When the Olympia, Granby and Whaley mill villages were built at the end of the 19th Century, they were bucolic, communal, self-sufficient communities where neighbors lived, worked and played together.
Today, in many ways, they are a mess – the communities are crisscrossed by train tracks, suffer from bad traffic patterns, endure flooding and are swarmed with rowdy college kids living in what were once family homes.
For more than a year, the city of Columbia and Richland County have been developing a master plan to transform what is now known as the Capital City Mill District into a cohesive, engaging and more family-friendly neighborhood. A final version will be unveiled at a community meeting at 6 p.m. Thursday at 701 Whaley.
“The goal is to have the public have one last look at it before before we send it to (the city and county) planning commissions and councils,” said Latoisha Green, a Richland County neighborhood planner.
The Imagine Mill District plan prioritizes the myriad challenges in the 120-year-old district, including the consolidation of railroad lines, creating traffic calming measures, improving flood control and aligning city and county land use plans and codes enforcement.
“We’ll have our own separate codes, but they will be in synch,” Green said.
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.
And some of the fixes adopted will also likely be funded by the two entities and other funding streams, said Leigh DeForth, a comprehensive planner with the city of Columbia.
“Some things might be city-county,” she said. “Some things might be grants. Some things might be public-private partnerships.”
Among the priorities identified in the study are:
▪ Railroads. The CSX and Norfolk Southern railroads crisscross the area, snarling traffic and isolating the 1890s villages from the rest of the city. There are 11 grade crossings in the district and no coordination of the two competing railroad companies, according to the study.
The plan calls for the two railroads to use a single track rather than two. There are five different options for trying to make that happen.
▪ Transportation. The most controversial recommendation is to 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 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.
▪ Encouraging home ownership.
“There are a lot of home ownership incentive programs, such as the Bailey bill for historic structures,” DeForth said. “A lot of this is just making people aware of the program that are available.”
Capital City Mill District priorities
▪ Codes enforcement
▪ Economic development
If you’re going
What: Imagine Mill Village community meeting
When: 6 p.m. Thursday
Where: 701 Whaley, 701 Whaley St., Columbia
For more information: visit imaginemilldistrict.com or call Leigh DeForth at (803) 545-4864 or Latoisha Green at (803) 576-1340.