Zoning commission votes to recommend calling streets ‘alleys’ instead of ‘ways’

Thursday, September 20, 2007 | 11:35 p.m. CDT; updated 8:47 a.m. CDT, Sunday, July 20, 2008

COLUMBIA — The Columbia Planning and Zoning Commission will recommend that the names for Columbia’s alleys include the suffix “alley” instead of “way” to avoid confusing the new street names with other city roadways.

City officials warned that the name “way” could cause problems for emergency dispatchers and maintenace crews.

“These public ways do not meet the standards of a street and should not be given a street-type suffix,” wrote Jim Paneck, the city’s chief building inspector, in a memo.

But some residents said they feared the word “alley” would shed a negative light on their properties.

“We would prefer that it is left as ‘way’ or something positive,” said Richard Ditter, as someone from the crowd yelled the word “rats” as Ditter spoke.

The commission voted 6-0 to recommend the city use the suffix “alley.”

The commission’s Thursday night hearing comes three years after the Historic Preservation Commission and the Special Business District proposed five names for the alleys that run east and west through downtown.

After Thursday’s meeting, the five suggested street names are McQuitty Alley, Nowell Alley, Sorin Alley, Barth Alley and Lancaster Alley.

Commission members also recommended eliminating one of the original proposed alley names — “Sharp End Way,” which runs from Broadway to Walnut Street — from consideration because of fears of its violent connotation.

The Sharp End, a historic area of black-owned businesses generally west of North Seventh Street between Walnut Street and Park Avenue, was displaced by an urban renewal effort in the 1960s.

But some residents said they associate the “Sharp End” name with frequent knife and razor fights that occurred downtown. The city received several letters and e-mails from residents who objected to the name.

“I do think it is important to think of historical names rather than using Sharp End,” said property owner Robert Smith.

Commission members appeared lukewarm on the name change but voted to approve it.

“We have quite a few people that have negative feelings, and we should probably listen,” said commission member Helen Anthony.

Under the new proposal, Sharp End Way would be called Nowell Alley, a name originally selected for another alley south of Sharp End.

John M. Nowell, III, said he was flattered to learn his great-grandfather’s name was being considered, but he asked the commission to relocate the alley to the location of Sharp End Way because his great-grandfather, a prominent Columbia grocer, “never had a business” between Cherry Street and Broadway.

“When you start to name something, everyone comes out with ideas, and I don’t envy the job you have,” Smith told the commission.

Lucy Sorin proposed naming an alley stretching from Cherry Street to Broadway for her late husband, Ben Sorin, who started Columbia Auto Parts in 1931 and later founded Boonville Auto Parts.

“We would appreciate in naming the alley behind where Columbia Auto Parts was located, between Fifth and Sixth streets, Sorin Way,” Lucy Sorin said.

Larry Schuster, a family friend, spoke in support of naming it after Ben Sorin, saying that “recent history is just as important as our early history.” Sorin died in 2003 and most of the proposed street names trace back to Columbia’s early roots.

But Clark disagreed with Schuster, saying that “names and places should be associated with their early context.”

The amended proposal was accepted and the commission’s recommendation will go to the City Council, which is scheduled to take a final vote on the name changes at its Oct. 15 meeting. The council has indicated its desire to name the alleys for some time, saying alley-storefront businesses could lure more foot traffic and create better use of space downtown.

The city also has pending business license requests for alley-only entrances. Those requests can’t be granted because the businesses would lack addresses if the alleys lack names.

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