Bexley shifts focus northward for new police station

Bexley city officials are looking at this site on Delmar Avenue to the north for a new police station, rather than the Main Street property. Councilman Ben Kessler pointed out that it will be quicker and less expensive to build there because the service garage will not have to be relocated.

Bexley’s prolonged pursuit of a site for a new police station has taken a sharp turn northward, after City Councilman Ben Kessler proposed building the facility on Delmar Drive.

Kessler, who took office in January, said at the Feb. 12 council meeting that he and others heard positive comments from residents during their campaigns about the Delmar location, as opposed to building on the City Hall property on Main Street.

Buying and building on the privately owned Delmar property, at the far northern edge of the city and east of Cassady Avenue, would reduce the cost and speed up construction by eliminating the need to replace the service department garage, according to Kessler.

"I don’t think we can pay for a $2.5 million service facility when we don’t need one," Kessler commented.

The cost for the station alone is calculated at $5.7 million. The latest asking price for the 1.63 acres on Delmar was $320,000.

There is enough room for the station and 54 parking spaces, with land left over for a park or another municipal building in the future, Kessler showed.

Waiting to complete a new service garage would delay construction of a police station two years, he added, while deciding on Delmar would allow the project to begin immediately, he said.

Lee Nathans, with the Citizens Police Advisory Committee, which backs the plan, estimated that ground could be broken for a Delmar station as early as July 4.

Sticking with the Main Street location would limit future possibilities for commercial development, Kessler argued.

Other potential sites in the city are unsuitable because of their locations and the condition of the land, he pointed out.

The possibility of a shared station with Capital University has been mentioned, but that idea has received "a lukewarm reception," Kessler said.

Moving operations from a less centrally situated location will not be a problem in the two-square-mile city, Police Chief Larry Rinehart said. "We deploy from our cruisers, not from the station."

Officers have been paying attention to their response times and don’t anticipate any delay in getting to south Bexley, the chief said.

While the move would take the vacant property off the tax rolls, it could also have the effect of reviving what Kessler called "a fatigued commercial district" and boosting surrounding property values.

The proposal has the support of Mayor John Brennan and his administration, as well s the chief and the citizens committee, Kessler noted.

"To me, that’s a wonderful endorsement for moving ahead with negotiations," responded Councilman Jed Morison, chairman of the safety committee.

And if council is on board with the recommendation, the next question will be how to pay for it, he reminded his colleagues.

Council had agreed last year to pay for the station out of the city budget, without going to the voters for additional tax dollars, but Councilman Rick Weber said they may want to revisit that decision.

Auditor Larry Heiser said he would have a report on financing options at the next committee meeting, Feb. 26 at 5:30 p.m.

Architect David King will also present a report on modifications that would have to be made to the current drawings to accommodate the Delmar move. He said it probably could be accomplished with minor alterations, and construction drawings that would allow the city to seek bids could be ready in three months.

A public hearing on the project will also be scheduled for March.

It will be up to council to present to residents solid figures on the project that has been debated for 10 years, Councilman Mark Masser said. "I want to see good numbers. I want people to be accountable, and I want to see accountable numbers."

Condos creating controversy

While officials appear to be lining up behind the Delmar move, another proposal for property development is getting a mixed reaction.

Capital University is seeking a zoning variance to allow student housing at the former Woodsview condominiums, at 2130 Astor Ave., that have been restricted to residents over age 55 since its construction in 2002.

The condos include 30 two-bedroom units. The age requirement is part of the deed restrictions and can be changed by new owners.

The problem, according to attorney Don Plank, representing Capital, is that a string of owners of the property have been unable to sell the condos as homes for senior citizens, and 21 of the apartments remain vacant after being on the market for two years.

Plank said the apartments would be limited to two occupants, and would be restricted to mostly juniors and seniors with high grade point averages. A residence assistant would be on the site to monitor tenants.

"This is not a dormitory," Plank said. "For all intents and purposes, these are apartments."

Current resident Anita O’Reilly said, for her and her roommate, the availability of the condos was "the answer to our prayers" until the original developer "left us high and dry."

They are now desperate to sell but can’t find a buyer other than Capital.

"Let this little gray-haired lady move and get on with her life," O’Reilly pleaded.

But some nearby residents are worried that Capital will not keep its word, and the apartments will soon be crowded with rowdy students.

Since students started moving into rental houses, "our neighborhood is getting trashed," Amy Jo Eulberg-Taylor, a Sheridan Avenue resident for almost 13 years, told council.

Helga Gilbert said she rented to two students and five ended up moving in, even occupying the unfinished basement. "It’s going to be the same thing here."

Masser recalled that council debated the Woodsview project for two years, and their intent was to keep students out and to welcome senior citizens in.

While others questioned the effect more student housing could have on nearby property values, Councilman Matt Lampke speculated on the impact of having the building sitting vacant.

The issue was referred to council’s zoning and development committee.

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