22 October 2014

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On the afternoon of Saturday March 22, residents of the Olde Towne East neighborhood held a rally against a luxury apartment complex proposed for the vacant lot at 122 South Parsons Avenue. The rally was advertised as a group photo shoot to demonstrate opposition to the project. The event was monitored by a police helicopter and nearly a dozen officers, including at least one unmarked car.

More than 70 residents filled the lot and lined up along the street to create a group photograph which local business owner Bobby Silver intends to present at the next board of zoninng adjustments meeting on Tuesday, March 25. “Next we are going to the BZA [Board of Zoning Adjustments] meeting and present the photo we made today in the hopes of getting the attention of city officials,” Silver said.

The controversial development is seeking eight variances in Olde Towne East zoning rules including height, green space, parking, maneuverability, and a requirement that a building's appearance to be in line with the historic neighborhood's character.

As previously reported by the Free Press, the development group seeking to push the plan through has submitted applications that obscure the complex web of LLCs involved in the project as well as the developers' connections to Columbus City Hall.

The project was met with strong opposition at a recent Near East Side Area Commission meeting and at last month’s meeting of the Board of Zoning Adjustments (BZA). The board required the developer's representative Michael Woods to get more input from the community and tabled the proposal.

The development group reportedly met in secret with a handful of trustees of the Old Town East Neighborhood Association and made some adjustments to their plan. This facade of community input did not sit well with Silver. “Despite having talked to trustees, it was never brought to a general meeting which was misinforming the general population,” Silver asserted, “I take their not coming to our neighborhood association meeting like them coming into our homes without knocking.”

The Columbus Dispatch reported on this story a day after the Free Press and mentioned arsenic contamination at the site. Arsenic was not mentioned at previous BZA meeting where Woods claimed for the first time that it was a “dirty site.” An email bearing Near East Side Area Commission Chairwoman Kathleen Bailey's email address circulated almost concurrently with, and possibly prior to, the Dispatch article. This email also mentioned arsenic contamination at the site. Emails to Chairwoman Bailey resulted in a telephone statement in which Bailey denied having seen any environmental reports on the property, although she claimed that the developers had completed “Phase One and Phase Two” environmental assessments.

No environmental information was included in any application paperwork yet acquired by the Free Press. Chairwoman Bailey directed environmental questions to the development group, specifically Michael Woods company, Woods Development LLC. Woods Development LLC has not acknowledged or responded to any attempts by the Free Press to ask questions about the environmental state of the site. Woods Development LLC has not in fact responded to any questions submitted by the Free Press via email.

When asked if taking a stand made him fear for his business, Yellow Brick Pizza, Silver replied “It was a difficult decision to use our business as a vehicle for this protest but our pizza is so good it just doesn't matter.” Other area residents have expressed concerns to the Free Press about going on record against the development project, fearing retaliation.

The Columbus Free Press will attend and report on the March 25th BZA meeting and continue to cover this story as it develops.