Commonwealth Journal

November 27, 2013

Council postpones street closure

Residents want section of College St. to stay open

by Heather Tomlinson
Commonwealth Journal

Somerset —

Somerset officials are post-poning a partial closure of a downtown street after hearing from a few affected residents.
Somerset City Council on Monday unanimously agreed — minus absent councilors Mike New, Jerry Wheeldon and Donna Hunley — to postpone the second reading of Ordinance 13-21, which would have closed the portion of South College Street that runs beside Food Fair in downtown Somerset. 
The decision came after several residents in the area voiced their concerns about the move. 
“Not only does it affect me ... but it also affects a lot of people who don’t have cars and can’t drive to the store, that walk to the store,” said Rosewood Avenue resident Virginia Burkett. “It’s going to make it inconvenient for those of us who have to go clear all the way around the block (to get home).”
Somerset Mayor Eddie Girdler said the closing wouldn’t negatively affect pedestrian traffic there, but Woodland Drive resident Patricia Rucker said the closing would make a big difference to those who use the road as a short-cut from East Mt. Vernon to the streets behind Food Fair, such as Market, Rosewood, Crawford, and more. 
“I use that road a lot,” said Rucker. “ ... I have some concerns both for the citizens that live there and for us as travelers that use that road.” 
And several city councilors spoke up and said they also use that section of College Street, which runs right beside the Food Fair building off of East Mt. Vernon. 
“I use it (South College Street) every day,” said Councilor Jim Mitchell, who lives on South Central Avenue. “I don’t want it closed, to be honest with you.”
“I use it at least two or three times a week,” said Councilor Jim Rutherford, who also noted he’d like to see a study done on that section of roadway to determine exactly how many people use it throughout the day. 
“I’d like to know how many cars are actually using the street over there,” said Rutherford.
Girdler said the owner of Food Fair approached the city about the possible closing due to concerns about parking. 
The first reading of Ordinance 13-21 was held during the Nov. 11 council meeting. 
“We’re trying to encourage businesses to stay downtown,” Girdler said during the Nov. 11 meeting. “What we want to do is try to help Food Fair because they serve so many customers here.” 
Rosewood Avenue resident Bill Williamson said many of those property owners that will be negatively affected by the closing shop at Food Fair. 
“The people that use that (road) patronize the store,” said Williamson. “I don’t see an advantage ... to want to close it because we’re the ones who use the business.” 
Somerset City Attorney Carrie Wiese on Monday said the property owners asked that they meet with city officials to discuss the issue. 
 “I think a lot of their concerns could be addressed,” said Wiese. “So there wouldn’t be any objections later and the neighbors would feel comfortable with it.”
According to the ordinance, the whole of South College Street wouldn’t be closed, but the section that is located directly beside Food Fair and its parking lot would be closed to vehicle traffic. 
“I think we need to listen to these people,” said Councilor John Ricky Minton. “ ... If they don’t want it closed, I’m not going to vote to close it.
“Let’s do this as if that was us sitting there,” added Minton. “It’s been this way as long as I’ve been around and it’s not hurt no one. I’m just tired of making people do this and do that if it’s not necessary.”
Girdler said the city appreciated the comments from local residents and said city officials will meet with concerned citizens to work on the situation.
“That’s the purpose of the first and second readings ... so people can express their views on it,” said Girdler. “ ... We’ll do everything possible to accommodate. There may be a solution to it we haven’t even looked at.”