Common ground

It all started with a game of Bunco. And similarities. And family interests. Then friendship grew into the Stonecrest Neighborhood Association.
Friday, April 27, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 6:25 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008
Matt Clervi and Becky Awad, chairman and vice-chairwoman of the newly formed Stonecrest Neighborhood Association, stand in an empty lot in their development. The Columbia City Council officially recognized the association April 16.

This article has been changed since its first publication. The price of homes in the Stonecrest neighborhood ranges from $160,000 to $290,000.

It all started very simply. A small group of women in the new Stonecrest neighborhood on the west side of Columbia wanted to get to know each other. So about a year ago they organized a monthly night of Bunco, a popular “country” dice game.

“A game of Bunco,” resident Becky Awad thought. “This could be fun.”

how to form a neighborhood association

If you’re interested in forming a neighborhood association officially recognized by the city of Columbia, here are the steps outlined on the city’s Web site. 1. Identify and list the neighborhood’s boundaries. 2. Decide the reason(s) for organizing. 3. Contact Columbia’s Department of Public Communication to get assistance on forming an association. 4. Put together an organizational meeting where officers are elected and bylaws are accepted. 5. Submit a descriptive letter about your neighborhood organization to the Department of Public Communication. 6. Have the staff review the material. It will then pass it on to City Council for formal approval. On the Web For a list of neighborhood associations, their contact people and other neighborhood resources in Columbia, click here

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Over the months, these women found common ground as they told stories of their work, children and husbands. Soon they were exchanging “been there, done that” looks as their stories resonated with each other.

Quickly the woman next door became a friend to call, a friend to walk with and a friend to shop with. Step by step, their relationships and the size of their group grew. What started as a gathering of maybe half a dozen Bunco players become 25. And the monthly dice game became something more.

It was in January that Awad first brought up the idea of forming a Stonecrest neighborhood association. The notion of creating a single neighborhood voice was inspired by conversations about big road projects that will have a direct impact on their area. The Columbia City Council in March approved a contract with Emery Sapp & Sons to build a $2.9 million extension of Chapel Hill Road from Scott Boulevard to Gillespie Bridge Road. The street, which will be 42 feet wide with sidewalks on either side, will punch through the middle of Stonecrest. And the next few years will also bring significant improvements to Scott Boulevard on the eastern edge of Stonecrest.

“We are welcoming these projects” said Michael Haggas, a spokesman for the neighborhood. “However, we just want to make sure they are appealing and look right.”

Less than a month after the Chapel Hill project was approved, the council on April 16 also gave official recognition to the Stonecrest Neighborhood Association.

Fred Overton developed the 280 homes in the southwest part of Columbia. Many of the neighborhood’s residents are younger families that moved here from out of state, such as the Haggas family who moved here from Dubuque, Iowa.

“What better way to be the new person in town than to live by other new people in town?” Haggas said.

Stonecrest, with street names such as Mud Rock Lane and Granite Oaks and Shale Ridge courts, features red-brick ranch-style homes adorned with cream-colored stonework along their front exteriors. Recently planted stick-figure trees in neatly trimmed and landscaped lawns bring the promise of future shade.

Sheila Schill and her family moved to the neighborhood three years ago because she loved its appearance and the homes’ combination of brick and stone.

“It was just so pleasing to look at,” Schill said.

Back-yard porches and enclosed decks on Crystal Rock Court overlook the Daniel Boone Little League ball fields on the neighborhood’s east side. After school, children often flock to the fields for pick-up games of home-run derby, and they spend the summer months competing in Little League.

Jim Burks said he and his wife moved to the neighborhood because the affordable housing made it easy to downsize from their larger home.

“We thought it was a nice accessible location and we have friends around the area, so we moved,” Burks said.

The price ranges from $160,000 to $290,000 with options such as two-car garages and gas fireplaces.

Children who live in Stonecrest will attend Russell Elementary and Smithton Middle School. A few will attend Hickman High School, but the majority will go to Rock Bridge High School.

Residents enjoy Stonecrest’s appeal, but they would like to add even more features to the neighborhood.

Once the idea for a neighborhood association took root, Awad contacted Bill Cantin, Columbia’s neighborhood response specialist, to help with the nuts and bolts of the process.

Cantin, who has been with the city for about six years, has helped about a dozen neighborhood associations form and said Stonecrest’s residents were among the most motivated he has worked with.

“I was impressed with their interest of using the association to become connected to one another,” Cantin said.

At a March 12 informational meeting, officers of the new association discussed the benefits of neighborhood stability, public participation and information sharing between the city and members. Among the benefits cited by the city on its neighborhood Web site is a promise that it will identify, consider and take appropriate action on issues that concern the neighborhood.

Some of the Stonecrest group’s immediate goals are to create a Neighborhood Watch group and to create an Adopt-A-Spot garden on Chapel Hill Road.

Burks likes the neighborhood watch idea and thinks “it will be nice for neighbors to know what’s going on.”

Residents at the meeting also urged the officers to work toward developing a park on open space in the subdivision. Oddly enough, the Stonecrest motto, stated on a sign at the entrance to the neighborhood, is “Your home in the park,” yet there is no park. Board members are trying to get both the city and the developers involved in addressing the need.

The residents already are developing a track record for working together. On Friday and Saturday, they held a neighborhoodwide garage sale. As the event drew to a close, some of the women who live on the Marble Cedars Drive cul-de-sac organized a last-minute potluck dinner featuring smoked meat, potato salad, fruit and other dishes.

Haggas said he’s seen a lot of recent changes in the neighborhood’s relations, but he recognizes residents have a lot of work to do if they’re going to meet their new goals.

“There is just a lot of friendly communication,” Haggas said, “Everyone wants to help and be involved.”

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