MORPC has once again put up a site to allow the public to comment on hundreds of potential road and transit projects, as well as pedestrian and biking infrastructure. You can click on any segment or choose from project types to add your views on each proposal. Additionally, you are able to add your own project suggestions as well. Take a look.
Many updates this week!
-Finished restoring the February weather page, found here: February Weather
-Added about a dozen new before and after photos for historic buildings on the Franklinton historic building database page.
-Also added another dozen or so photos to the Downtown historic building database page. The focus of both Downtown and Franklinton has been along Broad Street.
-Reconstructed large sections of the Census Tract Maps page that detail population, demographics and other data for Census tracts within Franklin County.
-Restored some data for the Annual Weather Records page.
-Added a Contact Page for any inquiries about the city or specific information.
-A few other odds and ends updates.
Columbus Fantasy Transit Map 2019 Transit Map
The transit map for the Columbus Metro Area is just one example of many existing fantasy maps for Central Ohio. This one includes routes for light rail, BRT (Bus Rapid Transit) and interurban rail to neighboring counties.
The Redevelopment of Westland Mall Mall Site
Westland Mall and the larger surrounding area is in desperate need of a revamp. Recently, a proposal to make the site into a “Weston” development in the potential style of Easton has emerged. I made this map several years ago as a basic blueprint for how the entire area could be rebuilt into a much more urban, walkable, vibrant corridor.
Columbus Area Bike Lanes, Multi-use Paths and Sidewalk Infrastructure Bike Infrastructure
This map attempts to include all the existing bike and multi-use infrastructure in the area, along with general pedestrian infrastructure. The map will is not fully updated yet through 2019.
Downtown Columbus Parking Infrastructure Parking Lots and Garages
This map, last updated in 2015, documents all existing parking garages and surfaces lots throughout Downtown.
Updates this past week:
-The Completed Development page has received most of the attention. Most projects finished since 2010 have been restored, and I am now working on adding projects for years going all the way back to the 19th Century.
-All other development pages saw some limited updates.
-The Transportation History continued to expand.
-I have been putting together some data for several updates to the demographics pages, particularly related to immigration and crime data.
-A restoration of the Census Tract and Zip Code page is in the works, though not this coming week.
-Monthly weather stats for another month should arrive this week.
-At least one new non-update post is coming this week.
-There will be a focus this week in particular to restore the Proposed Development and Under Construction development pages.
Last week’s big news was one that has me very excited. The Columbus Metropolitan Library announced that it had reached an agreement with The Columbus Dispatch and its parent company to purchase the rights to its entire newspaper collection, which it will make available in digital form on its website as early as November. The Columbus Dispatch has been publishing since 1871, but the library has had Dispatch content from 1985-present only, and only in text format for a limited number of articles. The agreement will allow the library to offer every issue of the paper online since 1871 in its entirety, including its enormous photograph collection.
This is an massive win and game-changer for researchers and history buffs alike. This information has largely been difficult to access. Microfilm at the library was impossible to search through unless you knew the exact date of an article. The digital collection will allow for easy searching for any content with just a simple search box, as it has with its other digital collections.
The other news this week was the ongoing saga with the North Market Tower project. A few weeks back, I posted renderings that were released, perhaps be accident, on an architect’s website. Well, this week we saw yet another rendering, seen below:
All I can say is… I hope to god this isn’t the final design. Not only is it shorter (and the planners promised that the project would absolutely NOT be reduced in height regardless of the final design), but it has none of the interesting architecture of any previous renderings. It’s just another box on top of another box. I call this style Modern Vanilla. It’s so painfully boring and architecturally sterile that to see this being built would remove all the excitement from this project. The height reduction would be pure Columbus.
This series will be a quick rundown of the past week in Columbus, so they will be posted on Sundays.
First, in terms of development, we had a few updates.
-The Market Tower project at the North Market has apparently gotten a new design.
