City council stirs debate

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The Columbus City Council is back in session after taking off the month of August. At their first meeting after their return, held Sept. 8, several people in attendance were ready to take issue with non-agenda items.

One issue that came up was the eviction of businesses from the Trautman building at 209 S. High St.  

Concerned citizen Claudia Speakman questioned the decision by the Columbus Downtown Development Corporation, saying it came at a time when the city is having trouble keeping businesses downtown.  

The businesses were providing valuable tax revenue to the city, she said.  “There seems to be no respect or regard for these businesses,” she said.

The council expressed agreement with Speakman. “This is totally inappropriate that we didn’t hear about this in advance,” Councilwoman Charleta Tavares said.  

Council President Michael Mentel said he had been told that the building had structural integrity problems due to its age, and there were concerns about asbestos.  He said he agreed that someone from the CDDC should come before the council to give them information.

Tavares said they don’t want to treat residents this way, and that if there were health or safety concerns they should have been shared with residents and the council. She said they would make sure that the CDDC was held accountable to the council and to the community.

Another controversial discussion began with a presentation on the boathouse that the city and state have partnered to build on Griggs Reservoir, off of Riverside Drive.

The location of the boathouse, slated to be built in Duranceau Park at the reservoir, has been the subject of much debate. Ann Hotz, who said she is a frequent visitor to the park, objected to the boathouse being located there. She said the park was too small for a 22,000 square foot structure and the increased traffic that would come with it.

She said the claim by Recreation and Parks that there will be no increase in traffic is “simply unrealistic,” and said a nearby park was larger and could handle the extra traffic.  

Several people spoke in favor of the site.  Alan McKnight, director of Columbus Recreation and Parks, said The Ohio State University had been rowing on the reservoir for years. He said with an increase in rowing, the current facilities are inadequate. He also said he recognized residents’ concerns, had taken a hard look at other locations, and had evaluated those locations with an open mind. After looking at the other options, the original Duranceau site was still determined to be the best, he said, and he did not think there would be an increase in rowing traffic as a result of the new facility.  

Council Member Priscilla Tyson supported McKnight’s conclusions. She said she had spent a lot of time looking at the site, had seen other possible locations, and had visited the neighborhood to see what the impact of the construction might be like for the residents. She said she made sure it was a fair process and that McKnight had addressed the problem in a serious way.  “We’re hoping that it can be a win-win for everybody,” she said.  

Several opponents of the facility were unhappy after the meeting.

Laurel Johnson, president of Scioto Trace Civic Association, said “We are disappointed that the process has been apparently shut down prematurely.”

Hotz said the community meetings had not been conducted fairly and that she had been “shut down” by Director McKnight at the meetings. Johnson said they would keep coming back to council about the issue, and said “There is no need to rush this project.”  

“You also heard people speak…that felt it was a fair process,” McKnight said in response. “Obviously emotions have run high on this, the folks that are opposed to it feel very strongly about it. I believe we led a very fair process…I understand their concerns, and I wish there was an easy answer to address their concerns…I do think that people had a chance to speak.”  

“I honestly was hoping that another site would be as good.”

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