Demolition of St. Joseph Street houses suspended

Wednesday, June 20, 2012 | 9:45 p.m. CDT; updated 10:06 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, June 20, 2012

COLUMBIA — The Boone County Family Resources Board of Directors unanimously decided Wednesday evening to suspend the demolition of two houses on St. Joseph Street.

The board decided the organization will meet with the Historic Preservation Commission to evaluate how the houses might be preserved before its next meeting. A date for the meeting has not been set.

Boone County Family Resources submitted applications June 12 to demolish two houses on its St. Joseph Street properties. The same day, the agency received permission to proceed as early as June 26.

Residents of the surrounding neighborhood offered resistance to the demolition of 302 and 308 St. Joseph St. Seven of the dozen people who spoke at the board's meeting Wednesday were against the demolition.

Pat Fowler, president of the North Central Neighborhood Association, asked that the board consult with the Historic Preservation Commission before acting. Echoing others against the demolition, she voiced concerns about preserving the atmosphere of the neighborhood.

"We urge you not to demolish the house," Fowler said in reference to 308 St. Joseph St. 

Neighbors also wondered whether Boone County Family Resources would build parking lots and offices or housing for its clients with developmental disabilities on the properties.

Boone County Family Resources Executive Director Les Wagner said at the meeting that there were not, and never had been, plans to turn the St. Joseph Street properties into offices and parking lots.

While Boone County Family Resources is in high need of more office and parking lot space, Wagner said, organization officials agreed the area should remain residential.

Five people, most of them parents of Boone County Family Resources clients, spoke about the importance of the organization and of housing for people with developmental disabilities. They said the St. Joseph Street properties were ideally located.

A consistent message from nearly all who spoke, though, was that the neighborhood would benefit from and welcome Boone County Family Resources clients. Several proposed that all involved parties should sit down and have an open discussion in an effort to reach an agreement.

Still, board members worried about leaving the vacant houses as they are for too long, and about a potential breach of contract between the demolition company and Boone County Family Resources.

Boone County Counselor Charles Dykhouse suggested that the board move at a diligent pace to come to a conclusion about the houses.

Supervising editor is Hannah Cushman.

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Mike Martin June 21, 2012 | 8:26 a.m.

The idea that taxpayer-funded Boone County Family Resources (BCFR) plans to use all the land they overpaid for -- some 14-15 houses and vacant lots purchased over the past decade -- for group homes and disability housing goes against virtually every modern-day, good practice in the disability community.

Instead, many worry that BCFR plans to join hands with next door neighbors The Odles and quietly sell all that land.

A few years ago, the big push was to change the name from "Boone County Group Homes" to Boone County Family Resources to reflect their IN-HOME, family-oriented mandate.

"Over 93% of children served live with their parent(s)," BCFR's annual report explains. "The single greatest cause of unwanted out-of-home placement is a lack of appropriate family and community living supports."

Notice how the concept of "out-of-home" placement is termed "unwanted."

Charts in the BCFR report show how few adults live in BCFR-owned facilities -- "group homes" reserved for the agency's most severely-disabled clients, or clients without family or friends.

"Most of the persons helped by the agency are served through the Family & Community Living Support program," the report explains. "Persons served live with their families and in the community."

BCFR's list of services and programs, in fact, says nothing about "building housing for persons with development disabilities."

That job has traditionally gone to the Columbia Housing Authority (CHA), a situation CHA director Phil Steinhaus acknowledged in a 2007 Columbia Tribune article.

"Steinhaus...explained that many projects he’s looking at for the next 15 years would be partnerships with other organizations. CHA would provide a housing component and another association, such as Phoenix Programs or Boone County Family Resources, would offer social service supports."

The BCFR program closest to a housing goal is the agency's Supported Living Program, which last year helped all of 47 persons -- just 3.5% of BCFR's 1,317 clients.

Meanwhile, the Odle family approached BCFR director Les Wagner with a proposal to build -- what else -- the parking garage for students they presently have planned abutting BCFR's headquarters.

(Report Comment)
Kevin Gamble June 21, 2012 | 11:20 a.m.

Excellent information, Mike, thank you for sharing it. A significant portion of Columbia's identity is in the balance.

(Report Comment)

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