The Springfield city planning board Monday unanimously approved vacating a piece of Obenchain Alley to limit vehicle traffic between South Fountain Avenue and Rose Alley.
Stephen Chirico of 717 S. Fountain Ave. applied for the vacation for the 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 application must also be approved by city commissioners.
The board’s decision came after a nearly 90-minute meeting at the city hall forum, which included strong support in favor of the alley vacation from the South Fountain Avenue neighborhood.
“In my mind, the big issue is the safety factor of cars coming out of the alley,” said board chair Charles Clark.
City staff recommended approval of the application, and both the Springfield Fire Rescue and Police divisions did not object to the alley vacation.
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 the nearby Gammon House, 620 Piqua Place. The alley is often used by visitors to reach the museum, supporters said.
Since the previous application, Chirico said the situation regarding safety hasn’t changed and “in some ways has even worsened.” They’ve suffered theft and vandalism several times at their property, Chirico said.
“This system of alleys has become a place people have decided to use as thoroughfares into our neighborhood to commit theft, vandalism, assault and drug-related crimes,” Chirico said.
He also said there’s a precedent for vacating alleys as many have been vacated around the neighborhood. The alley isn’t near the Gammon House, Chirico said, and visitors can use the entrance near Clark Street. He has no desire to build a fence and only wants to keep out through traffic.
In 2009, Gammon House supporters said the alley system was historically significant because slaves walked them to seek shelter at the nearby underground railroad site.
City maps from this period only show farm land, Chirico said.
“There is absolutely no hint of any historical significance,” Chirico said. “I also want to state that it’s absolutely ludicrous to think that fugitive slaves heading north beat a path into the ground on the way to the Gammon House, a path covering the exact location of Obenchain Alley, nonetheless. I believe any bounty hunter could easily capture a slave using an established path to escape north.”
A family from Huber Heights recently used the alley to reach the Gammon House after going the wrong way to reach the museum from South Limestone Street, said executive director Betty Grimes.
Piqua Place residents use the alley to get to South Fountain Avenue, Grimes said, including her sister.
The alley’s closure “isn’t going to make much of a difference” regarding crime, Grimes said.
“We understand that vandalism is going on there,” Grimes said. “We understand your discomfort. We deal with it, too.”
If the alley were closed, it could be inconvenient for homeowners on South Fountain who use Obenchain Alley to access garages behind their home on Rose Alley, said resident John Bailey.
Lisa Fazio was one of several people who spoke in favor of the alley vacation. She lives across the street from Chirico, where Obenchain Alley between South Fountain Avenue and South Limestone Street has been vacated for years.
“I feel a sense of security that I’d like everyone to feel,” Fazio said.
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The Springfield News-Sun is committed to covering planning and zoning issues, including recent stories on changes to the city’s codes regarding tattoo parlors and the denial of the planned waste transfer station on West Leffel Lane.