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City Council Approves Flat Branch Park Expansion, Sparks Parking Concerns

Meiying Wu

The Columbia City Council voted unanimously to approve option one for the Flat Branch Park Expansion. The council discussed four options for plans for the Flat Branch Park Expansion. The primary difference between the plans is what to do with a city-owned parking lot at the corner of Providence and Broadway.

Option one will build “Gateway Plaza”, an art installation previously approved by the city in 2015, on what is now a city-owned parking lot at the corner of Providence and Broadway. This plan would block access to parking at a building owned by Mark and Carol Stevenson, which houses a variety of local businesses. Many of those business owners spoke at the council meeting about their concerns that losing this parking would hurt their businesses.

City council also voted to direct the city manager to work with Stevenson to find if a better alternative that would allow access to more parking spots without sacrificing the visual appeal of Gateway Plaza exists.

The parking lot in question was built in 1986 when the council authorized the construction of a right turn lane and a parking lot at the corner of Providence and Broadway. Part of the parking lot was built on the Stevensons’ property, and in return they entered a 10-year contract with the city to use the parking lot. The agreement was renewed every year after its original expiration until June 29, 2017 when the city terminated the contract, effective August 21, 2018.

While owners of businesses located in the building owned by the Stevensons were concerned about losing parking, advocates of the Gateway Plaza did not want to sacrifice the visual appeal of the park. The plaza will have 5-foot-tall letters reading “Columbia”, to symbolize the gateway into the city. Keeping the parking lot, as proposed by Stevenson, would require the “Columbia” letters to be shifted or made smaller.

Ward three council member Karl Skala said he supports option one despite concerns about parking.

“I get it… I know people wanna park in front of wherever it is that they are,” Skala said. “But I think there are some ideas, and I think this park is one of them, that transcend those practicalities.”

Community members also raised concerns about a lack of handicap accessible parking at businesses and Flat Branch Park. Construction on the park is expected to begin in April 2020, and the park is to be dedicated in March 2021.