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March 7, 2013 | 12:00 a.m. CST
Dacie Cowles has loved her house at the corner of Brandon and Providence roads since the day she bought it in 2006.
“For the first year, I didn’t rent it out,” she says. “I would go there and have a glass of wine or just sit on the deck. It has nice deck upstairs. You can see people going to the games, and it’s really kind of neat.” Although she rents it out now, she’s always considered living there eventually.
One day in November, Cowles received a letter from the City Council informing her that because she owns a house in the Grasslands, she had a stake in an upcoming council vote. She was out of town, so she didn’t attend the meeting.
In the following weeks, Cowles learned of the plan to expand Providence alongside the Grasslands neighborhood. She began gathering clippings from local newspapers discussing the plan so she could stay informed.
While out of town during the holidays, Cowles got a call from a friend in Columbia saying a reporter wanted to write a story about the Providence expansion and schedule an interview. She declined. “I said I didn’t want to talk to somebody until I know what is going on,” Cowles says.
In early January, Cowles picked up the Columbia Daily Tribune to see a picture of her house and seven others under the headline, “Going, going… Gone?”
Cowles was stunned to learn that her house was going to be demolished.
In November, the City Council approved the first phase of a $6.6 million plan to widen Providence between Stadium and Burnam roads. The project would alleviate traffic jams and help residents exit the neighborhood onto Providence Road, but it would also acquire eight homes through eminent domain. All eight would then be demolished.
Patricia Riebold, another homeowner who rents to students, was also shocked when she realized she could lose her house. “I had made a real effort to keep up with the plans for Providence, and this plan was not anything I’d ever seen before,” Riebold says.
Some stakeholders feel they weren’t involved in the decision to knock down their houses. The City Council voted on Feb. 18 to reconsider the plan at a public hearing that will take place in April.
Chris Pascucci, whose house at 905 S. Providence Road was the first built in the Grasslands subdivision, testified at a Historic Preservation Commission public hearing in January, according to a transcript of the hearing at City Hall.
“They don’t seem to have a problem sending me my property tax bill,” he told the commission. “So I think they can find my address to want to keep me informed of this.”
Donna Buchert, a member of the House Corporation for Delta Gamma, testified at the same hearing. Buchert says that the sorority, which owns the property along Providence Road, never met with the city, and the sorority felt blindsided by the whole project.
Robert Mainini had no idea that his house at 927 S. Providence Road could be demolished when he bought it last year. In November, Mainini asked Helen Anthony, the Fifth Ward representative, whether the homeowners were notified about the proposed demolition and when. Mainini never received a clear answer, according to the Historic Preservation Commission, which obtained emails concerning the project through a Sunshine request.
Anthony did tell Mainini that the plan was originally developed with help from the Grasslands Neighborhood Association, including its president Robbie Price. Price says that homeowners were invited to the neighborhood association’s meetings in which members discussed the proposed project.
“The neighborhood made every attempt to include all neighbors in all of our discussions,” Price says. But in an email to Public Works Director John Glascock in November, Price acknowledged that the owners were never present at any neighborhood meetings and “probably had no understanding of this plan.”
Cowles and Riebold believe that the permanent Grasslands residents have always resented the rental properties. “I have always gotten the feeling that we were outsiders and they don’t appreciate us being there,” Riebold says.
Price says that over the years, Grasslands residents have had issues with renters’ noise and trash. “The renters tend to be students, who are not the most careful when it comes to taking care of properties,” Price says.
Above all, the homeowners just want the city to consider alternatives that would save their homes. “I really don’t want the house torn down,” Cowles says. “I just don’t see why we need to do that. There’s got to be a better way.”
The Historic Preservation Commission has offered an alternative plan that would save the houses from demolition, but it would take some homeowners’ front yards, Riebold says.
After trying to discuss her concerns with the city, Riebold feels her efforts to fight the proposal have been ignored, and her ability to sell the house is limited by the property’s uncertain future.
“It’s out of my control,” she says. “There’s not a thing I can do about it. I would just like to get out of it one way or another.”
View Buildings set to be demolished along Providence Road in a larger map