Four different plans regarding the future of one of Columbia’s busiest street corners are up for debate by the city.
The four master plans for the expansion of Flat Branch Park will be presented to the Columbia City Council during Monday’s meeting.
The expansion of Flat Branch Park will begin around the spring of 2020. Done in two phases, the first will consist of cleaning the existing park and the second will expand the park onto city-owned property.
The differences among the plans is what to do with the parking lot located at the corner of Providence and Broadway, in front of the Columbia Real Estate building.
In 1986, an agreement was made between the city and Mark Stevenson, owner of the building. Stevenson allowed a portion of the parking lot to be built on his property in exchange for the use of the parking spaces. The contract for this agreement was terminated in August 2018, according to a council memo.
The park expansion includes the incorporation of the Gateways Project, an art installation previously approved by the city in 2015. The original design proposed for the project would require the parking spaces to be eliminated entirely.
Along with this original plan, three other optional master plans were submitted to keep some parking in the area.
“It’s one of the city’s duties to provide parking downtown,” Stevenson said.
Option 1 would use the original Gateway design proposed to the council in 2017. The parking spaces would be eliminated to incorporate the larger gateway design. This option is endorsed by the CoMo200 committee, Downtown Columbia Leadership Council and the Parks and Recreation Commission, according to the memo.
Option Two, submitted by Stevenson, would keep the original parking in front of the Columbia Real Estate building. On the west side of the lot, two standard parking spaces and the addition of an ADA van accessible space would remain, while six parking spaces would be eliminated for the gateway project. The extra parking spots would push the “COLUMBIA” lettering of the gateway further south and possibly make the letters smaller, according to the memo.
“Without the parking it’s hard for employees and customers to get to the business,” Stevenson said. “There is room for both.”
A compromise plan was was submitted by city staff as Option 3. This plan would eliminate the existing parking, but incorporate four standard parking spaces and one ADA van accessible space. The “COLUMBIA” lettering may also shift in this option, and a street light pole would be replaced with a drive-over grate, according to the memo.
Option 4 was also submitted by Stevenson. In this plan, around 1,700 square feet of city property would be used to create a driving lane into the lot. This would allow the existing parking spaces to remain. In return, Stevenson is willing to exchange approximately 1,100 square feet of land located in his back parking lot to the city. Stevenson would gain about 600 square feet of land mass after the exchange, which the city would require he pay the difference for. This option would also shift the “COLUMBIA” lettering in the Gateway Project.
In the memo, city staff notes their worry of the Downtown Community Improvement District pulling the substantial amount of funds it agreed to invest in the gateway, if the council chooses Option 2, 3 or 4.
Under Option 1, all the land that would needed for the project is owned by the city, and could be approved entirely during Monday’s council meeting if chosen. If the council selects any other option, city staff will need to negotiate easements with Stevenson and will have to return to council for the approval of the easements and the master plan. This would most likely occur in July or August, according to the council memo.
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