Columbia city council votes to allow sale of stadium property

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WACH) - Columbia city council voted 6-1 Tuesday night to approve the sale of the Capital City Stadium property to a Walmart developer.

The vote came after council heard the results of a study that detailed the potential impact a retail development project would have on the Rocky Branch Watershed. The stadium sits in the watershed's floodplain.

The study, commissioned by the city and conducted by AMEC Environment and Infrastructure, concluded that the proposed development could be implemented "without significant impacts" to the Rocky Branch Watershed.

The vote clears the way for developer Bright-Meyers, a firm with a history of working with Walmart, to begin work on a retail center anchored by a big-box store and other smaller stores and restaurants along the Assembly Street property.

However, the move and the study is not without controversy.

City councilwoman Belinda Gergel called Mayor Steve Benjamin's motion to approve the sale "premature" and noted that the study still left unanswered questions for her about potential impacts on flooding and water-quality.

Members of the Rocky Branch Watershed Alliance, which include USC scientists, questioned the study's findings and said the survey was not comprehensive enough.

"One of the findings of the study is, basically, the new structure will have no impact at all on the flows," said Dr. Venkat Lakshmi, a USC professor of Earth and Ocean Sciences. "For a hydrologist such as myself it is very hard to believe that's possible."

A public information session about the AMEC study's findings is set for Wednesday at Columbia city hall at 5:30 PM. However, several members of the public who attended Tuesday's city council meeting were under the impression the session would be a chance for residents to give public input on the project before a decision was made on the sale of the stadium property.

Mayor Steve Benjamin defended the move to approve the sale. He and other members of city council said it would be unfair to the developer to continue drawing out the process, noting a vote on the sale had already been put off for months while the impact study was conducted.

"I firmly believe that we have been deliberative. This council's been patient, it's been communicative," said Benjamin. "We've listened to all sides. Not just two sides, but, several sides to the argument."

Still, that's not enough for critics who hoped the city would explore more options such as a mixed-use commercial/residential development that would also address environmental issues before moving forward.

"I'm so sad that we didn't have the vision here in Columbia to dream big," said Ryan Nevius of Sustainable Midlands.