For 43 years, Brad Eiffert has been helping run the family-owned Boone County Lumber in north-central Columbia. It’s an area of the city he likes, and he gives the North Central Columbia Neighborhood Association a lot of the credit for helping it develop an identity.
Eiffert considers his relationship with the NCCNA to be friendly, and he counts its members among his friends. A former member of the group, he occasionally drops in on its meetings. He even helped fund the neighborhood newsletter.
“When you go to any other (Columbia) community you don't see the level of interest and activity as you do in central Columbia,” Eiffert said.
Nevertheless, Eiffert is among several property owners and businesspeople who recently began a push to create their own neighborhood association, arguing that the NCCNA no longer is best-suited to represent their interests. On Oct. 6, the City Council approved the change, and the Shoe Factory District Neighborhood Association was born.
Getting approval on a new neighborhood association wasn’t an easy process. Some north-central residents and council members were uneasy about the change, particularly in light of the fact that one area will be represented by both the Shoe Factory and the North-Central districts . It was a precedent-setting rift that prompted the council to call for a revision of its neighborhood association rules, but now that the matter is settled, both sides are looking forward to reconciling. And in hindsight, they say, the dispute might even have been productive.
How the Shoe Factory District came to be
The new neighborhood association is named the Shoe Factory District Neighborhood Association after the historic Hamilton-Brown Shoe Factory on Wilkes Boulevard. Built in 1906 for the Hamilton-Brown Shoe Co., it served as the world's largest shoe manufacturer at the beginning of the 20th century. It closed in 1939, but became a wooden-propeller factory during World War II. Named a historic site in 2002, it is now owned by Scott and Tom Atkins, who renovated it for use as office and commercial space.
Scott Atkins is chairman of the Shoe Factory District Neighborhood Association, which unofficially organized as the North Central Business District before petitioning the council for formal recognition. First Ward Councilman Paul Sturtz recommended the Shoe Factory name to avoid confusion with the NCCNA .
The Shoe Factory District has all the rights and privileges of a neighborhood association but shares its coverage with the NCCNA. Residents living in the Shoe Factory District will be represented by both. Residents, tenants, business owners and property owners in the Shoe Factory District can belong to that group. The NCCNA, however, has a broader policy, granting membership to anyone with an interest in the area.
Phebe LaMar, the Shoe Factory District's attorney, said about 70 percent of the people who own property in the area want to be part of the new neighborhood association.
District Vice-Chairman Larry Grossmann said he can't recall so many people ever being involved in the formation of a neighborhood association. Most felt their area didn’t belong within the boundaries of the NCCNA because it’s primarily a commercial zone. LaMar said her clients are satisfied but believe there’s more to be done.
"Ideally, I think they would've liked to be separated," LaMar said. "I suspect that my group will want to pursue the separation further."
Neighborhood rules scrutinized
The council on Oct. 6 deliberated for about an hour after hearing public comments from representatives of the NCCNA, the Shoe Factory area and residents on both sides.
"We're setting a precedent anyway we decide," Sturtz said at the meeting.
Third Ward Councilman Karl Skala is wary. He said the council doesn't want people in specific geographic areas to splinter into new groups after every disagreement. Fifth Ward Councilwoman Laura Nauser voiced similar worries about neighborhoods addressing the council "block by block."
The council concluded in the north-central case that creating a new neighborhood association was the only way to ease tension. But it also decided it must revise neighborhood association guidelines to deal with overlapping boundaries.
Dan Cullimore, vice-president of the NCCNA, spoke against the split but wants to be part of the discussion concerning the future of neighborhood associations.
"This is one of those things that's going to make us catch up as a city and re-examine what the policies actually are," he said.
Sturtz estimated the council will examine neighborhood association policy around the beginning of next year.
"We think the council needs to review the neighborhood association organization resolution so there can be a withdrawal procedure," Grossmann said.
Skala agrees the council should revise rules for neighborhood associations, in part because he dislikes the idea of the groups having overlapping boundaries. On Oct. 6, he advocated designating the Shoe Factory District as a "business organization" that would remain part of the NCCNA but have all the rights and privileges of a neighborhood association. City codes say a business organization includes only business owners and can't apply for city or federal grants.
"I think it may encourage them to solidify their positions against each other and not provide incentive to come together," Skala said, of granting the Shoe Factory petitioners’ request. That, he argued, is the opposite of what the council wants.
"I'm worried that this will not serve (the council and neighborhood) well," he said.
Sturtz, however, predicts the effect of two associations sharing the same space will be subtle. The council, he said, respects anyone who represents a large group, although the official designation of neighborhood association "helps some in getting recognized."
Disagreement prompts involvement
Members of both neighborhood groups agreed that the NCCNA’s push for an urban conservation overlay district was the catalyst for the rift between the Shoe Factory group and the NCCNA. The overlay, which has been working its way through city government channels, would establish rigorous guidelines for the appearance of the neighborhood.
Tom Atkins — who is co-owner of the old Hamilton-Brown building — helped raise money to hire the consultant for the overlay project, which he now opposes.
“I'm hoping that the work that's been done in the overlay district will focus attention on the work that's been done in the area,” Sturtz said, in reference to all the other changes and improvements that have happened in the north-central community.
Eiffert, too, credited the NCCNA, saying that it has made many improvements and that its overlay district, perhaps unintentionally, created dialogue, visibility and conversation among the community.
Linda Rootes, president of the NCCNA, said at a Tuesday meeting of the association that some business owners told her they had never gotten together before the overlay conflict.
"The reality is we've worked for over 15 years trying to get people interested in being involved, being engaged, doing something with planning and moving forward and working together," she said, of the property owners who previously ignored the NCCNA but now are engaged. "I see that as somehow success of our movement."
Rootes doesn't want any bad feelings to remain between the two neighborhood associations. Eiffert believes cooperation is possible.
"I certainly think we can work extremely well together," he said. "At the end of the day, I think we all have the same things in mind."
Rootes said that after the City Council meeting, she spoke to representatives of the Shoe Factory District, who promised to be cordial and work with the NCCNA. Cullimore, the NCCNA vice-president, also insisted on making "overtures" to the Shoe Factory members. Rootes is optimistic.
"I've described it as my divorce hearing,” Rootes said, “and I tell people I got the best separation agreement I could've hoped for.”