City of Columbia might charge companies for street, sidewalk closures

Related Story

COLUMBIA — Closures due to construction in downtown Columbia cause drivers and pedestrians to find alternate routes, impact traffic to businesses and reduce the amount of on-street parking. The city is responding to these issues by creating a way to encourage developers to finish projects faster, thus freeing up the affected spaces for public use.

The proposed solution: a public inconvenience fee.

The Columbia Public Works Department started work in June on a report addressing the idea. If the Columbia City Council accepts the fee proposal, the city would charge companies fees based on how much space they close and how long the space is closed.

The department presented its report to the council during the Sept. 6 meeting.

Department director Bill Nichols said, "I think this is an incentive proposal to complete the work quicker, maybe do some strategy thinking, think a little bit outside the box on how they're gonna construct things."

City leaders said they realize that street and sidewalk closures negatively affect local businesses.

Resident Ben Reid said he sees it as well. Reid works at Tellers, a downtown restaurant and bar.

"It's a major inconvenience or just a deterrent if you've got the blocked off construction, or just the sound of construction alone can be a major deterrent for businesses," Reid said.

He said he noticed fewer people using Tellers' outdoor patio area when construction was going on nearby.

"If they're putting stress on individual businesses closing off large amounts or small amounts of sidewalks, it's impeding the traffic to local businesses, and they should be paying a tax for that," Reid said.

The fees might not apply to companies who build covered walkways. Companies are not required to do this, but council members said the fee would motivate companies to build them.

Council member Michael Trapp told KOMU 8 News he planned to propose setting aside discussion of the fee for a few months, an idea Mayor Brian Treece said he isn't too pleased with.

In the Sept. 6 meeting, Treece said he doesn't want another street closure request before a resolution is made. 

"I would convey a sense of urgency here," Treece said. "I don't know that it needs months and months of additional discussion."

But Trapp said he wants the city staff to take its time. At the Oct. 17 meeting, council members voted to table a decision on the closure fee until the Dec. 5 meeting. 

"The devil's in the details," Trapp said. "The public process is slow, and it's slow for a reason."

Trapp said the city needs to better engage stakeholders and find out what a reasonable fee would be.

The Public Works report looked at Miami's model, but Trapp said he wants to look at the fee structures of cities closer in size to Columbia.

According to the report, Miami charges 20 cents per linear foot per day for sidewalk closures, 30 cents per linear foot per day for parking lane closures and 35 cents per linear foot per day for traffic lane closures. 

Reid said, "I think if the developers are adamant about the construction they're putting on, then their pockets should be deep enough to cover a small inconvenience like that."

KOMU 8 News spoke to several other Columbia residents who said the fee is a good idea.

Council members said they intend to use the money collected from the fees to fund projects such as street maintenance or Americans with Disabilities Act compliance.