dominoes Pizza restaurant.

In the case of the tower, opponents argued most of the tallest surrounding buildings were four to seven stories. But Cornell Arms apartments, also a block away from the Horseshoe, stood at 18 stories.

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.

“I think it sets a bad precedent to go case by case basis,” project architect Bernard Vilza said.

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.

In 2015, when the EdR tower project sought its approvals, 6,000 students had been expected to move into 10 new complexes by 2018.

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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