COLUMBIA — Residents of the Old Southwest are taking steps to establish a new neighborhood association to improve communication and to address some of the issues in the area.
The new association, the Historic Old Southwest, will reach from both sides of Broadway to both sides of Rollins Road and from the center line of Edgewood Avenue to the center line of West Boulevard. Two existing neighborhood associations in the area that have become inactive, Maupin Woods and Old Stewart Road, would be absorbed into Historic Old Southwest. The new association would also include many houses outside the boundaries of those two organizations.
“The large part of the neighborhood immediately around those existing neighborhoods are not represented,” said Brian Pape, one of the main organizers of the new neighborhood association. “If we would have just reorganized a new one not inclusive of the old ones, it would have been really chopped up.”
Robert Tucker, owner of the historic Taylor House Inn on West Broadway, sees the benefits of neighborhood associations.
“It seems that the city is more interested in listening to one voice, instead of 300 neighbors,” Tucker said. “It’s easier if there is one appointed person. You still have the ability to speak out individually.”
According to Bill Cantin, neighborhood response specialist for the city, said it can be difficult to a find group of people with enough time to manage an association’s duties, such as organizing meetings and contacting members of the group.
Pape speculates that a lack of time may be the reason old organizations in the area became inactive. He hopes the size of the new organization will prevent the same thing from happening.
“With a larger neighborhood to draw from, there are more people who would be able to take on these activities,” Pape said.
Talks of a new organization began with a meeting of a small group of neighbors in fall 2007. The group then hand-delivered fliers to all of the residents informing them of the idea and the purpose.
The first of two follow-up meetings was held at the Columbia Public Library in early December. Twenty people attended.
Jason Cooley, another one of the early members who lives on West Broadway, said some residents initially expressed apprehensions about the new association, fearing they would lose their voice if one person represented the larger neighborhood to the city.
After a discussion about the benefits of a neighborhood association, Cooley said most in attendance agreed it was a worthwhile endeavor.
Nine people attended a second meeting held early January. Leaders attributed the low turnout to holiday travel.
In order for the new association to be recognized by the city, residents still need to establish bylaws, elect officers and submit a formal letter of recognition to the city. It would then be reviewed by the City Council. Pape hopes to finish all this at a meeting later in the month. The meeting had not yet been scheduled.
According to Cantin, once the letter is submitted, assuming the bylaws and boundaries are sufficient, it should take about a month to process the paperwork and make maps before going to the City Council for approval.
Nancy Harter, an early organizer who lives on South Glenwood Avenue, and Pape say that one of the most important steps they have already taken toward forming their new organization is establishing a listserv group on Yahoo that currently has more than 170 members.
“We want to open up communication between neighbors and start talking about neighborhood issues,” Pape said.
Some possibilities Pape outlined for the neighborhood include establishing the Old Southwest as a historic district and addressing more immediate issues such as sewer repairs and traffic flow on West Broadway.
Another benefit of establishing a neighborhood association is being recognized by the city. The City Council would be required to notify the association of any pending zoning and subdivision applications and city-initiated projects in or around the neighborhood.
“There seems to be a disjoint between what the city would tell me and what I would hear from my neighbors,” Cooley said. “It would be easier for the neighborhood to talk and decide what we think collectively and then talk to the city.”
Harter was part of an active neighborhood association in Washington, D.C., where she lived for several years before moving to Columbia, and saw how effective they can be.
“Many people don’t realize the need for a neighborhood association until there is a crisis, and then it is too late to get organized,” Harter said. “To be forewarned is to be forearmed.”