By Dedra Cordle
City officials say that while they did not give permission for the Greyhound bus terminal to start operating at 845 N. Wilson Road, they will not order the property owners of the site to suspend the public transportation service – yet.
At a special meeting held on July 18, representatives with the city came out to the Hilltop Branch of the Columbus Metropolitan Library to discuss with local area commissioners and several dozen concerned citizens what measures they will take to address the hundreds of complaints they have received from the community since the bus terminal became operational in late June.
According to Marshall Troxell, the assistant director of community affairs for Mayor Andrew Ginther’s office, the mayor has sent a letter to the president of the site’s property owners, Barons Bus, requesting that they submit new site plans for further review no later than Thursday this week.
In the letter that was read to the standing-room only crowd, Ginther wrote that in order for the company to continue operating, they will have to take immediate action to address safety concerns. They include, but are not limited to, increasing security personnel, installing semi-permanent, sanitary and temperature-controlled restrooms, and limiting the number of passengers who are boarding and deboarding.
“In addition to complying with the above, the (city department of building and zoning services) is requiring you to submit updated plans that reflect the true and intended operations at the site,” Ginther said. “These plans will be subject to a thorough review for appropriateness, including a traffic review. Additionally, significant permanent enhancements will likely be required to earn site plan approval.”
He went on to say that Barons Bus was in violation of the city code as it was not issued an occupancy certificate by the BZS. He stated that the lack of certification put the company in jeopardy of an order to cease operations and be subject to fines.
The letter, however, does not say when they will have to meet these demands at the risk of being evicted from the property. Several of the residents at the meeting said while they were glad that the city has “finally started to listen” to them about the bus terminal, they did not feel that enough was being done to find a more suitable location for the bus terminal.
“On its face, (the demand for action in the letter) sounds really good, but what I hear is just a lot of non-committal language,” said Zach Whitt, a resident of the Wilson Oaks subdivision that sits adjacent to the bus terminal. “While I am appreciative of the lip service, at the same time I am looking for more trackable stuff from the city such as: What is their plan of action? What are the dates they are demanding from the company before they take action? When can we expect to see some results? Are they going to let the problems linger here for two years like they let them linger at the COTA terminal downtown for two years?”
Whitt said this “nightmare” began nearly a month ago when the Greyhound bus terminal moved its base of operation to Wilson Road, a location where small commercial and residential properties converge on the westside. Whitt said the city did not inform the residents that a “busy” bus terminal was going to be established at the site, which is a one-acre former gas station.
“There was no community input, there were no studies put into place to determine the appropriateness of that site,” he said. He added that it felt somewhat absurd that the city essentially asked the residents at the special meeting to have “patience” while the city worked out new operational plans with Barons Bus.
“It is not giving us the due respect we deserve at this point,” Whitt said.
The city representatives said that residents were not given advanced notification because the company was seeking to access a site that was zoned appropriately for their intended use: Requests to rezone properties in the area have to go before the Greater Hilltop Area Commission so it did not fall under their purview. However, city officials did admit that they feel the company “misrepresented” the scope and scale of the operations at the 24-hour bus terminal via their permit and demolition applications.
“We didn’t have the accurate information on how this was going to be operated,” said Tony Celebrezze, the deputy director of the BZS. “We knew it was going to be something with buses and we were given a certain number on how many people would be in the building and what went with it.
“Right or wrong, that is the way the individuals (who reviewed the permit applications) looked at it. They probably could have asked better questions but now they (Barons Bus) are going to have to come back with a new site plan, a new building plan, and all these agencies that will be viewing it will have a different lens based upon what you have told us and what we have seen.”
Thomas Goebel, the president of Barons Bus, was in attendance at the meeting. He said he did not feel like the company provided inaccurate information to the city.
“We went to zoning before we purchased the property because we wanted to make sure what we were going to do there we could do,” he said.
He said that although they did not receive a paper certification that allowed operations to begin, he said he felt it would be sent by the city soon as they did not raise any objection to their plans.
Goebel added that the Greyhound bus terminal at 845 N. Wilson Road was not their preferred choice of location.
“This is not what we wanted to happen,” he said.
The city said they are working with the company to try to find a more suitable location for the 24-hour public transportation service that does not abut a heavily populated residential area. But in the meantime, it will continue to exist as it is, where it is, until they can find a more appropriate location – or until the city orders the operations to cease if they do not meet the demands in Ginther’s letter.
Goebel said the company has worked to address some of the security issues by hiring additional security officers and installing new cameras. He said they have added new restroom facilities in the main building and do intend to include additional amenities next month and into the future.
He also said the company will try to mitigate some of the noise complaints, such as the constant blowing of the horns when a bus takes off, and they will try to mitigate the number of buses causing traffic backups for residents who live on Ferrell Place.
Resident John Fleshman said he does not feel like any of these actions – either by the city or the company – will be enough to quell the concerns related to an operational bus terminal in the community.
“We would like to see the city engage in a cease and desist order immediately,” he stated.
Fleshman said since the bus terminal started operating, he has seen several patrons of the bus service nearly get hit by cars while crossing Wilson Reach to reach the station. He said that he almost hit someone walking across the road while he was driving at night.
“It is just a matter of time before someone is going to get killed on Wilson Road because this terminal is here,” he said.