COLUMBIA – Dozens of neighbors voiced their opposition to the Providence Road construction plan at a public hearing Thursday evening. The Columbia Historic Preservation Commission offered an alternative plan that would build an alley instead of two roads.
The original two-phase plan, intended to alleviate traffic on Providence Road and in the Grasslands neighborhood, would include the destruction of eight homes to build new roads between Brandon and Bingham roads and Bingham and Burnam roads.
The right-hand turn lane on Providence Road to Stadium Boulevard would also be extended and traffic lights would be added at the corners of Providence Road and Burnam Road and Providence Road and Turner Avenue. The exits from Bingham and Brandon roads on to Providence Road would be closed off.
The Columbia City Council passed the first phase of the plan Nov. 19. The second phase, in which six of the eight homes would be demolished, is not yet on the council agenda. The project would cost a total of $6.6 million.
Many residents at the hearing spoke about the project's fiscal costs and detriment to the community.
Mark Jones, a Fifth Ward council candidate, condemned the demolition of the homes.
"It's outside the character of our town," he said Thursday night. "We create things here. To have the historic homes, the gateway of our community, knocked down is against that character."
Grasslands resident Hugo Vianello said the plan is unnecessarily complex.
"I'm a simple man and I like simple solutions," he said. "If I were spending my own money on this ... I would put lights at every single intersection."
Brian Treece, a member of the Historic Preservation Commission who lives in the Grasslands neighborhood, said the plan needed to be discussed further.
"It is my intent to have a fair public hearing on this plan," he said.
The commission, Treece said, had reviewed all public records and emails regarding the project through a Sunshine request, and found that the city had actively worked to stop dialogue between opposing stakeholders to more easily get plans approved.
“In my world, keeping people with different opinions apart from each other doesn't always have the greatest result,” he said. “The failure of this level of dialogue has created a lot of mistrust.”
At the public hearing, the commission presented several alternate plans. The one it will recommend to the council would include the construction of a private alley between Bingham and Brandon roads that could save the homes.
This alternative would cost less, preserve all homes and access points to Providence Road and allow the collegiate feel of the neighborhood to flourish, Treece said. The alley would be 16 feet wide rather than 32 feet for a road.
The plan, Treece said, would allow the Grasslands residents whose homes face Providence to exit their homes safer and easier, with new driveways leading to the alley rather than Providence. All exits from the Grasslands onto Providence would stay open, allowing greater access for residents and emergency vehicles, he said.
Some neighborhood residents were unhappy with the commission's alternative. The plan does not include a definitive intersection for a traffic light to be added, which is one of the main concerns of the neighborhood, said John Ott, a Grasslands Neighborhood Association board member.
Angela Speck has lived in the Grasslands for more than two years. She criticized a Photoshopped picture the commission created that showed what Providence Road would look like without the homes.
“That's just disingenuous," she said. "You have an agenda and you're putting it forward.”
She also talked about the residents' need for a traffic light.
“I have small kids who in five, ten years' time are going to learn how to drive," she said. "I want a traffic light. I don't know how your solution helps us.”
Treece said that saving the homes and ensuring public safety are the main concerns of the commission, and that they believe their alternate solution will address those issues.
The commission will present its alternate proposals to the council Feb. 18.