March 3, 2014

Improvements in the works for Devine Street corridor

The Columbia Planning Commission has signed off on a broad study to guide development, make pedestrians safer and perhaps build a greenway in the growing Devine Street/Fort Jackson Boulevard commercial corridor.

The Columbia Planning Commission has signed off on a broad study to guide development, make pedestrians safer and perhaps build a greenway in the growing Devine Street/Fort Jackson Boulevard commercial corridor.

The area – considered a key entryway to downtown Columbia – is in the midst of revitalization.

The area has blossomed since 2012, when Whole Foods and other high-end retailers located in the former Kroger grocery store location now known as Cross Hill Market.

And late last year, a developer announced plans for a PetSmart, a Marshall’s clothing store and a Michael’s craft store nearby at the former Kmart location off Fort Jackson Boulevard. A PDQ all-natural turkey and chicken restaurant also is under construction nearby.

The commission Monday night gave the study a favorable report to City Council with only one dissenting vote. But there were concerns about the potential for narrowing Devine Street to make it easier for pedestrians to cross.

“The idea doesn’t make much sense to me,” said chairman Mark James, who voted to recommend that council adopt the study because of its other merits.

City development director Krista Hampton said only one narrowing project was contained in the study – removing one of the two left-hand turn lanes from Devine Street onto Beltline Boulevard. The study asks that other methods be considered if appropriate.

“It would only make sense if it didn’t impact the flow on Devine Street,” Hampton said.

The lone dissenting vote was from commercial real estate developer Brian Stern, who said the area is already being developed without city help.

“I don’t see it as a priority for Columbia,” he said.

The Devine Street/Fort Jackson Boulevard Commercial Node study area comprises approximately 300 acres on the east side of Columbia near Fort Jackson. The study area incorporates the properties clustered around the intersection of Fort Jackson Boulevard, Devine Street and Cross Hill Road as well as the properties adjacent to Beltline Boulevard, Rosewood Drive, Blossom Street and Wildcat Road.

Area residents participating in planning meetings wanted a more walk-able, bike-able area with trails, safer crossings and a more cohesive feel.

The study recommends:

•  Building a bike-able greenway along Gill’s Greek
•  Rehabilitating buildings along Devine Street
•  Creating a gateway with landscaping at Devine Street and Beltline Boulevard
•  Encouraging more and better housing stock
•  Improving the triangular block formed by Devine, Fort Jackson Boulevard and Crowson Road
•  Creating more pedestrian friendly crossings, particularly on Devine Street, using bump outs and other methods.

The study urges the city to form work groups after passage, and then build on the plan by changing zoning laws and offering grants and public building projects.

The area has been ripe for development since Cross Hill Market opened, bringing a mix of national and regional retailers to the once-rundown area.

Retailers typically enter the Columbia market on Harbison Boulevard and, more recently, in the Northeast Richland area. But, Cross Hill has emerged as a potent in-town shopping corridor.

The corridor largely was formed by Edens – a major East Coast shopping center developer based in Columbia. The corridor links three Edens’ centers: the Target-anchored Shoppes at Woodhill along Garners Ferry; the new Cross Hill Market; and Trenholm Plaza along Forest Drive at Trenholm Road.

The area is flanked by the gates of Fort Jackson and sits among some of the Midlands’ most affluent neighborhoods.

The study noted that the area has many opportunities for continued growth. But it also has many challenges.

Among the opportunities is that:

•  The area is an entryway to downtown from points east, including Sumter County and Shaw Air Force Base. There is also good interstate highway access with I-77 nearby.
•  There are numerous businesses in the area exclusive in the Columbia market including Whole Foods, and seven of Columbia’s wealthiest neighborhoods are nearby.
•  Also, higher-end multi-family properties to accommodate the aging population in the area could be developed as well as townhomes, apartments and condominiums to attract young professionals.

Among the challenges are:

•  Traffic congestion is high along Devine Street and Fort Jackson Boulevard and there are poor pedestrian connections and no bicycle facilities.
•  The streetscape is in poor condition with cracked sidewalks, no curbs and gutters and a lack of landscaping, and there are numerous vacant properties in poor condition.
• Also, the areas adjacent to Gills Creek flood.

“We’re very excited about the potential for this plan,” said Emily Jones, president of the Gills Creek Neighborhood Association. “We want the city to implement it. We don’t want it to sit on the shelf.”

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