COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) – A modest church building atop a small hill, surrounded by fraternity houses and rental units, may soon make way for another high-rise student apartment complex.

A Chicago-based developer has ambitious plans for a plot of land on East 16th Avenue in the University District, including a six-story complex to house upward of 425 students. The proposal would guarantee the demolition of the Summit on 16th United Methodist Church – and perhaps a neighboring duplex built in the early 20th century.

Still in its earliest conceptual stages, the proposal by UP Campus Properties would be the latest student-focused housing development approved near Ohio State University. But during a meeting Thursday, members of the University Impact District Review Board didn’t seem convinced that a six-story complex was the best use of the space.

UP Campus’ preliminary floor plans show four stories of residential housing, ranging from two- to six-bed units, sitting on top of a two-level parking garage. A courtyard surrounded by three walls, including a resident café, opens to East 16th Avenue.  

A first-floor site plan for a proposed student housing complex on East 16th Avenue. (Courtesy Photo/MA Design via University Impact District Review Board)

In his second meeting before the review board, John Eymann, an architect with MA Design, said he and UP Campus worked to address members’ previous concerns about height, parking and preservation of mature trees and green space. What was originally a wider, eight-story proposal has been whittled down to six floors and 60 feet – 25 feet above the maximum height allowed under the existing zoning code. 

Under UP Campus’ plan, a duplex at 102-104 E. 16th Ave. would be demolished alongside the church, allowing the edge of the development to butt against two identical two-story duplexes. The board cautioned it would only accept the demolition of the duplex if the outer edge of the complex were reduced to four stories.

While the board was concerned with the availability of parking, compatibility with existing student housing and the fate of mature sycamore trees on the property, several board members bemoaned the potential loss of elements inside the Summit on 16th United Methodist Church. 

“You’ve got an existing, functionally obsolete building,” Steve Bus, managing partner at UP Campus, said. “It’s got some fantastic interior elements.” 

The church, which adapted what was once an old gymnasium into a place fit for a congregation, is home to an array of historic design features, including intricate stained glass windows and an undulating wood panel ceiling. Eymann and Bus said UP Campus plans to salvage those features and use them in the complex’s new gathering space

Board members were skeptical that the building was functionally obsolete simply because the church is now defunct. It could be reimagined into a community arts space, or reverted back into a gymnasium, board members suggested – not necessarily torn down and replaced with student housing and private amenities.

Assurances of preservation aside, board member Timothy Sublette told UP Campus he did not feel comfortable moving forward without concrete details regarding preservation of the church’s architectural features.

“I want to acknowledge that you have addressed many points of concern,” Sublette told UP Campus. “One point of concern that clearly you’ve chosen not to is the reduction of the most significant architectural element, in terms of preservation, in terms of simply salvaged relics in out-of-context ways in this project, and I’m disappointed that we’re essentially being asked to ignore that concern.”

The board sent UP Campus back to the drawing board with suggestions, but no promise of future approval.

Summit on 16th United Methodist Church once housed the University District’s only – and one of the city’s few – 24/7 warming centers. The church closed the center in February due to safety concerns. A spokesperson for the Community Shelter Board said the board plans to operate four warming centers, one in each quadrant of the city, and that those locations should be finalized in late October.