July’s Missed Opportunity of the Month




July’s entry into the list of dumb ideas isn’t about something bad with the development itself, but rather the unfortunately common plague of NIMBYism that festers in so many urban neighborhoods, and how it can kill good urbanism because some people have delicate sensibilities that need stroking.

A while back, Kaufman Development proposed a 10-story, mixed-use project at 23 W. 2nd Avenue that spanned part of the block between Price and 2nd, most of which was already a vacant grass lot. The project proposed renovating the 91-year-old IBEW building and incorporating it into the overall project, which included a mix of apartments, retail and office space.

Last rendering in July 2018.

Victorian Village, the neighborhood of which the project fell under, was of course completely apoplectic about it. After the first neighborhood commission meeting, at which commission members and neighborhood busybodies expressed deep concerns about the design and size, Kaufman went back to the drawing board. Over time, Kaufman redesigned the project more than 20 times, the height changing from 10 to 9 to 14 and then back to 10 stories, with the number of apartments, uses, scale, etc. being changed over and over again to please the fickle nearby residents. These residents (and let’s not forget commission members, which admittedly, faced a 4-4 tie in the vote because the commission was lacking its 9th member, something the City hopes to rectify in the near future) complained about traffic and that the project would “block the sun”, among other roll-of-the-eyes nonsense. It was the kind of shenanigans that even Clintonville might suggest had gone too far.

So after 7 straight months of trying to please those that cannot be pleased, the actual preferred outcome inevitably occurred:
https://www.bizjournals.com/columbus/news/2018/07/12/kaufman-walks-away-from-contested-mixed-use.html

Instead of continuing to deal with unreasonable people, spending more time and money for something they couldn’t make work, Kaufman decided to walk away from the project altogether. Though they still own the property and may eventually come back to the table with another proposal, it seems unlikely to be anywhere near the scale originally proposed. The NIMBYism aside, this speaks to the disconnect between the real estate conditions in Columbus and the pushback on building new development that would actually help resolve some of the existing problems. Columbus is currently in the midst of a housing crisis. Population estimates show that the city has become one of the nation’s fastest-growing. This growth, combined with a historically-low inventory and record sales, has put a huge strain on the housing market, including pushing prices to ever-higher levels. Simply put, residential construction hasn’t been keeping pace with the influx of population into the city, and this has been the case since at least the 2009 recession. Instead of intentionally limiting developers to go smaller in prime locations- such as in the very-high-demand Short North off of High Street- development commissions across the city should be welcoming more housing.  Instead, projects are being downsized or rejected by local populations left and right. Let’s look at a few reasons why commission members and some residents opposed this particular project.

Traffic!!!!
The argument that traffic would be a problem is silly and misguided for many reasons, but I’ll just review a few of them. First, the project plan provided parking in a garage for its residents and at least some for retail customers/visitors, and the extra cars driving around wouldn’t have been significant enough to make any noticeable difference in an already busy area. Second, Price Avenue was said to be too small and narrow to handle cars going in and out of the garage entrance per the project, but it’s clearly wide enough for 1-way traffic (its 1-way already) and 2 more lanes of curbside parking, so that reason seems equally bunk.  And entrance/exit from the project would not have taken up many existing curb spots, and no configuration changes to the street would’ve been needed except for perhaps a very small end section of Price.

Price Avenue looking toward High, about where the Kaufman project would’ve gone on the left.

Third, traffic and parking shouldn’t be used as a hammer to squash development, but as the catalyst to demand better transit and pedestrian options. Whether those include buses, rail, bikes, better sidewalks, etc. can be debated, but transit is an important part of the picture in urban neighborhoods, whether people like it or not.  Furthermore, this area is already highly served by bus and bike, as well as car-share and Uber. The idea that people even have to drive here, or even to the Short North in general, is simply not true. Given that the Short North is highly walkable, many of the residents that would’ve lived here would’ve been less likely to use their cars for all trips, anyway, thereby further reducing the impact on local roads.

It’s Too Big for the Neighborhood!!!
To this, I say, bullshit. Multiple projects just as big or larger have already been built or are under construction on both sides of High Street, including in Victorian Village, which this site falls under. To say that the Kaufman site is not appropriate is completely arbitrary, even if the site is not on High itself, but set back slightly. To the east is the High commercial corridor and to the west is an alleyway. 4 single-family homes exist to the east of the alleyway, and would’ve been the only ones really directly near the project. The complaint that there would be significant “sun blocking” is ridiculous. It wasn’t a 50-story tower, and the orientation of project meant that any sun loss would have been minimal at worst.

The Historic Character of the Neighborhood is Being Lost!!!
This one comes up with virtually every single development in this particular neighborhood. Victorian Village is indeed a beautiful neighborhood with some of the city’s best-preserved historic housing. But the Kaufman project would’ve had no impact on that, whatsoever. No demolition would’ve taken place, as this particular land lost all of its historic buildings before 1980. It’s just a vacant lot now. More importantly, the proposal would’ve renovated an actual historic building, the IBEW, helping to preserve it for the future. The histrionics on preserving the neighborhood rings hollow when nothing was actually under threat.

In any case, the project is probably dead. Whatever might be proposed in its place will likely do that much less to help address the housing crisis or to keep the neighborhood progressing. It’s a shame that some people can hold entire neighborhoods hostage with outdated thinking, and how a 40-year-long vacant lot- and counting- can be preferable to the fear of change.