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Commission hears case for alley vacation

The city commission is scheduled to vote in two weeks on a heated alley vacation in the South Fountain historic district in Springfield.

Stephen Chirico, 717 S. Fountain Ave., applied for an alley vacation for an approximately 215-foot portion of Obenchain Alley, which would be used for a private driveway for both his property and his neighbor’s property at 721 S. Fountain Ave.

The alley’s closure, Chirico said, would limit vehicle traffic between South Fountain Avenue and Rose Alley.

On April 7, the Springfield city planning board unanimously approved the application after a 90-minute meeting. The application must also be approved by city commissioners.

The commission heard from several supporters and opponents of the issue in a nearly hour-long public hearing Monday at the City Hall Forum. Commissioners heard a first reading of the legislation and are expected to vote on the issue May 27.

City staff recommended approval of the application, and both the Springfield Fire Rescue and Police divisions did not object to the alley vacation.

The biggest concern for vacating the alley is safety, Chirico said. Cars often run the stop sign when leaving the alleyway and he fears a pedestrian will eventually be struck by a vehicle.

“Near-misses occur regularly with adults and children,” he said.

Chirico feels it doesn’t create an “undue inconvenience” for other neighbors because there are four other points of entry to the alleys on the block, meaning South Fountain Avenue residents with garages on Rose Alley will be able to access garages. He also said there’s a precedent for vacating alleys as many have been vacated around the neighborhood.

“We’re not limiting anybody’s access to anything,” Chirico said.

A similar case was also approved by the city planning board in 2009, but was later rejected by the city commission due to concerns from neighbors on South Fountain Avenue well as the nearby Gammon House, 620 Piqua Place.

Brian Bell, 707 S. Fountain Ave., said he opposed the proposal five years ago. He won’t park his car on South Fountain Avenue after having it hit three times since 2000. He uses Obenchain to access his garage in the rear of his property. He also said Obenchain Alley has snow removed more often than Rose Alley, and believes it will cease if half of the alleyway is closed.

“Closing this section of the alley will create an inconvenience for me, forcing me to circumnavigate the neighborhood to park my vehicle,” Bell said.

Obenchain Alley has been used by visitors to reach the museum, said Gammon House director Betty Grimes. Former Springfield mayor Dale Henry, a committee member and groundskeeper at the Gammon House, believes closing the alley would be detrimental to the neighborhood.

The Gammon House restoration is a “community treasure” on “the same plane” with the Westcott House, Henry said. He asked the commission to reject the proposal as it did previously.

“This was brought up five years ago,” Henry said. “Nothing has changed. Why are we here? We’re wasting time and it’s not fair to you or the general public.”

The alley is not safe to cross over South Fountain Avenue, said supporter Teresa Demana, 724 S. Fountain Ave. Demana’s house is directly across the street from Chirico. She said she no longer uses the alley after a few near-misses when she moved to the neighborhood about a decade ago. The portion of Obenchain alley adjacent to her property between Fountain and Limestone was vacated before she moved, she said.

“It’s very difficult to see in both directions on Fountain to see if its safe and avoid other vehicles,” Demana said. “It’s also difficult to see when someone is walking or riding a bike on the sidewalk.”

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