COLUMBIA — A common square framed by benches and trees sits in the center of a woodsy neighborhood called Brookside Square. This neighborhood has a number of empty lots, but on its streets, including Sullivan Street, Gondolier Drive and Celebrant Court, two-story brick houses and townhouses can be found. Land around the neighborhood slopes downhill to Cow Branch Creek, a narrow waterway surrounded by a nature preserve.
One day last week, the sounds of the moving creek and chirping birds intermingled with the noise of children playing and mothers urging caution. Although resident Patty Purves said the majority of people living there are couples with grown children like her and her husband, swing sets and toys in the yards show that younger couples and children live in this area as well.
Brookside Square Neighborhood Association
Single family homes of three to four bedrooms and townhouses, many of which cost between $200,000 and $250,000
Types of Residents:
The majority are older couples in their 40s and 50s, and younger couples with children. Some single people, who live mostly in townhouses.
Runs north from Smiley Lane to Sullivan Street and west from Sullivan Street to Chancellor Circle
Cow Branch Creek, nature reserve (preservation area), common park-like square, rear alleys between houses, townhouses in residential area, city park (future)
In Brookside Square, a subdivision bordered by Smiley Lane and Sullivan Street in north Columbia, residents have formed a neighborhood association because of their concerns about fire protection, crime and construction. The association was formed in an area where there is already a legal entity in place, a homeowner’s association, but residents were concerned that their interests were not fully represented by it.
The neighborhood association was approved by the City Council on Dec. 15, although council members were aware that city staff had questioned whether all landowners were given the chance to be included in the association's formation. The city’s policy on neighborhood associations lists one of the requirements as it being "open to the total area and diversity of interests present in the neighborhood."
Bill Cantin, neighborhood specialist for the city, said that the council approved the neighborhood association with little discussion and that council members were surprised that city staff had looked so deeply into the issues surrounding this group.
“We were concerned if they (the developers and residents) were talking to each other (about forming the neighborhood association),” Cantin said.
Tom Bass, who owns 70 vacant lots in the Brookside Square neighborhood and is president of its homeowner’s association, said he wasn’t invited to the organizational meeting. Bass said his plans for the area were to sell lots to contractors who are interested in building commercial and residential structures, but with the economy, nobody is building.
Bass doesn’t oppose the formation of a neighborhood association because he said it doesn’t take the place of a homeowner’s association, in that it doesn’t dictate what rules homeowners in the area need to follow.
"The homeowner's association is the only organization that has any legal rights within the subdivision," Bass said. "The only organization that has any rights to enforce covenants is the homeowner's association. The neighborhood association is an informal group recognized by the city for purposes of communication withthe city."
Homeowners' vs. neighborhood association
A homeowner’s association is an organization, registered with the secretary of state, which is governed by covenants; that is, written rules that govern the size of houses, neighbors’ behaviors and the appearance of lawns. It is required to have annual meetings and pay taxes. It is headed by the lead developer in the area or by homeowners, depending on whether the developer owns the most land in the area; this person is obligated to respond to worries of residents.
A neighborhood association is a group formed by residents of an area to address concerns of those living there. It must be approved by the city, cover a certain geographical area and have a governing charter.
Cantin said one of the major differences between the two groups is that a city recognizes a neighborhood association and contacts it if there are any actions being taken in the area, such as rezoning and road development.
Cantin said that for the past few months, the council has been looking at its policy on neighborhood associations to update it from the 1977 version. The council will decide whether neighborhood associations will have more of a role in city government and will receive funding from the city.
The council is also considering how homeowners’ associations fit into city government. Currently, only neighborhood associations are recognized, meaning the council and staff contact these entities with questions and city planning issues. The situation with the Brookside Square Neighborhood Association has caused the council to start looking at whether homeowners' associations should receive more recognition from the city and whether neighborhood associations are needed in areas where homeowners’ associations are already in place, Cantin said.
Susan Clark of Diversified Management Co., the group that manages the Brookside Square Homeowners’ Association, said there was no need for a neighborhood association in Brookside Square because it was already covered by the homeowners' group. She said a homeowners’ association has the power to address issues in the area and enforce regulations to which residents must adhere through covenants.
Some of the safety issues in the neighborhood have already been addressed by the homeowners' association, Clark said.
At the end of the summer, council members met with residents of Brookside Square and other neighborhoods to discuss fire coverage. Clark said that during the annual meeting of the Brookside Square Homeowners' Association in June, creation of a neighborhood watch was discussed.
"I see it as redundant,” Clark said. “Why create a second one (organization) that covers the same area and the same people?"
Finding a separate voice
Patty Purves, secretary of the neighborhood association, and her husband, John Purves, said the group formed because residents wanted to get to know each other and to have a voice that was distinct from developers. She said that although Bass has addressed some of residents’ complaints through the homeowners’ association, she and others felt they had different interests than the developers'.
"The developers already have someone — they pay a company to maintain the neighborhood," John Purves said. "People who are building here have their own association."
"We have additional interests they don’t have because they don't live here," Patty Purves added.
Patty Purves said the only issue the neighborhood association has had with Bass was when it asked him to get developers to move a flatbed trailer and a truck from the road. They were moved to a lot in the area. She said this is an issue for her because it potentially detracts from the appearance of the area, creating a space where people could dump their trash.
"We would like for our neighborhood to have a curb appeal," Patty Purves said. "We would like for people to want to live here and for contractors to want to build here."
Bass said residents of Brookside Square haven’t reported many issues to him, and those that they have, such as the trailers being in the road, he addressed. He said he has even more interest in keeping up the appearance of the area because he owns the most space. He said he spent $150,000 creating the town square, planting trees and grass, and an additional $15,000 on maintenance of the grounds.
"I want to keep everything neat and clean to sell property," Bass said, "and they want to keep it neat and clean to maintain property values."
One of the issues that led to the formation of the neighborhood association is confusion over what fire station would be covering it. Under the Territorial Agreement of 1994, Brookside Square is covered by the Boone County Fire Protection District.
Patty Purves said she and her husband, a retired firefighter, have taken issue with the fact that they are not protected by Columbia’s fire station.
"When you buy a house, you’re not told who covers you," John Purves said. "We didn’t know we were covered by volunteer firefighters. We thought we were covered by the city."
A fire station is being built at Blue Ridge and North Providence roads. Patty and John Purves were concerned that this station, which is closer to them, will not be serving them. Patty Purves said the neighborhood association has written a letter to the city, asking it to include their neighborhood in Columbia’s fire protection area. They believe that as a neighborhood association, residents of Brookside Square will have more of a voice with the city.
Other residents joined the neighborhood association for other reasons. Amy Messner, who runs a day care out of her home, was interested in forming a neighborhood association because of her concerns with safety in the area.
Messner said her garage was broken into, and her husband’s wallet and a car stereo were stolen. She said she is also interested in improving the safety of her area because of her two children, who are 11 and 8 years old. She was hoping that through a neighborhood association, residents could form a watch program.
“We just wanted a way to know who is in the neighborhood, watch out for each other and form a community within the community,” Messner said of the group.