Midlands residents voice concerns over proposed student housing


COLUMBIA, S.C. (WACH) -- A student housing complex set to be built in downtown Columbia has been met with mixed opinions by local residents.

A 700-plus student housing complex has been planned for 1400 Huger Street, previously occupied by the Richland County Magistrate Court.

But residents living in nearby neighborhoods are wary about what the student housing could mean for the area.

One resident, Joyce Daniels, lives in the nearby Arsenal Hill neighborhood, just a few blocks from where the site is. She says she's concerned about what the location could do to an already busy Huger Street.

"I said to my husband, 'It's just too much congestion," said Daniels. "Especially with streets being so narrow going down that way. And traffic is already jammed...To me, I don't think it was a good idea."

Another resident, Kristin Puckett, also lives in Arsenal Hill and, though she says the development of the downtown area is good, she questions the decision-making for that particular lot.

"I do feel like the city is already saturated with student housing," said Puckett. "It's just kids that come and go for a couple of years...I did it. We all did it in college, but it'd be great to have an area that facilitated roots here."

Puckett and others say that the student housing would not serve the interest of the overall diverse population of the area, who are not just students.

Jonathan Comish, president of Arsenal Hill's Neighborhood Association, says he's been meeting with the Vista Guild to discuss the concerns of his residents.

"If the student housing bubble ever bursts, then that's just going to be 700 empty beds in the middle of what we sort of think is the crown jewel of Columbia, Arsenal Hill and the Vista," said Comish. "We don't think that's something that's good for the overall development."

The complex would be built by Florida-based 908 Holdings, LLC. The development was discussed during Tuesday night's Richland County Council meeting.

Yet Comish and others want to make it emphatically clear that they are not against the students.

"You know, we have students that live here, and we love them," said Comish, gesturing to several dwellings nearby. "They live right over there, and over here. But we don't want to be 5 points...We're a mixed income neighborhood, we welcome everybody. And we want to keep the diversity that makes the neighborhood so wonderful."

The city council would have to first approve the zoning, then the Design/Development Review Commission would have to review the plans as well.

Several housing associations, including Arsenal Hill, plan to meet with the Vista Guild within the coming weeks to discuss the plans.

Still, some in the Arsenal Hill neighborhood were positive about the potential student housing.

" I heard talk about it, and I think that that's a very good idea," said Herbert Curtis. "I feel like, with the complex being built so close around our area, it would help upgrade the area around here.

Another resident, Mary Fant, says, though she's concerned about the lack of parking, at least the vacant lot is being worked on.

"Things do tend to sit sometimes in Columbia," said Fant. "So it's good to know it won't sit like that for years."

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