Talk turns to animals when Sarah Chapin gives directions to her house in Vanderveen Crossing.
“It’s an interesting conversation,” said Chapin, who lives on Snow Leopard Drive. “You tell them they have to pass Albatross and Spider Monkey, and if you get to Elephant, you’ve gone too far.”
Vanderveen Crossing, like many subdivisions in Columbia, sticks to a theme when it comes to street names. And while the labels in that neighborhood and others might seem strange or silly, the themes have their advantages, making home locations readily identifiable not only for potential home buyers, but also for emergency responders.
Naming streets following a theme is a popular practice in many cities and subdivisions, city Planning and Development Director Tim Teddy said.
“We’ve gone past the point of no return to do those kind of associations by area,” he said.
If an address includes Seattle Slew Drive or Man-O-War Drive, both named after horses who won the Belmont Stakes, one can assume the house is in Belmont Village.
If the street shares its name with a famous college — Yale, Harvard or Vassar — it’s surely in College Park. And if it’s Scottish — Prestwick, Glencalm or Tartan — the street can be found in The Highlands.
“Some of those names make you smile,” Teddy said. “But they’re effective in that, intuitively, if you know anything about town, you kind of know where that’s located.”
In Columbia, developers are responsible for naming the streets in their subdivisions, but the names must be approved by the city to ensure they meet certain rules. The subdivision ordinance for Columbia stipulates that street names must be easy to spell and pronounce, and they cannot be the same or sound similar to an existing street name.
The submitted street names are reviewed by Public Safety Joint Communications, and the department recommends any necessary changes.
With more than 2,000 street names in Columbia, not duplicating a name can be tough. Teddy estimates that for almost every subdivision plat that is submitted to the city, at least one street name needs to change. To meet these challenges, developers need to get creative.
Bob Walters of Virtual Reality, developer of The Highlands, said he finds it helpful to follow a theme when choosing street names.
“The ones I like the least are when people name their streets after their children. I try to not do that,” Walters said, explaining that he prefers naming streets in a less random fashion.
“When we developed the Highlands, I got a map of Scotland and decided place names,” he said. “I looked at if the word was easy to pronounce and easy to spell.”
In Chapin’s Vanderveen subdivision, the exotic animal names are an ode to sculptor Loet Vanderveen, a native of Holland who now works in California.
Vanderveen’s specialty is bronze sculptures of animals in natural poses. He’s a favorite of Sue Ann Herigon’s, the wife of subdivision developer Steve Herigon.
Vanderveen’s name came up during a brainstorming session on street names for the new neighborhood.
“We knew there were going to be a lot of street names as the subdivision expanded,” said Jennifer Toohey, the daughter of Sue Ann Herigon. “Names of animals was something we could do that with.”
Reached at his home in Carmel, Calif., Vanderveen said the fact that a Columbia subdivision is named in his honor was a “total surprise.”
“I was not aware of that,” he said, laughing at unique street names such as Anaconda, Jackal and Rhino.
Once the Vanderveen theme was decided, Toohey browsed Web sites featuring Vanderveen’s work to find the names of different animals he had sculpted.
Besides being a tool for coming up with many names, themes can also be advantageous when it comes to selling homes.
“From a marketing point of view, it seemed to make sense,” said Walters, the Highlands developer. He explained that the association between a logo for the subdivision and the names of the streets would help people remember the development.
Toohey, who is a Realtor, agreed.
“I think when people started hearing the animal names for the subdivision, they knew right away those street names are Vanderveen,” she said. I think that helps for people purchasing houses.”
Chapin said that although the street names were “a little jungley” for her taste, she and her husband decided to build on the land because they liked the houses and the neighborhood.
“The houses are great, the neighborhood is great, just the street names are funny,” Chapin said, stressing that the street names have nothing to do with the people who choose to live there.
Walters says that for him, naming streets is “just part of the task,” but a part he prefers to control rather than allowing the city to pick names.
For Toohey, Vanderveen represented her first experience choosing street names, but she probably will help out with other developments.
“It was fun to make a large list of different possibilities and then actually see them on street signs, and that that’s now a part of Columbia,” she said.