Butler Street proposal draws crowds

Marietta College seeks road’s closure for student center construction

Close to 200 individuals gathered at the Gathering Place on Marietta College’s campus Wednesday in two public meetings to voice concerns about a proposed vacation of Butler Street. (Photo by Janelle Patterson)

Close to 200 individuals attended the two public meetings held Wednesday on a city option to vacate Butler Street to Marietta College.

The question on the table, as Marietta College President Bill Ruud and City Councilwoman Kathy Downer presented, is yes or no to vacate the road between Seventh Street and Fourth Street.

Most comments made at the second meeting were against the closure, while the 2 p.m. meeting saw many more responses in favor of the college’s development plan including a closure of the street.

But at the early afternoon meeting council members Mike Scales, Mike McCauley and Steve Thomas all announced that they would not support a vacation of the street.

“I find it disappointing that officials and people have made up their minds on the issue before all the data is in,” said Brett Hower, of Marietta.

Kathy Shively, left, asks Marietta Fire Chief C.W. Durham how current obstructions for emergency vehicles on Marietta College’s campus are being addressed during the second public meeting Wednesday on the city option to vacate Butler Street. (Photo by Janelle Patterson)

Ruud explained the yes or no vote is crucial to devising architectural plans to build a new student union and demolish the current Gilman Student Center.

“But we are building a new center regardless, we have the donor commitments,” Ruud explained, but noted the preference to close Butler is due to a perception of safety for parents sending their children to the college and for the pedestrian community passing through campus. “Now this is an eight- to 10-year project to do all of the planned improvements but we would like to know by April which to include in the parameters we give when we hire the next architectural firm to design the building so they can best determine where it should be placed.”

Ruud also asked in both meetings that the public remain engaged not only in the discussions about Butler but in planned public forums between January and March to identify community needs of the college’s incoming student center.

Community voices

At both the early afternoon meeting and evening meeting questions were asked of the traffic counts, and what concerns are to be addressed by the end of the initial study due next week.

The November traffic counts showed at peak times on Butler between Seventh and Fourth streets an average of one car every15 seconds, taking into account morning, mid-day, afternoon and special event traffic measured.

The average daily totals in the study area included:

¯ Putnam Street between Fifth and Sixth streets: 4,581 vehicles passing through.

¯ Seventh Street between Butler and Putnam streets: 10,109.

¯ Fourth Street between Butler and Putnam streets: 4,349.

¯ Butler Street between Fourth and Seventh streets: 2,664.

¯ Third Street between Butler and Putnam: 7,384.

Former Councilwoman Kathy Shively asked what the length of Butler Street and the area of current city right of way is in the college block.

Marietta Main Street President Sarah Arnold asked for a delay in the timeline to give the public more time to process the study once it is complete.

Ed Williams, representing TEC Engineering, the firm completing the study, explained that Wednesday’s concerns voiced by citizens will be used alongside both the paper and online surveys to categorize areas of concern surrounding Butler Street.

Current concern categories identified Wednesday include:

¯ Emergency access to campus and as a pass-through to other areas of the city.

¯ Pedestrian safety: additional measures and current risks.

¯ The economic impact on downtown to vacate versus on college if not given Butler.

¯ Flooding impacts of proposed improvements.

“Ultimately if the result of the study is this creates terrible adverse effects, I won’t recommend vacating, but if it identifies adverse effects that can be mitigated then we also get what those cost analyses to mitigate would be,” explained City Engineer Joe Tucker.

Williams said to complete the traffic study, citizen comments would be paired with the data collected of current traffic flows and historic change in traffic patterns.

That information will then be used to not only model what could happen if the vacation were to occur, but also address needed fixes to surrounding streets both if the block were kept open to thru-traffic and if it were closed.

Chief Rodney Hupp, of Marietta’s Police Department, said he is against the closure because the block is used by his personnel to respond to suicide attempts, active shooters, and other emergencies. He also voiced concern that a rerouting of traffic from Butler would negatively impact the intersection at Putnam and Seventh, below Marietta Middle School.

Meanwhile, Chuck Sulerzyski, president of Peoples Bank in Marietta, and others implored citizens to consider how the benefit to Marietta College could benefit the rest of the town.

But the anticipated yay or nay majority council decision currently scheduled for a legislative vote by April as planned by Downer will not address options within that legislation to require timeframes, traffic impact mitigation, or other parameters to protect the city and college from no improvements coming to fruition with the authorization of a vacation.

“I see it as two issues,” replied Downer when asked why those protections would not be included in legislation to vacate or not. “And I don’t care when we vote. It will happen when it happens.”

Both Tucker and Ruud said the issues are not separate and may be written into legislation as it is crafted. Port Authority Executive Director Andy Kuhn asked that pedestrian traffic impact also be addressed in the study or before a decision to vacate is made.