DNR letter questions city process on Providence-Grasslands street project

Friday, April 12, 2013 | 6:00 a.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — Some of the homes slated for demolition to make way for a proposed Providence Road construction project could be eligible for placement on the National Register of Historic Places, a representative of the Missouri Department of Natural Resources wrote in an April 4 letter to Columbia Historic Preservation Chairman Brian Treece.

Mark Miles, director of the State Historic Preservation Office at the department, said in the letter that the agency has put its review of the project on hold due to the concerns about demolishing the homes that have been expressed by the commission and the public.

It also has rescinded its original finding that there were "no historic properties" that would be destroyed by the project, saying the city did not provide adequate information about the overall scope of the project.

The City Council on Nov. 19 approved the first phase of a two-part project that would address traffic problems on Providence Road and in the Grasslands neighborhood. The total project would cost an estimated $6.6 million and would add traffic signals and a median on Providence Road, according to a previous Missourian report. It also calls for demolishing the eight homes in order to build new feeder roads in the Grasslands.

Miles' letter to Treece charges that city staff might be guilty of "segmentation" because its original report on the project to the natural resources department discussed only the first part of the plan. The first phase involves the destruction of two homes. The second phase, not yet approved by the council, would require the demolition of six more.

After the Historic Preservation Commission showed the Department of Natural Resources both phases of the plan, Miles wrote, "it does appear that there may be resources that are potentially eligible for inclusion in the (National Register of Historic Places)."

If the houses are found eligible for register, the city would either have to come up with a different plan or risk losing federal dollars for the project, Treece said.

Treece pointed out that since the council's November vote to pass the first phase of the plan, "the Public Works Department has said that phase two was necessary for phase one. And yet when they submitted the report, they only included phase one. They have submitted a report that has jeopardized the federal funds."

Public Works Director John Glascock was unavailable for comment on Thursday. Miles' letter was copied to City Manager Mike Matthes. Treece said he was unsure whether he would raise the issue at a public hearing on the project that is scheduled for the council's regular meeting on Monday.

At a work session Tuesday, council members were presented with 10 options for the project, including the current one. Several said they still support the current plan but were concerned about destroying the homes.

Second Ward Councilman Michael Trapp said he wants to get rid of the second phase of the plan and combine the first phase with another involving changes to Birch Road.

"Nothing we build now is still going to be here 30 years from now," he said. "Those houses are still going to be intact because they were built for permanence."

Fifth Ward Councilwoman Laura Nauser said she would prefer to rescind the current plan and put in place another option that would add signals at Providence Road's intersections with Turner Avenue and Burnam Road, and include changes to Birch Road.

"I would much rather have a Birch option where we're not taking anyone's homes and houses," she said.

In order to determine whether the homes have historical value or are eligible for the national register, the Historic Preservation Commission and the Public Works Department would have to work together to do extensive documentation and research on the homes. That would take significant time and resources, Treece said.

"In the end it's probably easier to just to select a different option," he said.

However, at a March 20 interested parties meeting where the 10 options were presented to the public, 53 percent of those who attended said they preferred the current plan.

The second most popular option — to do nothing except add a right-turn lane to Brandon Road — was supported by 20 percent.

The council's public hearing on Monday will deal specifically with the question of whether to rescind the current plan.

No matter what the council decides though, there are no guarantees it will be right, Matthes said at the work session. "At the end of the day, it's just our best guess."

Supervising editor is Scott Swafford.

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