COLUMBIA — After months of arguing about names for downtown alleys and their suitability for business development, the City Council voted unanimously Monday to temporarily name one — Alley A.
Council decided to temporarily name the alley between Ninth and Tenth streets and Broadway and Cherry Street so that three pending business permits may be issued. Downtown business owner John Ott requested two of the permits and business owner Glen Strothman requested the other.
“I’m glad they are pushing us to do it because it has been a long time coming,” Second Ward Councilman Chris Janku said of the naming of the alleys.
The Planning and Zoning Commission on September 20 recommended five names for the alleys running east to west through downtown.
Starting with the alley immediately south of Ash Street and working to the south, the names proposed were McQuitty, Nowell, Sorin, Barth and Lancaster alleys, respectively.
Following the Planning and Zoning Commission meeting, Fourth Ward Councilman Jerry Wade suggested breaking the five continuous alleys into segments, creating 22 unnamed alleys. This would allow for more names to honor historic people and events.
The Historic Preservation Commission was eager to take on the naming challenge, but the council tabled the issue on Oct. 15. Wade and Fifth Ward Councilwoman Laura Nauser voted to reject the proposal to name the alleys.
Nauser said she didn’t want to drive policy for one individual, referring to Ott.
The naming of Columbia’s downtown alleys caused concern for city officials over the past couple of months.
Simply naming the alleys was initially the question, but the issue has since been redirected toward potential alley developments.
That’s due in large part to plans by Ott to develop a restaurant with an alley-only entrance at the rear of his property at 906 E. Broadway, the former Puckett’s building.
Wade said that the process has not been focused in the right direction.
“The whole process we have been engaged in is backwards,” Wade said.
The council’s debate questioned if a policy regulating alley storefronts should be put in place before allowing business owners to develop.
Mayor Darwin Hindman supported moving forward and giving permits to business owners, despite what some council members see as a lack of defined policy.
“How quickly can we get this man a building permit?” Hindman asked, referring to Ott.
But Nauser said the council’s job is to create policy.
“I want something concrete, so everyone downtown is on the same field. I don’t like subjectivity,” she said.
City Manager Bill Watkins summed up the council’s debate by saying that the council did want businesses off of alleys eventually.
“Standards are a good things, but it is not critical now,” Watkins said. “We will just have to deal with it piece by piece.”
But Watkins has numerous concerns about opening alleys up to development. Concerns include how to accommodate emergency vehicles, how to remove snow, how to combat the accumulation of water and ice, and the potential for store entrances to interfere with utility services or trash collection.
Battalion Chief Steven Sapp of the Columbia Fire Department worries that fire trucks will not fit through alleys. Police Chief Randy Boehm worries about inadequate lighting.
“Lighting is an issue and we are happy to do what we can there,” Ott said. “It will be a better scenario than we currently have.”
Ott said of the concerns, “It is a trial. I am hopeful that it will work. If it doesn’t, we will look at something in a private alley.”
To further address the issue of alley development, staff proposed an ordinance at Monday’s council meeting that would allow the city manager to determine on a case-by-case basis which alleys are suitable for alley development.
The council will vote on this ordinance at its Nov. 19 meeting.
Nauser requested that staff include definitive criteria, for example a required width, to guide the city manager’s decisions.
Hindman didn’t agree with waiting any longer.
“We have someone that wants to put a shop on the alley, and now eight months have gone by, and we want to start talking about policy?” Hindman said. “Now we are standing in the way, and I just didn’t think it was right.”