Housing consultant approved

Columbia Housing Authority looks into redevelopment.
Wednesday, April 20, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 11:20 a.m. CDT, Sunday, July 20, 2008

Proposed redevelopment of public housing on Park Avenue will soon be sculpted from an ambitious idea into a definite plan. The Columbia Housing Authority has chosen a planning consultant to guide the long-gestating project.

The housing authority Tuesday approved a joint proposal from Swope Community Builders and the Applied Urban Research Institute, two branches of Swope Community Enterprises of Kansas City. The companies, which will work together to determine the feasibility of any Park Avenue redevelopment, have had experience with projects similar to the one envisioned for Columbia.

The goals of the project, as stated by Richard Mendenhall, chairman of the authority’s housing task force, are to make living conditions in the public housing on Park Avenue better and safer as well as to develop economic opportunities in the area. The housing authority believes that to do this correctly, a planning consultant is absolutely essential.

“We did not have the expertise here in Columbia to actually do this — to actually even look at the project to see what was possible,” Mendenhall said.

According to Mendenhall, the Swope Community Enterprises companies were selected because the task force was impressed with what they had accomplished in Kansas City, including the way they had integrated neighborhoods into the surrounding community.

Jill Lawlor, of Swope Community Builders, and LaDene Morton, of the Applied Urban Research Institute, attended Tuesday’s housing authority meeting in order to answer questions from the public and to talk about their companies.

Lawlor described an ongoing project, the Mount Cleveland Initiative. In that project, an area of Kansas City that was once referred to as a “swamp,” where six people died due to flooding conditions, was rebuilt and now includes a technology center, a health center, a grocery store and family housing units.

“We were able to accomplish this … by working with the community,” Lawlor said. “And we started very much in a community-based process, letting their issues and their desire help drive the process from the beginning until even today.”

There is no specific plan for the Park Avenue site yet. Once negotiations with the Swope companies are complete, the consultants will begin to develop a plan for the site.

This process typically takes six to nine months, according to Morton. During that time, Lawlor said, the consultants will conduct interviews and hold public forums in order to hear from every stakeholder they can.

The two major concerns about redevelopment are where to house residents between the demolition of old housing units and the completion of new units and whether units will be rebuilt at a one-to-one ratio. Mendenhall stressed that the task force and the housing authority are aware of those concerns and will try to address them.

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