It’s gone from this-
The new design may actually be at least 40 stories instead of the originally-proposed 35. No official announcements on the height increase have been released, but I suspect we’ll be hearing something soon on this.
-The Gravity 2.0 project in Franklinton got its initial approvals from the neighborhood development commission, including approval on the 12-story tower, which has also gotten an updated rendering, seen below.
Instead of focusing on a single project this month, I wanted to do a rundown of a few projects- this time both good and bad.
First, the bad.
High and Cherry Street Project
In what’s becoming a tradition for Downtown, yet another project there has been inexplicably downsized. Originally approved back in 2016, the project required the demolition of a historic building.
This was generally considered okay because the proposed 11-story project was a significant improvement in density that would’ve added more vibrancy to this part of Downtown.
Two years later and, beyond the demolition, there had been no movement on the site, which was itself a little concerning because that typically means that something’s gone wrong or there are about to be big changes for the project. So it was no surprise when, toward the end of July, we received the bad news. Not only was the project going to be reduced in size by a full 4 stories, but all aspects of the project were getting worse. Parking spaces doubled, bike parking spaces were reduced by 70% to just 18, the ground floor retail was completely eliminated and overall residential units fell by 50 to just 70 total. Worse still, even the design of the building became just another bland box.
So what happened? Crawford-Hoying, the developer, made some reference to rising material costs that made its plan to include affordable, micro-unit apartments too expensive, hence the reduction in project size. However, this excuse seems suspicious at best. If higher material costs were a detriment to building the affordable component, why not simply lower the number of micro units or change to a market-rate project altogether? Furthermore, what would that have to do with eliminating the retail space or increasing parking? It wouldn’t. In fact, building parking is actually very expensive, and it’s why many cities nationally are reducing or eliminating parking requirements for new projects, as it is often prohibitively expensive to build and can derail quality urban proposals. If finances were tight, the last thing a developer would do with a new project is add MORE parking rather than trying to maximize potential income with residential units or retail space. Meanwhile, in the month since the project reduction was announced, we have seen other new projects announced or previously-announced projects move forward that have seen no reduction. The company also didn’t make any changes to its 10-story Moxy Hotel project at 800 N. High street, which is currently under construction. Overall, this just feels like a bait and switch. The 11-story proposal was approved, which allowed for the demolition, and now it’s coming in smaller and of a lower quality.
Regardless of the real reasons why this project was suburbanized and reduced, it continues the long-standing pattern of Downtown projects being underwhelming. Downtown should be receiving the the statement makers, so to speak. Instead, we continue to see other neighborhoods get them.
Speaking of, let’s look at the good with a couple of proposals that have matched, if not exceeded, their potential.
Upper Arlington’s Arlington Gateway
Proposed back in 2016 as a 7-story mixed-use building, the project has gone through many revisions. Over the course of the last 2 years, the project has only grown in size to its final iteration, an 11-story with more than 200 apartments, office space and retail. The $100 million project is the largest ever proposed for Upper Arlington, which has long been a more traditional suburban-style inner suburb. It has resisted the urban densification movement until recently. Being landlocked, the only way that it can increase population and maintain tax levels is to build up. Its city leadership seems to understand this, and though there was neighborhood opposition to the project, the city approved it almost unanimously.
The project will replace suburban development, including a strip center and Pizza Hut, as seen below.
Quality urbanism, increased walkability… this is a solid addition to Upper Arlington.
Franklinton’s Gravity 2.0
Franklinton is seeing a revival these days, particularly east of 315. Multiple projects have been proposed, and the upcoming Scioto Peninsula redevelopment is on the horizon. Kaufman Development, highlighted in last month’s Missed Opportunity for having to abandon a project in Victorian Village due to NIMBYism, has been on somewhat of a roll lately. It spearheaded a significant renovation of the famed LeVeque Tower, it built both of Downtown’s largest recent projects- 250 High and 80 on the Commons (the latter of which was, of course, downsized)- and it’s heavily investing in the future of Franklinton with a stunning, out-of-the-box development named Gravity.
