The Olympia, Granby and Whaley mill village communities are at a crossroads, both literally and figuratively.
They are crisscrossed by railroads and disjointed road networks. They have turned from quiet neighborhoods for blue collar workers to a haven for rowdy college students.
But a master plan being developed by the city of Columbia and Richland County is intended to transform what is now known as the Capital City Mill District into a cohesive, engaging and more family friendly neighborhood. A draft of the master plan was presented Wednesday night at a community meeting in the community.
“The wonderful thing is the city and the county are doing this together,” said the Irene Dumas Taylor, a mill district resident who is heading the effort. She is with the Boudreaux group, which is conducting the study.
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The master plan, which will be presented to both the city and county councils in the spring, prioritizes the myriad challenges in the 120-year-old district, including the consolidation of railroad lines, creating traffic calming measures, improving flood control and instituting joint city/county land use plans and codes enforcement.
The study was funded by both the city and county, as the district is split between the two jurisdictions. The study area consists of approximately 838 acres, of which 320 acres are in the city of Columbia and 518 are in unincorporated Richland County.
Among the priorities identified in the study were:
▪ Railroads. The CSX and Norfolk Southern railroads crisscross the area, gnarling traffic and isolating the 1890s villages from the rest of the city. There are a total of 11 grade crossings in the district and no coordination of the two competing railroad companies, according to the study.
The plan calls for the tracks to be placed side-by-side and raised over the busy Assembly and Huger street crossings. A plan formulated in 2008 is not currently funded, but the city and county should unite to seek federal and other funding for the project, the study recommends.
▪ Transportation. The most controversial recommendation is to actually make it less attractive to drive through the district by narrowing busy Huger Street from five lanes to three south of Blossom Street and narrowing Olympia Avenue and Whaley Street by adding bike lanes and green space.
The goal of hampering access is to make the area less convenient for pass-through drivers, especially those headed for University of South Carolina football games and the South Carolina State Fair. In addition, the report calls for a traffic study to recreate the street grid with the goal of further hampering pass-through traffic.
Consultants also advocated more sidewalks along major thoroughfares like Olympia Avenue, Rosewood Avenue and Whaley Street.
Greenways should also be extended and established along Rocky Branch Creek and the Congaree River for better connection to the rest of the city. More pedestrian and bicycle traffic would also would lessen the need for cars for the throngs of USC students who live in the area.
▪ Storm drainage and flooding. Improving greenways and adding pocket parks will help both transportation and flooding, according to the master plan draft.
▪ Code enforcement. The consolidation of the city and county codes and codes enforcement in the district would help crack down on rowdy students and absentee landlords alike.
Olympia native Sherry Jaco, who is raising funds for a museum in the district’s original school house, said she was amazed by the complexity of the issues. She said she hopes the master plan can knit together all of the competing issues and interests.
“But I just wish there were more neighborhood people here,” she said, noting that 70 percent of the 50 or so participants at Wednesday’s meeting at the 702 Whaley event hall did not live there.
“But I think it’s a good plan,” she said. “It just needs some tweaking.”
Capital City Mill District priorities
▪ Codes enforcement
▪ Economic development