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Voice: Time ‘to get serious’ about development

If it is possible to telegraph a wince over the telephone, the Rev. Wiley Cooper does so as he talks about the latest label placed on his neighborhood.

Is North Columbia in crisis? Well, that depends on what year you’re talking about.

He talks through lunch at Bert’s, a soul food eatery off Farrow Road, about his family’s move more than a decade ago to a North Columbia church and the real estate agents who told him “you don’t want to live there.”

He likes to say he doesn’t live in the same community he moved to 13 years ago, although his address hasn’t changed.

When he and his wife, Emily, moved into their College Place home in 1995, a house of prostitution flourished just down the street. Two drug dealers openly plied their trade on his block. As he walked home one evening, a robber demanded his wallet.

“Today, all of that has changed,” said Cooper, who retired this month as the pastor of College Place United Methodist Church. “The place we called the pink house, where the prostitution and illicit alcohol was, is a residence. The house with the two drug dealers is a residence.”

Still, there are issues he believes the city has never adequately addressed.

 Community policing. It’s been an off-again, on-again proposition, despite the fact that there are entrenched pockets of criminal activity. Now, he hopes, with the addition of new Police Chief Tandy Carter, “cops will finally get legs.”

 North Columbia’s development plan.

“I think what the city needs to do next is to get serious about the new development plan,” he said, to target the key “nodes,” including the project at Columbia College Drive and North Main Street.

“It would also give some assurance to people further out Main Street that the changes that have been talked about will affect them.”

 Cross-training officers in both policing and code enforcement. Then, Cooper said, police could target the abandoned and neglected houses that contribute to blighted streets.

“We know that we cannot have healthy neighborhoods if the one next door isn’t,” he said.

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