Gravity 1.0 was proposed back in 2016 as a 6-story, mixed-use development at 500 W. Broad Street
Replacing a few single-story, non-historic buildings and some parking lots (as seen above), the project was designed to drastically change the existing streetscape. It began construction in late 2016 and is nearing completion now. Few anticipated a second phase of the project, however, dubbed Gravity 2.0
Announced last week, Gravity 2.0 would be much more massive in scale than 1.0. Proposed for the entire block directly across the street between W. Broad and W. State, the project would include the following:
– A 12-story mixed-use building at the northeast corner of the site, directly to the west of the railroad tracks. This would contain 258 apartments.
– A 6-story residential building on the State Street with 94 units.
– A 5-story parking garage.
– A 6-story mixed-use addition to the existing Murphy building, which will be renovated.
– A 5-story townhouse building along McDowell Street with 18 units.
– A renovation to the existing Solazzo Building at the southwest corner.
Like Gravity 1.0, the project will include different types of amenities than would be typically found. These include a green roof on the parking garage with a “city view overlook”, as well as an art walk through the lower floor of the garage. Along Broad Street, a retail plaza will be constructed out of shipping containers. Co-living will be included in the southern residential building. A food hall, brewery and restaurants are also potentially in the works. Overall, the architecture will match the funky modernism of Gravity 1.0.
This project is poised to become a serious game-changer for Franklinton. While there was already ongoing redevelopment in this area, a mid-rise development like this pushes the envelope and raises the prospects of future development coming in bigger, and the pace of the redevelopment will likely accelerate. This also increases the likelihood that the Scioto Peninsula to the east will see larger scale development, as well. Originally, the city wanted a couple 30+ story buildings there, with a mix of other mid-rise buildings. That plan was abandoned when an Indianapolis developer was chosen for the site and proposed mostly low-rise. That developer was let go from the project a few months ago, and the Peninsula will now be developed piece by piece. With large development occurring in Franklinton itself, the high-rises may be about to make a return, making the entire eastern section of Franklinton an extension of Downtown.
So there are a few great projects that are definitely NOT missed opportunities. Take note, Downtown developers- a lot of you are getting embarrassed.
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.
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.
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.
Columbus, as recent estimates show, is clearly becoming a real player on the national stage in terms of its rapid growth and increasing name recognition. There’s a lot to be proud of for a city located in what many people think is just the Rust Belt. But as with every city, Columbus doesn’t get it all right all the time. A while back, I wrote how Columbus could sometimes be a city of missed opportunities when it came to development, and that remains true. For every great project in the Short North, there’s an equally terrible development going up somewhere else. In what I want to be a semi-regular series, I’m going to highlight some projects that simply miss the boat in terms of good urban development. Some are merely not reaching their potential, and then some, like today’s example, is an out of left field example that seems to be trying so hard, only to fail equally so.
That project is the redevelopment of the University City strip mall off of Olentangy River Road.
As you can see from the aerial, the site is your typical strip mall. Built in 1961 when such developments were seen as community shopping destinations rather than the dying suburban sprawl they have become, University City is completely nondescript and looks no different than hundreds of others dotting the landscape. Anchored by a Kroger, the strip mall held other stereotypical establishments- a salon, bars, a Chinese restaurant, etc. A handful of out lots contain a McDonald’s, gas station and a bank.
Most of the site, of course, is taken up by enormous amounts of surface parking, most of which sits empty more often than not.
Olentangy River Road is not exactly an urban street. Most of it is lined with hotels, restaurants and offices, all set well back from the road and in a generally unfavorable configuration to encourage walkability. So when it was announced in June of last year that the strip mall would be redeveloped, hope for something substantially different seemed possible. The initial renderings showed a 6-story mixed-use building on the site instead of the strip mall.
