COLUMBIA — If you regularly drive through the intersection at Stadium Boulevard and West Broadway, you might have noticed a well-worn "Mizzou" banner that hung from a front porch there is gone.
So is the front porch.
Work has began in earnest on Leawood Plaza, an office complex that includes the law firm of personal injury lawyer Aaron Smith, the site's developer. Construction on the 6,500-square-foot, L-shaped building is expected to take six months and includes the demolition of three houses and other landscaping changes.
The three houses and several trees were removed from the site in the past week.
Under the plan, there will be only one way in and out of Leawood Plaza: Bourn Avenue, which is accessible from West Rollins Road. That is a key reason behind opposition from the Bourn Avenue Neighborhood Association, which includes about 60 property owners on Bourn Avenue and any property that has frontage on the street.
Steve MacIntyre, chairman of the Bourn Avenue Neighborhood Association, said these properties are home to about 200 residents.
“Chances are a lot of people will be coming up from Rollins who aren’t as likely to be considerate of the speed limits," MacIntyre said. "We think it could lead to more of a safety issue in the neighborhood.”
Nick Peña, who has lived on Bourn Avenue for a year and a half, said he thinks most people are opposed to it.
"We're afraid that our property values will go down," Peña said.
Last fall, 34 residents, including Peña, wrote letters to the Planning and Zoning Commission stating their opposition. Residents also addressed the Columbia City Council. In November, following the commission's recommendation to approve the development, the council unanimously approved it.
Smith said he worked with the neighbors and heard them out.
“It seemed to me like the main complaint was traffic," Smith said. "A lot of neighbors came to the hearings and explained that there was an existing significant traffic problem.”
Smith began looking for land for his law office about a year and a half ago. He chose the Stadium-Broadway intersection because he sees it as an entry point of sorts into Columbia. It is the second busiest in town, with 80,000 cars passing through every day, according to a city traffic count done every few years, Smith said.
Smith said he wants to put up something that will look good. “We want our city to look pretty, the gateways especially,” he said.
Although the development is going in pretty much as planned, the neighbors won two concessions: Medical and dental offices originally planned for Leawood Plaza will not be included, and the size of the building has been reduced from 7,500-square-feet to 6,500-square-feet. It will have offices for attorneys, architects and engineers.
MacIntyre said the addition of medical and dental offices would increase traffic by 50 percent through the area. Even without them, traffic will increase, and this touches a neighborhood sore point because residents have complained that Bourn Avenue has a problem with speeding.
“I see people flying down the street,” said Jenn Sonnenberg, secretary of the Bourn Avenue Neighborhood Association. Sonnenberg is a stay-at-home mother of two children. Her son, a second-grader, is part of a walking school bus group, and she is concerned about his safety as the building brings in more traffic.
Although he said he has reservations about Leawood Plaza, resident Val Germann agrees that something needs to be done to improve the appearance of the Stadium-Broadway intersection. But he's also frustrated about speeding along Bourn Avenue.
A traffic calming report from the Columbia Public Works Department dated Nov. 5 found that Bourn's situation warrants calming measures. Such measures are speed humps, speed tables or an “open road closure” on Bourn Avenue, which consists of a ramped lane granting use only to refuse trucks and emergency vehicles with a bicycle lane in the middle.
Smith has committed to giving $10,000 to the project to mitigate existing traffic problems. The money will most likely be used for one of the above options once at least 50 percent of property owners on Bourn Avenue agree on a device, MacIntyre said.
“We would ideally like to see a proper cul-de-sac put in, and I don’t think that the technical aspects and cost have really been explored,” MacIntyre said.
Minutes from the Oct. 18, 2010, City Council meeting show the cost of putting in a cul-de-sac was estimated between $150,000 and $200,000. That's the most expensive option for traffic mitigation, MacIntyre said.
Now that Leawood Plaza is a go, neighbors have moved on to getting traffic concerns addressed.
“Frankly, my opinion of Aaron is that he has to this point done the best he could reasonably do to satisfy the neighbors within monetary, reasonable restrictions,” MacIntyre said. “The only way he could’ve satisfied us would have been to withdraw his request.”
Smith acknowledged he has been a little disappointed with the resistance from neighbors, "because I’m not a commercial developer — I was raised right here in Missouri on a farm.”
Despite not winning the fight to get the proposed office district removed from Bourn, resident Julia Williams found that getting to know people in her neighborhood for this cause was a good experience.
“We feel like we have a voice now and that we can be heard in City Council,” Williams said.
The next step for the neighborhood is to schedule a meeting to decide on the best option for the traffic-calming devices that have been proposed.
As a mother of young children, Sonnenberg said she is eager for a device that will help control traffic.
"We prefer to see something now."