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Providence-Grasslands projects continue to stir controversy

Saturday, February 16, 2013 | 6:00 a.m. CST; updated 9:47 a.m. CST, Tuesday, February 19, 2013

COLUMBIA — City officials, residents and the Missouri Department of Transportation have spent years discussing plans, creating multiple project options and finding fault with many alternatives for addressing traffic problems in the Grasslands/Providence Road area. 

Controversy and debate have littered the path along the way to a final project as multiple plans have sprung up, fallen behind or disappeared. The final plan, intended to alleviate traffic in the Grasslands neighborhood and on Providence Road has been criticized for its $6.6 million price tag, a median that many residents believe will prohibit neighborhood access and the proposed destruction of eight neighborhood homes. 

The Columbia City Council approved the first phase of the current plan on Nov. 19.  It includes construction of new roads connecting Burnam, Bingham and Brandon roads and lengthening the right-turn lane on Providence Road at Stadium Boulevard. It also would add a median on Providence and stoplights at three Providence intersections near the Grasslands. 

Word of the final design for the project first emerged in February 2011. The planning, however, has been going on since 2003 and involved multiple plans that fluctuated in popularity and feasibility over the years. 


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Parkside Estates likely to be tabled

In other action Monday night, the City Council is scheduled to hold a public hearing and vote on a request that the city annex and zone for residential use a 36-acre tract on the east side of Route K and immediately north of Rock Bridge Memorial State Park.

The developer, Rob Hill, wants to build a mix of single-family homes and villa-style duplexes in a subdivision that would be known as Parkside Estates. The Planning and Zoning Commission, however, voted unanimously to recommend the council reject the plan.

An email from area resident Sandy McCann to the Missourian and others, however, indicated that Hill plans to ask that the request be tabled.

The meeting begins at 7 p.m. in the City Council chambers at the Daniel Boone City Building, 701 E. Broadway.


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In 2008 and 2010, eight different options for the project were presented to residents: 

  • Option A: Modify Providence Road. This plan would have required a median for any changes to signals on Providence and is a preliminary version of the two-phase plan being discussed now. 
  • Option B: Construct a new road running from Clarkson Road to Rollins Road at a total cost of $2.57 million. 
  • Option C: Construct a new road between Clarkson and Turner Avenue at a cost of $2.84 million. City engineer Scott Bitterman wrote in an email to Grasslands Neighborhood Association member John Ott in 2011 that this option would cause too much cut-through traffic in the neighborhood. 
  • Option D: Create a new connection that would extend Rollins Road over Providence Road and connect it to Burnam Road. A study in 2010 showed this would cost $1.26 million. 
  • Option E: Connect Clarkson Road and Garth Avenue. This option would have cost $2.6 million, but city staff suggested that would have negatively affected traffic along Stewart Road.
  • Option F: Connect Brandon Road to Stadium Boulevard at Carrie Franke Drive. This option was disliked by residents who felt people would use it to cut from Stadium Boulevard to Providence Road and increase traffic in the Grasslands. It would have cost $2.1 million. 
  • Option G: Install a traffic signal at Burnam Road. This and a signal at Turner Avenue would have cost $1.49 million. 
  •  Option H: Create a split "T" intersection at Burnam Road to connect it to Rollins Road and include a traffic signal. This plan would have cost $1.07 million. 

Grasslands residents at interested parties meetings and in written comments submitted to the city indicated that most supported Option C and that they strongly opposed a median on Providence.

"No median down Providence Road — no to MoDOT," Grasslands resident Betty Winfield wrote in a 2010 comment. 

The plan on the table now includes the median and the extension of the right-turn lane on Providence, for a total of $6.6 million. It costs more than double any of the other options. The council has yet to approve the second phase of the plan, though, and it's unclear when it will vote on it.

The median and the price tag aren't the only facets of the current plan that have faced criticism. The Historic Preservation Commission has protested the proposed destruction of eight historic homes in the neighborhood that would result from construction of the new connecting roads. 

In a public hearing on Jan. 31, commission Chairman Brian Treece said he found in emails obtained through a commission Sunshine request that city officials intentionally blocked dialogue between stakeholders in order to push the city's plan through.

Treece was referring to emails, which are included in a report to the council that will be presented Monday night —  that showed a 2008 exchange between then-Fifth Ward Councilwoman Laura Nauser and then-City Manager Bill Watkins. 

In the emails, Nauser, who was re-elected as Fifth Ward councilwoman on Feb. 5, asks Watkins why she was not included in meetings with stakeholders from her ward. 

Watkins tells Nauser that meeting collectively with her and all the stakeholders, which he refers to as "warring factions," would be unwise. 

"Let staff meet individually (which is what we are doing currently) and get the lay of the land with each party prior to bringing them together," he wrote. 

Nauser said in an interview that the Historic Preservation Commission has ignored the context of the emails and paid too much attention to poor wording. 

"Of course we wanted to talk to parties separately at first to get ideas and thoughts," she said. "You want to see what each stakeholder's perception of the issue is before you start bringing everybody together."  

Ott, who was involved in the discussions, said he felt the process was transparent and fair to all stakeholders. 

"We were free to talk to other stakeholders, and we did," he said. "I never felt like there was any conspiracy." 

The Historic Preservation Commission report to the council also alleges that both the council and city staff neglected to inform residents and stakeholders about the new plan before they approved the first phase in November.

The report states that interested parties meetings held in 2008 and 2010 did not address the current plan and that staff members knew they should have held another meeting before a resolution on that plan was put before the council.

"The failure of this level of dialogue has now created distrust by the public," the report said. 

The report concludes that the city should nix the current plan, pledge to spare the eight homes from demolition and create a plan to better engage all parties in future talks.

Also on Monday, the Public Works Department will present a report that offers a comparison of the cost of the current plan with an alternative that would save the city more than $1 million

Rather than constructing a new road between Burnam and Bingham roads and closing off Bingham, the alternative suggests improving Birch Street, which already connects the two roads. Fixing the existing road and constructing a sidewalk not only would save money but also save two homes from destruction.

Supervising editor is Scott Swafford.


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Comments

Mark Foecking February 17, 2013 | 5:51 a.m.

How about "Option I"

Don't do anything. We have more pressing needs (like maintaining the roads we already have).

DK

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