MUCH better, right? Of course, saying it’s much better is a low bar compared to the current situation, but a 6-story, mixed-use project is truly urban, and one of the first of its kind on Olentangy River Road. So why, one might ask, is this a missed opportunity?
To answer that, we have to look at the proposed layout of the entire site.
Comparing the proposed layout to the current one is a little confusing, because they look extremely similar. It seems that the 6-story project will only replace the current strip center, but most of the parking and all of the out lots will remain intact. It’s a Frankenstein’s monster of suburban and urban elements that just looks really weird. There is no interaction with any of the nearby roads, and not even a resident pathway from the main building to the multi-use path that was built a few years ago along Olentangy. It’s all still catering to cars.
In the most recent rendering of the main building, seen below, there appears to be only 1 patio space for what is clearly a very large project. The view for customers from there, of course, is still just the parking lot, with its noise, pollution and lack of any shade. In fact that’s basically the view out of every window in the building- parking lots.
I suppose that some surface lots and outbuildings could eventually be redeveloped at some point, but as it stands now, there’s a lot to be desired. The main building is decent, but the overall layout and connections are terrible and it makes the whole project just look like a much larger version of the strip mall that’s already there. Maybe that’s a harsh assessment, but I don’t think it’s an unfair one. Casto, the developer, basically invented the strip mall, so they’re clearly playing to their strengths here. They’ve done some really good projects at times, like the renovation of the Julian building on South Front Street in Downtown, and I applaud the effort to go more urban in this location, but I think so much could’ve been done better in this case. No doubt that this development will have no trouble finding tenants to rent the apartments, just due to the lack of housing anywhere in the core, but I question just what this development offers that better ones don’t.
In the end, it is a good example of how Columbus needs more true urban developers that are comfortable and willing to push the envelope on this style of development. Trying to have it both ways, where suburbia reigns in an urban location, gets us nowhere.
The Big Darby Creek watershed is one of the best natural areas of Franklin County. Designated a national and state scenic river, Big Darby Creek is one of Ohio’s most pristine waterways, and is home to several endangered species. Battelle Darby Creek Metro Park has grown to become the crown jewel of the Metro Parks system, encompassing more than 7,000 acres of forests, waterways and prairie.
The river’s history, however, has not always been so tranquil.
All the way back in 1943, Ohio State University zoologist Milton Trautman discovered a tiny catfish in Big Darby, the Scioto Madtom. The fish only exists in the Big Darby, and was an early clue as to the biological diversity that can be found there, now known to be home to more than 100 species of fish and more than 40 species of mussels.
By 1950, a small park of 34 acres had formed, the beginning of what would become the Battelle Darby. Development pressures, however, were already threatening the system. I-70 cut through the middle of the system in the early 1960s, and the construction of I-270 allowed for the suburban explosion. Without significant intervention, the watershed would’ve been inevitably developed. Ironically, a plan to largely destroy the Big Darby ultimately helped saved it.
While most major rivers and streams in the state had been dammed or altered for flood control by the 1960s, Big Darby remained free-flowing. Two separate proposed projects would’ve changed that irrevocably. The first was a proposal by the Army Corps of Engineers to build what would’ve been called the Lower Darby Dam, in west-central Franklin County, near the heart of the current Battelle Darby park. The high dam proposal would’ve flooded at least 3,000 acres of land, and the Corps began to buy the land in preparation for the project. This was in the late 1960s, coinciding with the beginning of the development boom in western suburbs like Hilliard. Instead of prime real estate along the river being developed with single-family housing and strip malls, the dam plan had the opposite effect by making the land essentially unmarketable and off limits to developers. A coinciding proposal by the City of Columbus to build another dam, the Upper Darby Dam, had the same effect on areas at that proposed site in Brown Township further to the north. The 2-dam proposal had effectively removed the majority of Franklin County’s Big Darby Creek off the market.
As development pressure was removed, environmental groups rose up to stop the Lower Darby Dam project itself. This fight was waged until 1973, when the plan was finally abandoned by the Army Corps of Engineers. They still owned the land, however, and with uncertainty of the dam project resurfacing someday, development interests continued to stay away. Three years later, in 1976, Columbus Metro Parks received a $1 million grant from the Battelle Memorial Foundation, which was then matched with an additional $1 million grant from the U.S. Department of the Interior Land and Water Conservation Fund. Suddenly flush with cash, Metro Parks began a land-buying spree along the Big Darby, particularly targeting the land that the Corps had set aside for the reservoir, pushing the size of the park from roughly 400 acres in 1976 to about 3,000 acres by 1984.
That year, on June 22, 1984, 82 miles of the Big and Little Darby creeks were designated as state scenic rivers. The designation more or less ended any remaining plans for the Upper Darby Dam. It had been shelved since 1979 when the Department of Natural Resources and environmental groups managed to stop that dam project as well. Just 4 years after the scenic river designation, during the extremely dry, hot summer of 1988, the idea of the dam was revived. Former Columbus Service Director Walter “Hap” Cremean, whose name today is on some city facilities, considered the Big Darby key to Columbus’ future water needs. The city was searching for a source of water that could provide the city with an additional 30 million gallons of water a day by 2000, not a small task. Cremean himself had been the city’s service director at the time that Columbus was pushing for the dam project in the 1960s.
On July 12, 1988, Cremean was quoted saying, “In 1968, we instituted the acquisition of property along Big Darby. We were spending $1 million a year for what we considered the next major reservoir site for Franklin County,” Cremean said. “In my opinion, it is impossible to talk about full development of the West Side without (Big Darby).”
The search for new sources of water for Columbus continued into the early 1990s, but by 1990, the Big Darby reservoir option was losing favor due to its long history of opposition. The city had drafted a study called Water Beyond 2000, which was finished on September 26, 1991. At least 20 options for expanding water sources had been on the table, including the Big Darby reservoir, but the study had narrowed down the choices to just 7. Among the choices eliminated from consideration was the Big Darby plan, an option that the study concluded was going to be one of the most expensive, at $280 million. For all intents and purposes, the idea of a Big Darby reservoir was finally dead… or sort of. While a reservoir directly on the Darby was off the table, a reservoir in the watershed using the Darby’s water was still very much on.
Through the rest of 1991 and into the first half of 1992, residents waited for the list of 7 options to be narrowed down further. On July 6, 1992, that final list came out. The Big Darby option was eliminated completely. No reservoir would be built anywhere near it. In the end, the Columbus Upground Reservoir was built just to the southeast of Richwood, along with new wells drilled along the Pickaway-Franklin County line. Combined, they provided more than enough water to serve the city long into the future.
The following year, in 1993, the Big and Little Darby were given National Scenic River status, the highest designation a US river can receive. Battelle Darby Creek Metro Park has continued to expand beyond 7,000 acres and will continue to grow even larger in the future, with the ultimate goal of having the entire 75 miles of Big Darby as part of a continuous park. Development pressures remain in the area, and in recent years, there have been the occasional fish and mussel die-offs, suggesting that the Big Darby is still under threat. What we do with this beautiful natural resource is up to us. Though dams are no longer in the picture, other dangers lurk.
In the early 1990s during the height of the water search, the Big Darby was not the only waterway under threat. A similar dam project was under proposal for the Scioto River in Delaware County. My family was moving at the time and we looked at a house near the small town of Prospect, not far from where the proposed dam would’ve gone. On the trip there, a series of roadside signs caught our attention, and I still remember the rhyme:
A flooded valley,
We don’t deserve,
The rhyme was referring strictly to water conservation, but it seems to me that saving water- and indeed all natural resources- does not just mean using less. The Big Darby, along with all our waterways and natural areas, deserve our lasting protection. Had better heads not prevailed, Battelle Darby would’ve been under 50 feet of water today, and Columbus- and Ohio- would be without one of its best natural areas.