The Near East Side Area Commission met on February 6, 2014 in part to approve zoning variances for a new 40-unit apartment development planned for 122 South Parsons Avenue. The meeting was punctuated by repeated interruptions by the Commission Chair, Kathleen Bailey, and the Zoning Committee Chair, Anne Ross-Womack, during the time allotted for citizens’ comments on the proposal. Ambiguities between the zoning variance application and corresponding Franklin County property tax records left unanswered questions as to who stands to gain from the proposed development and who actually owns the land.
During citizens’ comments, all the citizens who spoke were opposed to the proposal. The proposal was brought to the Commission by Michael Woods, who owns Woods Development Company, to build the housing units in several split unit town homes on the property. The rent on the units has a reported price point between $1200 and $2000 for each two bedroom unit – a rate higher than other rents in the area. Commissioner Ross-Womack stated that the mostly blue-collar neighborhood needs more “professionals’ disposable incomes” seeking to live closer to their jobs at Nationwide Children’s Hospital.
Area residents opposed to the project raised objections to the design of the buildings which are a full story taller than are recommended in the area and not in the architectural style of the historic neighborhood. Area business owners also expressed dismay with the lack of street-level retail space, which they claimed would support continued revitalization of the Parsons Avenue corridor. Residents who spoke against the proposal were asked by two Commission members, who were outspokenly in favor of the project, if they had disposable income.
While representing the development consortium, Michael Woods sat stonefaced and answered all questions curtly. News reports posted to the website columbusunderground.com listed Brexton Construction and Arch City Development as the other partners. An Arch City representative held up drawings of the project and did not speak, while Brexton did not send an identifiable representative. The variance application, which is a sworn affidavit signed by Woods, lists Dunder Mifflin Ltd, Woods 122OTE LLC, and ACD 122 Parsons LLC as entities having a more than five percent interest in the project. ACD 122 Parsons and Arch City Development are both owned by Brian Higgins.
Brexton Construction and Dunder Mifflin have the same owner, Timothy Galvin. Galvin is also listed as a co-owner of the property on the zoning application along with Richard Frost Jr. County Tax records only list Richard Frost. Calls placed to the phone number listed by Woods for Galvin on the application indicated he is currently traveling and will not be answering voicemails. A call placed to Richard Frost yielded some information from his son and sales representative Michael Frost. The younger Frost indicated that his father is contracting to sell the land but currently holds clear title. Woods indicated that he was leasing with an option to buy.
When asked after the meeting if he left his architect job at Moody-Nolan to do this project, Woods replied that he “left to start his own company.” Woods left Moody-Nolan no earlier than 2011. Moody-Nolan has a lucrative contract on the demolition of Poindexter Village and gives a great deal of money to the Mayor’s campaign fund. Michael Frost indicated that his father had been in negotiation about the property for “a while, about three years.” In 2013, Moody-Nolan was selected to design the replacement for the Parsons Avenue branch of the Columbus Metropolitan Library.
When asked who would manage the property, Woods indicated that the development group was in talks with several property management companies. One such company, Equity Partners, is owned by Timothy Galvin along with Steve Wathen. Wathen and Galvin together sold the city of Columbus a downtown building for $0 in 2003 that is now listed as being owned by the library. The building is the listed address of another company owned by Galvin and Wathen. The Free Press could not gain entrance to the building during a visit during business hours and the address could not be verified.
Area residents and business owners stated privately that they are perplexed by the proposed development and angered by the treatment at the Commission meeting. The Commission was deeply divided on the proposal, which passed after Chairwoman Bailey cast a tiebreaker vote following a 5-5-2 split. Some residents vowed to continue to fight the proposal, which they see as a step to pushing them out of the neighborhood.