A proposal requesting the Rolla City Council to pass a resolution that would rename the west end of 12th Street between Duane Ave. and 14th Street to the new name of Fitch Street was a source of contention at the Rolla City Council meeting.

The Development Review Committee held a meeting before the Dec. 3 city council meeting where Rolla’s Fire Chief, Ron Smith, stated he had concerns about changing the name of the west end of 12th Street to Fitch Street.

Smith said the City of Rolla Fire and Rescue’s issue with the name change was due to  reasons that included the area rapidly changing, Phelps County Regional Medical Center (PCRMC) not having their final development plans completed, and the risk of multiple changes to the street name in the future.

On the other hand, one of the property owners, whose address would be affected by the proposed name change of the street, filed a letter of support with Rolla’s Community Development Department, said Rolla’s City Planner, James Shields.

The street subject to the resolution is located in west Rolla immediately south of the intersection of 12th Street and 14th Street.  In Feb. 2018 the west end of 12th Street that is situated between 14th Street was vacated for the construction of PCRMC’s parking lot.

Three separate property owners own property along the 315 foot stretch of road proposed to be renamed Fitch Street. And the only property address affected by the proposed street name change is owned by Mark and Stephanie Fitch, who are also the applicants of the proposed name change, said Shields.

The change of the street name was proposed because the isolated section of the west end of 12th Street doesn’t run west to east like the rest of the numbered streets in the area do.

Rolla uses a gridiron street system that assigns numbers to streets that run west to east. From a planning perspective, one of the advantages of a gridiron street plan is spatial problem solving (wayfinding) in which people know how to navigate to a desired location, according to Shields.

Someone who is walking to the end of 14th Street and turning left onto 12th Street would find it confusing why two numbered streets are intersecting, but will also shortly find themselves in a parking lot, not headed in a direction going east towards downtown, which is what the section of 12th Street in the neighborhood should do, according to Shields.

Thirteenth Street would continue to end at Powell Street even when the most northern driveway of the PCRMC parking lot is built; on account of this, the section of street subject to be renamed would remain isolated, said Shields.

The current isolated portion of 12th Street is also acutely angled and connects the newly extended 13th Street and 14th Street, so the isolated portion doesn’t follow the typical grid pattern. For this reason streets that are isolated should have their own name to promote wayfinding, and the portion of 12th Street should have a non-numbered name in uniform to the diagonal streets nearby, according to Shields.

“Technically I would say this part of 12th Street should never have been named 12th Street. It should have ended at Powell Street because it ruins the benefit of wayfinding,” said Shields.  “Another option is to name it 14th Street, but at the three-way stop you would have two streets named 14th Street, so that would be a little weird.”

Rolla’s Fire Chief, Smith, addressed the council, and said the City of Rolla Fire and Rescue opposed the name change because changing the name of the street could cause confusion for first responders, since the fire department addresses a call for help and assistance through a software system that facilitates all public safety responders in the area.

Smith said,“But that’s not the major way in which we would respond. All of our people memorize historical areas, and how streets flow, so we are accustomed to certain ways the streets are flowing already.

“We really question if we have reached the threshold of danger for the fire department, emergency medical services or law enforcement to not know where 12th Street is between the new 13th Street and 14th Street.”

Currently, PCRMC is in transition, and in 2018 the vacated section of 12th Street became property of PCRMC to allow for the construction of the medical center’s parking lot. And PCRMC will continue development over time, noted Smith.  

With this in mind, Smith said the department’s fear was not necessarily the city would change the name of the street once, but the name of the street would change multiple times paralleling the quickly changing development in the area.

“As I said PCRMC hasn’t finalized these plans. The development plan you see on the screen has changed, and this plan is no longer accurate. This is a plan from just a couple weeks ago from the hospital,” said Smith referring to the subject street and parking plan documents at the city council meeting.

The development plans continue to have some dynamic changes, added Smith. And Smith suggested that the city wait until PCRMC had their final development plans complete.

“So I am asking you to take a pause, and take a time out and see what happens and transitions over that period. If you must act, if you must say, ‘well we’ve decided we are going to move this forward,’ it would make sense to us to change it to 14th Street,” said Smith.

Fourteenth Street flows into one corner, and there are other streets like this in Rolla that make a 90 degree turn, such as Bittersweet Lane and Dover Drive in Rolla, so the example is already there that the street name could be maintained as 12th Street, said Smith.

And if the city had to change the street name, 14th Street would work for the department because of Rolla’s emergency services system.

“It would make sense to us; if you had to change it you could change it to 14th Street pretty easily. It’s in the 911 system, it’s recognized by our 911 system, it’s recognized currently today as being a street with the two cross streets that are 14th Street and 13th Street,” said Smith.

And even though 13th Street is a private drive, 13th Street goes all the way to I-44, so it’s easy for emergency personnel to locate, noted Smith.

Smith concluded that in the event a name change is approved without delay, the City of Rolla Fire and Rescue’s request would be for the street to be renamed 14th Street, as it would be the most logical street name and address for the house located on the subject street. And it would further not cause confusion to all public safety responders.

After Smith detailed the Rolla fire department’s opinion, the applicant for the street name change, Mark Fitch, addressed the Rolla City Council on why the name of the street should be changed.

 “The name of the little section of the street where my address is now doesn’t make a lot of sense, and maybe it never did. And, yes, I would be concerned about 911 not finding us, but FedEx already can’t find us,” said Fitch. “Someone using common sense can’t find us because where is that address on 12th Street?”

When someone drives down 12th Street they are going to hit construction barriers and construction of PCRMC’s parking lot, said Fitch, who added to a degree this is causing him and his family harm because people can’t find their house.

“The chief mentioned that the development plan that you see is changing. The plan here is not changing, but rather PCRMC does own chunks of 14th Street and has shown a couple of ideas of what they might want to do with that,” said Fitch referring to the subject street and parking plan documents at the city council meeting.

Fitch added that he has no plans to sell the house, so he didn’t know when any other name changes would happen besides his initial proposed name change, nor did he understand why PCRMC would want to change the street name.

“So it would be helpful to us if it had a name so people could find us. The issue I have with 14th Street is that if you are looking for 1016 West 14th Street, you would hit 1015, 1017 and look to the right and see the I-44 exit,” said Fitch. "So it’s not on the other street from that address; so if that change happened we would need another very different address, at least.”

After the Rolla City Council heard from both sides and considered both viewpoints, the resolution passed deeming it necessary to rename the west end of 12th Street that is situated between 14th Street and the vacated section of 12th Street to Fitch Street.

Six city council members were for the resolution, while five city council members were against the resolution.

As a result of the resolution passing, the process under Section 77.220 of the Revised Statutes of Missouri require the Rolla City Council to post a public notice for the duration of one week, and within four weeks after the publication of the notice a majority of the resident property owners along the line of the subject street do not file with the City Clerk their written protest against the proposed change of name, the city council will rename the street by ordinance.

The Rolla City Council will come back in two months, which gives people the chance to appeal the street name change, and then the Rolla City Council will proceed with a first reading  followed by  a second reading of an ordinance to rename the west end of 12th Street to Fitch Street, according to  Rolla's City Administrator, John Butz.