PDT Staff Writer
The members of the City Planning Commission, voted unanimously Tuesday to close Third Street between Gay Street and Waller Street. Now that recommendation must go before the complete Portsmouth City Council.
Butch Kotcamp, Director of Facilities at Shawnee State University, again made a presentation showing the plan the university has for the Third and Fourth Street areas, and what the university perceives as the necessity to close Third Street as an important part of the school’s Master Plan.
Since the move would transfer traffic flow from Third to Fourth Street, many of the same questions that have come up before at similar presentations came up again. Those questions dealt with the traffic backup problems projected to occur at the Social Security office on Fourth Street and the access to First Christian Church at the corner of Third and Gay streets.
Kotcamp said, if necessary, they could move the traffic light on Sinton Street to Fourth and Gay at the Social Security intersection.
“My concern is that our claimants have easy access in and out of our parking lot because we only have one entrance,” Toni Garcia of the local Social Security office said. “Neal Hatcher had brought in a proposal as to where they would move it. It’s still going to be a problem right now because coming out, you’re going to blocking cars that are trying to get out of the parking lot too. And also there’s parking on the street. So there would be parking on both sides of the street unless you don’t let people park there. It might make it a little bit easier, but it is going to be a problem for our claimants to get in and out of there.”
Linda Switzer, who is a trustee at First Christian Church, expressed the concerns of the members of the church.
“I have a long history with Shawnee State University. I was there when it was O.U. (Ohio University-Portsmouth), and I am also associated with First Christian because my family were the original people who started First Christian. So I have a love for both,” Switzer said.
Switzer brought to the attention of those present that the Master Plan shows that church as well as the city building as not existing. “A number of years ago when I went to a meeting at Shawnee State, they showed our church gone,” Switzer said. “And I asked them what they had against God.”
She went on to talk about the safety of the children coming to and going from Portsmouth Elementary School and Portsmouth Junior High and High School.
“If they close Third it will delay the fire trucks, because a lot of them come down Third,” Switzer said. “If they have to come down Fourth or Gallia, there’s going to be traffic backed up. If they put a traffic light at Fourth, there’s going to be more traffic because of it coming off the (U.S. Grant) bridge. So we may have some accidents there.”
Portsmouth Fire Chief Bill Raison had his concerns for his department.
“We always have concerns for access throughout the city in a lot of different areas,” Portsmouth Fire Chief Bill Raison said. “And, as Butch pointed out, when they closed the old Second Street, one of the stipulations was that the path that runs right through the middle of the university would support the weight of our trucks. We have the same with Third Street. It’s college housing, but we still have to have access to it. And we have had those discussions with the university to address those issues, because that’s a concern, not just for the campus, but for the church, and the high-rise properties on Chillicothe Street.”
Raison went on to say however he does not see any issue with closing Third Street that can’t be worked around.
Crystal Weghorst, of the City Planning Commission asked Kotcamp if she was correct in assuming that the university is in the process of dealing with all of those issues. Kotcamp said the university is committed to being a good neighbor and working through all issues that arise.
First Ward Councilman Kevin Johnson addressed several issues with the move and warned of “unintended consequences.” However, he did not support nor oppose the closing, saying he will have to deal with the issue which is scheduled to be on the Mayor’s conference agenda at next week’s Portsmouth City Council meeting.
The leadership of the University saw Tuesday’s approval as an exciting step forward.
“This is an exciting time for our university and our community as we move forward with our plans for growth,” Dr. Rita Rice Morris, SSU President, said. “Providing a contained campus environment that allows us to attract more students is good for Shawnee State, our city and our community and the closure of Third Street plays a vital part in that. We’re happy to have the chance to now present our plan to City Council and continue to move forward together.”
The four members of the commission voted to bring the issue forward and recommend its passage by City Council.
As the meeting ended, Portsmouth resident Bill Questel told those in attendance - “Get the job done now. We need Shawnee State University.”
Frank Lewis may be reached at 740-353-3101, ext. 252, or at email@example.com.