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Opposition from Abbott Leads to Delay in Kroger Bakery Proposal

Brent Warren Brent Warren Opposition from Abbott Leads to Delay in Kroger Bakery ProposalThe proposed redevelopment of the former Kroger Bakery site. Rendering by REALM Collaborative.
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The developers trying to turn the former Kroger bakery site north of Downtown into a 448-unit apartment complex have seen the proposal tabled twice in the last two months by the Development Commission.

The main opposition to the project is from Abbott Laboratories, the now-global corporation that has been operating next door to the Kroger site for over 100 years.

Representatives of Abbott, which makes products like Similac and Ensure at the Cleveland Avenue facility, told the commission during its July 8 meeting that semi-trucks maneuvering in and out of the site and being loaded around the clock would leave the company vulnerable to noise complaints or lawsuits from future residents living so close.

“We’re concerned that that will not create an enjoyable environment for residents,” said Tom Evers, VP of U.S. Government Affairs for Abbott. “They’re gonna call…and we’re going to bear the brunt [of the impact].”

It was the second time that the apartment proposal was heard by the board, with the discussion both times centering on the possibility that noise from the Abbott facility would disturb future residents.

The Kroger bakery at 427 Cleveland Ave. closed in early 2019 and the 9.4-acre site was put on the market shortly after. In March of last year a team of local developers – Casto, Kelley Companies and the Robert Weiler Company – paid $8.15 million for the property and later unveiled a plan to renovate the two large historic buildings on the site and construct three new apartment buildings around them.

Lorie Foster, Divisional Council for Abbott’s Nutrition Division, told the commission that she found “multiple examples” in Ohio case law of companies being sued by unhappy neighbors. “Even if Abbot has defenses and legal strategies for dealing with these complaints, we should not have to face an increased risk of dealing with complaints, lawsuits and the associated costs for legally using our property as we have for decades.”

Brent Sobczak, President of Casto Communities, countered that most of the truck traffic into and out of the Abbott facility actually utilizes a cut-through to go under I-670 to Abbott-controlled land in Downtown, avoiding the bakery site completely. He also said that his team could find no record of complaints or 311 calls in the last ten years from the existing Commons at Buckingham apartment complex, which sit directly across from Abbott warehouses and truck storage.

Sobczak told Columbus Underground that he expects to bring the project back to the commission in September, and that he’s optimistic it will be approved, despite the delays; “I think we’ll find a good solution for everyone involved.”

“We’ve got a path forward we’re comfortable with,” he added, explaining that his team is currently working on implementing suggestions from the commission related to noise mitigation and improved screening along the northern edge of the property.

Commission Chair Michael Fitzpatrick had stressed the importance of creating more of a buffer between the apartments and the Abbott property, telling Sobszak, “you’re on the one-inch goal line, you’re not far from getting this thing over the top…you just need to take [our suggestions] all under consideration, and don’t just stop short.”

Abbott’s representatives at the meeting did not seem as interested in discussing screening and noise-reduction strategies as the commissioners were, instead arguing that any residential use would likely be incompatible with their operations.

The company chose not to buy the bakery property after it went on the market, despite being contacted early in the process by staff of the city’s Economic Development Department, who were eager to help Kroger find a buyer.

Sobczak said that he believes residential is the “highest and best use for that location given the growth that’s occurring in that corridor.”

“We were looking at variety of uses, we studied different redevelopments of industrial projects all across country, from Denver to Brooklyn, and we ultimately landed on a heavily residential redevelopment,” he said. “I don’t think this is a manufacturing site or facility; it’s an obsolete manufacturing facility…what we’re trying to create is very unique and I think could be special and unique to the city.”

For more information on the Development Commission, see www.columbus.gov.

See Also – Photos: Inside the Former Kroger Bakery

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