By Debby Woodin
Globe Staff Writer
JOPLIN, Mo. —
Mary Ann Palmer has lived in the neighborhood of 18th Street and Connecticut Avenue all of her life.
David Bird and Danna Lucas decided immediately after the 2011 tornado they would rebuild their house in the same area.
It is a close-knit neighborhood where people take care each of other and were eager for it to recover after it was leveled by the monster storm.
In the open field behind their houses, the neighbors played softball, flew kites and held Fourth of July block parties. It’s also the playground for her kids and grandkids.
“We put a lot into it because we thought it was important to build back,” Lucas said of their home at 1930 E.18th St.
Bird and Lucas said that while city officials encouraged people to build back, he and Lucas have struggled with many aspects of it.
“We’ve been fighting with everybody,” Lucas said. “It hasn’t been a very good experience since we moved back.
“We’ve been fighting with the post office” over the installation of cluster mailboxes versus curbside delivery. “We’ve been fighting with the city for street lights.”
And then “the next thing we know, here came the library. Nobody ever asked us or said ‘boo’ about it,” Lucas said of the decision to locate a new Joplin library combined with a movie theater complex at 20th and Connecticut behind the houses of the 18th Street residents. It is one of $806 million worth of redevelopment projects proposed by the city’s contracted master developer, Wallace-Bajjali Development Partners.
The residents heard rumors about what was to come there before it was publicly announced. They have a neighborhood association and asked for a meeting with City Council representatives to try to find out what was in the works.
There was commercial use behind their homes before the tornado. Lucas said those were offices and a beauty shop; not much of a bother to the residential area since they produced limited traffic and were only open weekdays.
“I would be fine with smaller businesses” locating there, she said. “But you’re talking a move theater open until 1 to 2 a.m. and a parking garage.”
Palmer said she panicked when she heard the proposal.
“When we first find out, I was in shock,” she said. “I was not concerned about our property values. I was concerned about our quality of life.”
She said she made a frantic call to David Wallace, CEO of Wallace-Bajjali. He arranged for meetings to be held between representatives of the neighborhood and his firm to hear the concerns and address them.
“It’s something we’re working on in a collaborative manner,” Wallace said. “Twentieth Street is not going to come back residential. It is coming back commercial in keeping with the CART plan and the city’s comprehensive plan.”
Troy Bolander, Joplin’s city planner, also has met with the residents. “We do encourage builders and developers to meet with neighbors,” he said, and some have been doing that as Joplin rebuilds. “That’s the whole point of having these neighborhood meetings is to hear their concerns and try to find solutions.”
Safety for the neighborhood is a key concern, residents say. They also want an adequate barrier, such as a land berm, to buffer and obscure the residential area from the sight and noise of the complex.
At a meeting last Tuesday, the developer brought representatives of the Joplin Police Department and city staff to talk about those issues, along with those items of concern to Bird and Lucas, such as street lights and mail service.
Wallace said the department has two officers trained in crime prevention through environmental design who can help with the planning of building safety into the design of the complex.
Wallace also had an architect discuss the options to block noise and views of the residents’ homes in order to protect their privacy.
“At first, I was concerned,” said Palmer. “Then, the more I saw how they were willing to work us, the more I’m coming to their way of thinking. But I’m not there yet.”
There are similar concerns across Connecticut Avenue.
Wilma Gould, of 1806 Connecticut Ave., also has lived in the area all of her life.
“Actually I’m very happy about the library” moving across the street, said Gould, a longtime library patron. “I’m not so happy about the theater because of the late hours they keep, but I understand the reason why they have to be there.”
She knows some of what the neighborhood will experience once construction starts.
“I lived through the widening of Connecticut, which took about a year,” she said. “There was a lot of noise, dirt and disruption of utilities, and I’m not happy about that. But I am happy about the library.”
She said the library does need to be relocated because it should be larger and have more parking.
Having lived on Connecticut since it was a gravel lane, she’s learned to adapt to the changes that come.
“I’m not quite so happy with all the duplexes, but we lost that battle 20 years ago. You have to accept what happens sometimes.”
Palmer said she feels better now that there are discussions among Wallace, the city and her neighborhood. In retrospect, she said, she understands the deal had to be kept quiet to protect the real estate and its price. But she intends to preserve as much of a neighborhood feel as she can because she refuses to move.
“I’m passionate about this,” she said. “This has been my home and my mom’s house. This is not about the dollar bill. This is about the quality of life we want to have for years to come.”
‘A seat at the table’
‘We are pleased at where we are and we still have a ways to go. Our commitment to them is to incorporate the design items they want to see. We want to make sure everybody has a seat at the table” to have input into the development.
— David Wallace, CEO of Wallace-Bajjali, on his discussions with residents of the Connecticut Avenue area