Rezoning plan paves the way for new police substation on the Hilltop

By Dedra Cordle

Staff Writer

A long-planned project to build a new public safety complex on the westside is one step closer to becoming a reality.

The Greater Hilltop Area Commission approved a rezoning request at its meeting this month which allowed four acres of rural land on Sullivant Avenue, located between Townsend and Columbian avenues, to be changed to a commercial planned development district.

The unanimous decision by the commission will pave the way for the construction of a new Columbus Division of Police substation for Precinct 19.

“We welcome this substation wholeheartedly,” said commissioner Keith Neal.

Having lived on the Hilltop for several decades, Neal said there is a growing need for a greater police presence in the community.

“The drugs, the crime, the other illegal activities are increasing in our communities and it will be nice to have that extra set of eyes in our neighborhood,” he said.

Neal also added that he believes having a new police station at this location will have a positive impact on relations between local youth and law enforcement officers.

“A part of this new substation will be a community space,” he said. “I think by having that community space (as an element of the project) there, it will serve as a great outreach program and really help with that connection with our youth because there is a void there.”

“We need to have that void filled and with them reaching out to the community, there will be, I believe, a growth in trust and the bridging of that gap between officers and the community.”

According to city planners and architects working on the project, the existing open space at the Sullivant Avenue plot will be transformed into a two-story, 13,500 square-foot police substation.

The primary function of the substation will be to house offices and support spaces for Precinct 19. They are currently located at 2070 Sullivant Ave. in a building that is more than 50 years old.

Another major portion of the safety complex – which will have the address of 1860 Sullivant Ave. when operational – will provide support spaces for the community.

“We are going to have a large lobby and lecture hall (that will be able to hold 45 people for meetings and lectures),” said Christina Sabula, a project architect at BBCO Design. “A really major design intent of this facility was to create a welcoming, open, and inviting space for both police and community members alike.”

The interior of the lobby will feature several historical artifacts from the Hilltop’s history, including trusses salvaged from the 1990 demolition of the Central Ohio Psychiatric Hospital. They will serve a decorative purpose only; it will not be a structural fixture.

The exterior of the police substation will feature a large public plaza. Sabula said the vision is to create “something really beautiful” that is well-lit and inviting for the community.

“There’s going to be lots of natural planting, benches, lit bollards, and a drinking fountain that will be added to the public plaza,” she said. The latter feature was a recommendation from commissioner and zoning committee co-chair Rachel Wenning, who said she wanted the community to be able to have access to water 24/7.

The site plan that was shared at the commission meeting showed two vehicular access points, one for public vehicles and another for police vehicles and personal vehicles of employees. The former will have 27 available spaces while the latter will have 72. Both will have several spaces for accessible vehicles and electric charging ports. The police vehicles and the employee parking area will be secured and located behind the building.

The vehicular access points will be on Sullivant Avenue; Sabula said the planners for the project asked the state to grant an access easement on Townsend Avenue but that request was denied.

Other exterior additions to the new police station include a detention area in the back, and natural buffers for the surrounding residences.

Since project planners were asking the commission to rezone the four-acre rural space to a commercial planned development district, the site plans will not change.

“All of what you see on the plan is what is going to be built,” said Wenning.

City project manager Michael Jones believes the groundbreaking for the new substation will take place later this year. It is estimated that the project will take 15 months to complete.

According to Melanie Crabill, the director of media relations for the city, the revised construction estimate from the Office of Construction Management is $12.5 million. However, that cost could rise since the project has “not yet completed full design and there will not be a confirmed construction cost until the construction bid is solicited by the city later this year.”

Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther announced plans to build a new police substation on Sullivant Avenue in 2021. Like the commissioners, he believes having this new police substation in the community could lessen criminal activity in the area and “help forge friendships and understanding” between police and the residents.

“When complete, the new substation will provide state-of-the-art facilities and equipment for our officers, empowering them with the best available tools and resources to fight crime in this neighborhood and beyond,” he wrote in a statement. “The substation will also include public amenities like meeting spaces to help forge friendships and understanding with individuals and families in the Hilltop.”

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