Hilltop Commission against rezoning of West Broad property

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By Katelyn Sattler
Staff Writer

The property at 2456 West Broad St. came before the Greater Hilltop Area Commission again, after being tabled in January.

According to commissioner Jennie Keplar, the building was originally built by Eldon Smith in 1900. It was the Hilltop Historical Society office and at one point, it was an antique store. It has also been a church.

Attorney Jeff Brown is seeking to add single family residential to the property for his client, Degas Real Estate Solutions. The area is currently zoned for commercial use, with the house sitting between a used car dealership and a collision repair shop. The commercial zoning prohibits first floor residential housing.

“I can’t sell it as a single family house. I can’t finance it as a single family house, unless I have a piece of paper that says it can be used as a single family house,” said Brown.

Commissioner Rachel Wenning questioned whether the applicant’s request counts as a hardship, since he knew when buying the property in 2017 that the building was zoned commercial.

Commissioner James White said, “We’re trying to say that we want this building to be used as a commercial building in a commercial corridor, but you’re trying to rezone this building to allow for a single family use surrounded by commercial buildings.”

“That house deserves to be preserved,” added Keplar, who would like to see it turned into a permanent home for the Hilltop Historical Society and other Hilltop community groups.

Geoffrey Phillips, president of the Highland West Civic Association and former Hilltop commissioner, opposes the variance, saying the applicant wanted approval to use the building as a residential treatment facility in 2019, then in 2020 for use as residential care.

“In both cases, the commission voted no for reasons of safety, lack of adequate parking, and a lack of clarity of what the applicant wants to do with it,” he said. “Now, the applicant is before you again, asking you to approve a single family dwelling in a commercial district.”

After the last meeting, Brown checked with city zoning staff regarding concerns that the property may not be used as intended in the application.

“City staff felt that there was no reason to put any additional conditions on the application because the request is very clear as to what we’re asking for. And the reason we’re doing it is that we’re trying to sell this as a house,” said Brown.

The applicant wasn’t in attendance to answer questions about the intended use of the property, but Brown said, “We would like to reestablish the historic use of the property.”

In an email communication with Columbus City Council member and chair of the zoning committee Rob Dorans, via his legislative aide, he explained, “City Council has wide discretion when considering a rezoning and variance. Every application is unique and we review each application that comes before us closely. A key part of that review process is the support from the local area commission or other neighborhood groups. When we receive a disapproval from the area commission, generally its council’s expectation that the applicant work to address the issues raised by residents. Often these efforts will help ensure that when the legislation comes before council many issues have been resolved. In the event that the applicant and the area commissions have not been able to come to a resolution, council must review the application holistically to determine whether we believe granting the application is appropriate.”

Dorans added, “city council votes with the area commissions’ recommendations more than nine out of ten times. In those rare instances where council disagrees with the area commission, it’s important that we are transparent and can explain why.”

The area commission voted the variance down 11-3. It will now be presented to city council.

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