COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) – The owner of a “boutique” fertilizer manufacturing company fielded questions from an impassioned audience Tuesday about his plan to relocate to the South Side.

John C. Jordan was put on the hot seat – or in his words, “roasted” – during a community meeting at the Resurrection Baptist Church by South Side residents who fear his proposal to move his small-scale fertilizer business to a 7,000-square-foot industrial warehouse in the Reeb-Hosack area could wreak havoc on the neighborhood.

“The goal is not to discredit his business,” said Donna Bates, secretary of the Reeb-Hosack/Steelton Village Civic Association. “The goal is trying to share with him, ‘We don’t think a fertilizer plant belongs within the City of Columbus boundaries, period.’”

About 40 people poured into the church’s basement to listen to Jordan explain the ins and outs of his fertilizer company Winchester Gardens, which he has operated out of two buildings in Canal Winchester – including one adjacent to residential homes and a Crimson Cup coffee shop – for the last five years.

For the past few years, however, Jordan said he’s been on the hunt for a location that’s better suited for his company. The site at 5 Merritt St. is nearly double the size of his Canal Winchester space and has more loading docks and a stronger industrial power system.

“The building is perfect for what I do,” Jordan said.

Erik Bobbitt, 35, (left) questions John C. Jordan (right) about his plans to relocate his fertilizer company to the South Side of Columbus during a community meeting at Resurrection Baptist Church on May 9, 2023. (NBC4 Photo/Maeve Walsh)

Several South Siders, including Erik Bobbitt, 35, whose Hungarian Village home sits blocks away from the Merritt Street site, questioned Jordan about the safety of his company’s operations, product ingredients and the environmental impacts associated with manufacturing fertilizer.

One woman even brought a bucket of foul-smelling chicken litter – an ingredient included in some of Winchester Gardens’ fertilizer – in protest of Jordan’s potential move.

“Months ago, we saw a train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio,” Bobbitt said. “It caught on fire and contaminated the whole city. Last year, there was a fertilizer plant fire in Winston-Salem. My concern is not the everyday, day-to-day operation.”

But Jordan said his business is safe. Residents’ only concern, he jokingly added, should be that he “might force people to go outside and garden.”

At Winchester Gardens, Jordan said he and four other employees specialize in processing and packaging organic and nonorganic fertilizers, including spikes for trees and water tablets for aquatic plants.

No raw or unprocessed manure is used to make the company’s fertilizers, nor do its products contain nitrate, explosive material, herbicide, or insecticide, Jordan’s attorney Beth Miller said. Some products contain dried chicken litter and bone material that is processed and heat-treated in Oregon.

A selection of Winchester Gardens’ fertilizer products was displayed for residents at a May 9, 2023 community meeting about the company’s plan to relocate to the South Side. (NBC4 Photo/Maeve Walsh)

“When people hear fertilizer, they think of large sacks of raw manure sitting around, big vats of chemicals,” Miller said. “That’s what I envisioned, and that is not the case in this situation.”

Jordan reassured audience members – many of whom have a “false interpretation” of his business, he argued – that the ingredients included in his company’s fertilizers are food-grade, meaning they’re non-toxic and safe for human consumption.

“If you buy a Gatorade and you look at the ingredients, you’re gonna see potassium chloride,” he said. “You go to the bread aisle and you go pick up the ingredients in your bread, there’s ammonium sulfate in it. They’re all basic salts; they’re stuff that you see in the pharmacies.”

Regardless, Bates said the South Side is not the place for a fertilizer plant. The Merritt Street building where Jordan wants to move, she said, is in disrepair and tough to access, which could present a problem for medical services, police officers and firefighters in the case of an emergency.

Plus, the City of Columbus has allocated considerable dollars to help improve the Reeb-Hosack/Steelton Village neighborhood, and a fertilizer business isn’t the type of company to complement the economically depressed area, Bates said.

“We may not look like Upper Arlington, Worthington or Dublin,” Bates said, “but we collectively try to protect each other.”

Jordan, who has requested a special permit and zoning variance from the city’s Department of Building and Zoning Services to allow him to move, candidly accepted the criticism at the conclusion of Tuesday’s meeting. 

“I was willing to take the roast. I got nothing to hide,” he said. “But you know, if people don’t want you, people don’t want you.”

Bates said the Reeb-Hosack/Steelton Village Civic Association plans to oppose Jordan’s proposal. The city’s South Side Area Commission is expected to make a recommendation to the Board of Zoning Adjustment as early as May 30, and from there, the board determines whether Jordan’s request for a special permit and other variances is approved or denied.