Sunday, January 23, 2011

PLANNING AND GROANING: Controversy clouds P&Z-approved developer, Pt. 1

Campus Crest
COLUMBIA, 1/23/11  (Beat Byte) --  Sexual harassment lawsuits; angry resident protests; former employees airing grievances on Facebook.

All in a day's work, apparently, for North Carolina-based Campus Crest Communities, a student-housing developer that just received unanimous Columbia Planning and Zoning commission approval to build a 632-bedroom student housing community across 12.5 acres on Grindstone Parkway and Rock Quarry Road.  The Columbia City Council takes up the request February 5.   

"I still get contacted on Facebook from past students and lawyers wanting to sue this unethical company," writes Buffalo, NY-resident Brian Steinberg on the Former Campus Crest Communities (The Grove) Staff Facebook page.  "How does Campus Crest stay in business?" 

"This page makes my day!" Jennifer Jackson-Burt from Abilene, Texas chirps.  "I still get calls in the middle of the night about the fire alarms...& how about that lawsuit being filed now for race & gender discrimination!" 

F-Bombs Flying

 At least two lawsuits filed in 2010 -- which name Campus Crest, its subsidiaries, and founders Ted Rollins and Michael Hartnett -- don't paint a flattering picture of company officials, who claim part of their company mission is to "Create a place where our employees want to work."

"Brian Sharpe, Defendant’s Chief Operating Officer and President of Campus Crest Construction, subjected Plaintiff [Heather McCormack] and other female employees to a sexually hostile and demeaning work environment," writes Charlotte, N.C.-based attorney Jennifer Sharpe (obviously no relation) in one of two 2010 litigation pleadings filed in Mecklenburg County, N.C.

"Sharpe, on a frequent and/or daily basis, used the term 'f--' and 'f---ing,' in his verbal communications in the workplace and often used the acronym 'WTF' (or “What The F---) in his email communications to Plaintiff and others. 

"Sharpe further referred to women in the office as 'c---s,' 'bitches' and 'whores,'" the pleading continues, spelling out the words.  "On at least one occasion, Sharpe referred to Plaintiff as a 'f---ing bitch' and threatened to 'rip [Plaintiff’s] f---ing head off.'   On another occasion, Sharpe, in the presence of Plaintiff and others, yelled and screamed at Shannon King, calling her a 'stupid f--- c--t' and threatened to 'punch her face.'    Additionally, Brian Sharpe stated in Plaintiff’s presence that if he heard another female employee cry, he would be 'sick' and that he needed 'more testosterone over here.'  He also referred to female employees as 'f---ing retards.'"

The Columbia Missourian last Thursday quoted Brian Sharpe, who said his firm would work to mitigate the student housing project's "visual impact from the road." 

Campus Crest co-founder "Ted Rollins...referred to employees as 'cube dwellers who have nothing better to do with their time other than complain,'" Jennifer Sharpe continues.   "On yet other occasions, Rollins insisted that all attractive female applicants for employment be introduced to Brian Sharpe;  alternatively, if Rollins saw an attractive applicant for employment in the office, he would bring Sharpe in to meet her." 

"Lewd and sexually-charged emails," also came McCormack's way, her attorney alleges, including "so-called 'motivational posters' which contained both derogatory racial and sexual references, as well as another email, ostensibly entitled, 'how to tell whether your date is bored,' which depicted a nude female with her legs spread wide apart."  

Trouble in Texas 

"Help out the local community" is another Campus Crest mission statement, according to the company website.   But in community after community, controversy has dogged the firm as residents have protested the size, scope, and location of its student apartment complexes, most of them simply named "The Grove."

Last June, the company yanked a rezoning application in San Antonio, Texas after homeowners "hotly contested the proposed project," a 580-bed apartment complex, the San Antonio Express News reported.  

As in Columbia, San Antonio's Zoning Commission had earlier approved the request.

A 512-unit student housing development called "The Grove at Stillwater" brought similar howls of protest and a petition against the project.   Nearly 200 citizens turned out in September and October 2009, when the Stillwater, Oklahoma City Council voted The Grove down 4-1.

On a list of 2010 Hits and Misses, Fort Collins Coloradoan columnist David Young called his city's version of The Grove a "miss." 

The "hotly contested student housing project...dragged on throughout 2010 with little resolution," he wrote.  "The proposed multi-building student housing project was denied by the Planning and Zoning Board this year.  But that was not the end."   Campus Crest appealed; residents protested.   A second Campus Crest proposal, Young writes, "is sure to see more protest from area residents as it moves through the system mid-2011."

Community problems have dogged Campus Crest since at least 2005, when the firm did something many Columbia residents would faint over: clear cut a timber buffer in Asheville, N.C.

"It is clear that the Campus Crest developers violated their commitment to the city and the residents of Montford to protect an existing 80-foot buffer of mature forest along Montford Avenue, one of the key provisions for Council's collective decision to approve the project," Asheville City Council member Brownie Newman said at the time.  "Virtually the entire buffer on Montford Avenue that the developers committed to preserving at the Council meeting has been clear-cut and graded."

A call to Columbia's Planning and Zoning Commission has not yet been returned.  
The Campus Crest Controversy

Part One
Part Five


  1. Just want to clarify a few things. The Columbia Planning & Zoning Commission took no action permitting this company to build 632 bedrooms at the site off Rock Quarry this past Thursday. The land already has open R-3 zoning and has for several decades. The issue before the P&Z commission this past Thursday night was a minor sub-division of a larger parcel. These items can only legally be denied if there is a technical issue that they have not complied with in our city code. There were no such issues and thus P&Z is more or less legally required to approve the plat, as is City Council.

    Also, it is a little disingenuous to state that you have "called" the Planning & Zoning Commission and they have not returned your call. There is no city number to call the commission or commissioners directly (aside from their private numbers of course). You may have called the Planning Department with the city but you DID NOT call the Planning & Zoning Commission. To say that you have called someone and they have not returned your call is a very loaded statement, especially when it is not based on fact.

  2. David B.:

    I left a detailed message with Ann Peters at 7:52 pm on the 21st of January about this.

    The website that has your contact information is sparse at best, and I'm not sure it's even up to date. It also directs all inquiries into a staff mailbox, something I'm not entirely comfortable about using.

    I searched for other home numbers of Commission members, which were apparently unlisted.

    Finally, the article does not say that P&Z "permitted" the project, just that it received your unanimous approval and that it's on its way to Council.

    If you have a problem with that verbiage, please be so kind as to take it up with our other newspapers, who reported same.

  3. Mike, why in the world would you rely on an old list of Columbia P&Z members on the Boone County website instead of going to the source?

    So will you now remove your incorrect claim that your "call to Columbia's Planning and Zoning Commission has not yet been returned" since it was never made?

  4. No, John I won't because as I stated above, the call was made -- and finally returned -- by P&Z member Ann Peters, whom I quoted in our latest installment.

    Ann Peters is a current member, in good standing, of the City of Columbia Planning and Zoning Commission and voted for the Campus Crest project.

  5. Well, you can do what you like with your blog, but as a member of the county's Board of Adjustment, I would say that calling just one of our five members would not be the same as contacting the Board.