COLUMBIA — Neighbors in the Old Southwest are pledging and donating money to buy property from the family of Robert Smarr Jr. in an effort to block what they believe are plans to convert the 2.9-acre property into apartments.
The land is at 600 S. Garth Ave., where the street dead-ends at Lathrop Road on the south side of the historic neighborhood. Many residents of the area said they feelthe construction of apartments would create traffic problems, increase noise and hurt the value of their properties.
In an effort to protect their neighborhood, Bruce and Kathy Gordon, who have lived across the street from the Smarr tract for 30 years, put a bid on the property. John John, a real estate agent with ReMax Boone Realty, said developers are interested in the land, but he would not disclose who they are.
Bruce Gordon said that when he learned of the developers’ interest, he jumped into action.
“We had to act fast, as we learned of the impending sale only hours in advance,” Gordon said. “We made the bid knowing that the neighbors would become involved.”
A neighborhood listserv message from Old Southwest resident Sharon Schneeberger asked neighborhood residents to contribute to the property purchase and said the Gordons had put money down and made an offer of $950,000 for the property, which includes a single-family house. She asked for donations and pledges by Tuesday and said the closing date is Sept. 14. Because the land already is zoned for multi-family residential use, developers would not need to seek rezoning approval to build apartments.
Schneeberger said in her message that an apartment project would destroy “one of the last remaining large forested tracts of land in central Columbia containing a number of century-old trees.” It also would result in hundreds of car trips on the neighborhood’s narrow streets, she said.
Gabriel Fried, who lives on South Garth Avenue, said he believes Old Southwest is a welcoming neighborhood but would not welcome a project that would alter its quality.
“I mean, there is a fear about property value declining,” Fried said. “I don’t think it’s people’s first thoughts, though. The texture of the neighborhood would change. At the end of the day, it’s about the living experience.”
Fried lives with his wife, Alexandra Socarides, and two children. They have lived on Garth Avenue for about two years.
“We absolutely love to live here because of the atmosphere and quiet,” Fried said. “If you add 40 apartments and 150 cars, that will change the neighborhood. It’s the worst place possible for it because there is no through access. Cars would pile up.”
Along with preserving the character of the neighborhood, Garth Avenue resident Lise Saffran said she worries about the safety of her two children. Saffran said there are 15 children younger than age 12 on her block, and they would be the ones most affected by the development of apartments.
“It’s a quiet street where there are no sidewalks, and so many kids go back and forth between each other’s houses," Saffran said. "They play baseball in the streets and ride their bikes. It will impact the Old Southwest."
Luanne Roth, another Garth Avenue resident, said she believes the property can be put to better use and has her own idea.
“I would love to see someone buy the house and move into it,” Roth said. “Maybe even (make) part of it a park. As much green space as possible."
Bruce Gordon said it’s possible the land could be divided.
“The house is currently part of the tract but could be sold off separately, with a portion of the land from the bulk of the acreage,” he said.
With the help of donations from the community, Gordon said he is confident about obtaining the necessary funds by the closing date.
"The response from the vast majority of neighbors has been very gratifying,” Gordon said. “I haven’t heard any opposition to the plan, and the level of support is tremendous.”