Columbia talks walking trail, senior center - Republic-Times | News

Columbia talks walking trail, senior center

By on September 27, 2017 at 12:46 pm

What was scheduled to be a 10-minute discussion — prior to Monday’s Columbia City Council Committee of the Whole meeting — on a proposed walking trail turned into more than an hour of discussion about how much residents of the city have the right ­to access or restrict others’ access in the name of exclusivity.

At the heart of the debate is a stretch of common ground the Gedern Village Homeowners Association is responsible for maintaining along the GM&O Heritage Trail. There is currently a walking path on the trail that is maintained by Gedern.

Representatives of about 14 families attended the public hearing to voice opposition to the city purchasing the trail and connecting it to two other city trails, eventually expanding the city’s burgeoning trail system so pedestrians and cyclists can make a loop around the city.

With 46 residences in Gedern, alderman Mary Ellen Niemietz said its impossible to surmise that all are opposed to the trail.

“The (Gedern) HOA Trustees contacted (the city) last August 2016 because of the majority interest in having the city assume ownership and maintenance of the trail section,” Niemietz said.

The Gedern residents came out in force, with two issues being repeatedly brought up — loss of property value for the homes, especially those that sit along the trail, and the fact the trail would draw non-residents into the heart of the exclusive community.

Gedern resident Wayne Wherle said that while he supports walking trails in theory, he and his neighbors are overwhelmingly concerned with the security risk such trails could pose as well as with property values, especially for those homes right along the trail.

“The trail goes right into the middle of our subdivision in a way that’s inviting people to come into our subdivision,” Wherle said.

Wherle noted the plans that had been drawn up for a city-owned trail at Gedern and said he believes there is a disconnect.

“It almost sounds like things have started without us being on the same page.”

“The naysayers in recent weeks became very vocal and started campaigning against (the trail),” Niemietz said.  “The city would never have researched the possibility and in turn discovered that section never transferred to the HOA, if the (Gedern HOA) trustees hadn’t contacted us with their intentions in the first place.”

Further complicating matters is that the ownership of the area is up for debate. Some say the Gedern HOA owns it. Although they never executed the legal paperwork to make it officially theirs, they claim the obvious intent of Gedern developer Paul Frierdich was for the property to transfer to them. 

But a title search done by the city shows it is in fact owned by GCA Holdings, a company that appears to have been short-lived and is now defunct. It is unclear if or how Frierdich and GCA Holdings are connected.

The city made it clear, though, that they plan to move forward with expanding their trail system — with the addition of the section that stretches along Gedern or without.

“To confirm, we will be paving the rest of the trail up to Gedern within weeks,” Niemietz said. “If the transfer from the holding company to the city does not occur, we will fence off both ends of the section to prevent passage by anyone.”

On the agenda of Monday’s Committee of the Whole meeting of the Columbia City Council was the future of the Columbia Senior Center.

After several false starts, it seems the senior group will soon be moving into a new home.

“We are very close to reaching an agreement,” said Western Egyptian Economic Opportunity Council Director Paulette Hamlin. Western Egyptian, based in Sparta, administers the local senior center programs while they each have site directors. Columbia’s site director is Pat Stumpf.

The group moved into City Hall in 2011 on a temporary basis when they had to abruptly leave their prior site. Since then, the staff at City Hall has grown, and so has the city’s need for space, according to city administrator Jimmy Morani.

“We’ve been in discussions with them for a couple of years,” Morani said. “We need the space and they’ve indicated they will vacate by Oct. 1.”

Local developer Joe Koppeis reported he was approached recently by a representative of the Columbia Senior Center, inquiring if he has any appropriate space available because they were being “kicked out” of City Hall.

“I take great exception to them saying they are being kicked out,” Mayor Kevin Hutchinson said. “Their membership continues to dwindle. We keep asking them to do things to help themselves, to be proactive. 

“Over the years we brought them numerous facilities that at that time were willing to bring them in. I can’t speak for those facilities, but with their not wanting to work with us, not willing to give a little for a free location, not wanting to work around things, I can see why maybe the other locations they went to said ‘no.’”

While it’s true that senior site numbers have shrunken dramatically, Hamlin points out that feeding seniors one-third of their daily nutrition is only part of the services offered at these sites.

“We provide so much more than that,” Hamlin said.

Food stamps, Medicaid, tax preparation, the circuit breaker program — just to name a few — are also programs to assist county seniors and without senior sites such assistance might not exist.

While there is certainly some tension, there are also those who support the city’s side.

“This morning, one of the senior center patrons, Mary Winkler, came over to the city clerk’s office and informed several staff members that she has appreciated the city allowing the seniors to use the space at City Hall for such a long time and understands it was supposed to be temporary,” Morani wrote in an email. “She acknowledged that they have known for two years they were asked to start looking for a new place and nothing was really done about it. And the city has extended their stay on several occasions and has been very polite to all the seniors …  Mary said the letter to the editor (in last week’s Republic-Times) by Olieta Edwards is not representative of most of the patrons and she is considering writing a letter to the editor.”

If everything goes smoothly, Columbia seniors will notice no interruption of services, just a change of view as they settle into their new home. The organization has been serving Columbia seniors for 40 years, Hamlin said, and plans to do so for many more.

Andrea F.D. Saathoff

Andrea is a graduate of Gibault High School and the University of Missouri School of Journalism, the University of Missouri Harry S Truman School of Public Affairs and Southern Illinois University Edwardsville College of Education. She lives in Columbia with her husband and their twin toddler sons. When she isn't cheering on St. Louis Cardinals baseball or riding the emotional roller coaster of Mizzou Tigers football, she enjoys attending and participating in the many family events the county has to offer. email: