COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) – A beloved, longstanding bar and other small businesses near Ohio State University are one step closer to demolition.
A six-story, 95-unit apartment building proposed at North High Street and West Ninth Avenue was unanimously approved by the University Area Commission Wednesday night, as developers returned with promises to work with small business owners facing impending eviction. With the commission’s blessing, developers must face the University Impact District Review Board before they can pitch the project to the city.
Columbus-based company Buckeye Real Estate, which manages hundreds of properties in the off-campus area, has sought city approval since December. It’s faced opposition from Ohio State students and University District residents over the destruction of Bier Stube, 14-0 Express carryout, Portofino’s Pizza and Yau’s Chinese Bistro, four businesses either longstanding in their own right or occupying some of the last historic buildings along the section of the High Street corridor.
Wednesday night’s meeting was the exception, with no one rising from the audience to give public comment for or against the proposal. Many commissioners themselves remained silent, passing on opportunities to ask questions.
Still, concerns raised by community members – in previous meetings and emails to commissioners – reared their heads during the discussion. Commissioner Katie McDevitt questioned whether developers could do more to preserve the physical structure of the Bier Stube.
“There’s not a lot of historical spaces left in central campus,” McDevitt said. “We’ve torn them all down.”
Other commissioners pointed out that the block Buckeye Real Estate seeks to develop is already surrounded by multi-story apartment complexes. As Columbus’ need for housing grows more critical, commissioners noted that development is not a matter of “if,” but “when.”
“This block, let’s be realistic, is going to be developed,” said Commissioner Timothy Sublette. “We have a responsible local developer’s proposal.”
Layout mock-ups for the building show mostly one-bedroom apartments, with a few two-bedroom units and one studio per floor. Dave Perry, who represented Buckeye Real Estate at the meeting, said updated plans include 30 studios, 45 one-bedrooms, and 20 two-bedrooms.
Original plans for the first floor showed room for “amenity space” for residents but no commercial space – something developers have since changed. Developers agreed to reserve 3,000 square feet of the first floor for commercial use when the zoning committee approved the project in early March, although the submitted plan does not reflect those changes.
Also new to the pitch were assurances that Garland – who has led design of the project – has been communicating with the owners of Bier Stube to rent the commercial space in the new building. There’s been “quite a bit of interest,” Perry said.
Commissioners expressed appreciation of the outreach, with some admitting that the building Bier Stube occupies might be on borrowed time, regardless if Buckeye Real Estate’s proposal goes through.
“I think it’s a win-win,” Commissioner Seth Golding said. “I hate to see an old business leave, but it’s like Tim said, kicking the can down the road. The building’s in bad shape.”
Buckeye Real Estate has presented the project to the University Impact District Review Board before, where the plans were harshly criticized for the lack of attempt at historical preservation and assurances of affordability. Justin Garland, vice president of business development at Buckeye Real Estate and University Area commissioner, previously said that the apartments would be geared toward graduate students and young professionals and would hopefully be priced “lower than market value.”
Affordability did not come up at the commission meeting, although Perry reiterated that developers intend to target young professionals and graduate students as opposed to undergraduate students.
Buckeye Real Estate’s proposal is not the only one the commission has reviewed in recent months. Texas-based student apartment developer American Campus Communities has repeatedly pitched an apartment complex on North High Street between West Lane and Norwich avenues. That project, which was most recently voted down by the commission in February, would require the demolition of The Little Bar and University Baptist Church.
Garland did not attend the meeting. Commission President Doreen Uhas Sauer and Commissioner Pasquale Grado recused themselves from the vote and discussion.