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Board Weighs in on Proposed 15-Story Building in Franklinton

Brent Warren Brent Warren Board Weighs in on Proposed 15-Story Building in FranklintonA conceptual rendering of the proposed building, by Berardi + Partners.
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A proposal to build a 15-story building at 567 W. Broad St. was brought before the East Franklinton Review Board this week, spurring a wide-ranging conversation about density, affordable housing, transit-supportive development and historic preservation.

The board was discussing an updated version of a proposal that was submitted last fall. That one called for a 13-story, 80-unit building to be constructed on just a third of an acre, while the new proposal calls for a taller, 206-unit building that would take up the entire block and include a 219-space parking garage.

Columbus-based Arch City Development and OZ Development Group are developing the project, with Berardi + Partners serving as the architect.

Submitted plans call for three buildings to be demolished – a motel, a one-story commercial building, and a single family home – while three existing, two-story buildings fronting West Broad would be preserved.

Several board members said that they didn’t necessarily think those buildings needed to be saved, especially if tearing them down could result in a better overall development, although others advocated for the preservation of the buildings.

“I’m for saving them…if they can contribute to the project,” said board member Kim Way, who suggested that in lieu of the buildings, some sort of open green space along the front of the project could help improve the walkability of the immediate area, especially if it complemented new retail or restaurant space. “It’s a pretty inhospitable space right now on Broad.”

A schematic diagram showing the different levels of the proposed building, and the existing buildings that may be preserved along Broad. Visual by Berardi + Partners.

The height of the proposed building was also debated.

The site, at the southwest corner of Broad and Gift streets, is located less than a mile from the Statehouse. It is also just a few blocks west of the multi-phase Gravity development, and next door to the former Byers Chevrolet, which was bought by Nationwide Realty Investors in 2014 but remains vacant.

Several other deteriorating commercial buildings and surface parking lots line that section of Broad Street, meaning that whatever ends up being approved at the corner could set a precedent for how the area is developed in the future.

“If we approve a building of this magnitude, particularly without the historic buildings…it’s going to be difficult for us to ever deny an application along Broad Street based upon the height of a building again,” said Bill Fergus, who serves as chair of the board.

A staff report prepared by the city’s Planning Division offered support for a 15-story building on the site, in part because “the additional height will allow for the proposal to include a significant number of units to be affordable.”

Brian Higgins, Principal of Arch City Development, said that about 23% of the building’s apartments would be affordable to households earning up to 80% of the area median income (AMI), and 55% would be affordable to those earning between 80 and 100% of AMI. That would bring many more moderately-priced units (sometimes called “workforce housing”) onto the market than a typical new apartment development in Columbus.

“There are a couple of things that are driving the height,” Higgins told the board. “One, there are economies of scale. Two, the state has a tax credit…for buildings that are 15 stories in height. So, if we were to be able to acquire that tax credit, that drives down the basis of the building, which allows us to maintain affordability.”

Board member Way brought up another argument in support of allowing a tall building with lots of housing units to be constructed on the site – in the future it could be served by at least one (and maybe even two) high-capacity transit corridors.

As part of the LinkUs initiative – which aims to bring better transit and dense development to five different corridors in the region – a Bus Rapid Transit line with dedicated lanes has been proposed for West Broad. A planned Northwest corridor that would run along Olentangy River Road could also potentially be routed through Franklinton before it connects up with Downtown.

“This is the type of project that the [LinkUs] east-west corridor study really wants to see,” said Way. “As we think about growth in the region and building density along high-speed transit corridors, this is right in line with that.”

Because the proposal was only being reviewed conceptually, no vote was taken. The applicant will need to return to a future meeting with a more detailed proposal in order to get the project approved.

More information on the East Franklinton Review Board is available here, and a recording of the virtual meeting can be viewed on the city’s YouTube channel.

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