Looks like this didn’t turn out as planned…or did it? Part of the riot debris field on 15th Avenue Sunday morning

Listening to the police scanner after a big Buckeye game is always fairly eye-opening and last night did not disappoint. Beginning around midnight when an officer called in that his patrol car had been hit with a bottle at Indianola and 19th. This quickly escalated into a call for officers in Zone 4 to get their riot gear and head to campus.  Another call steered the police to 15th Avenue where there were a couple dumpster fires, a couch fire and large crowds of people tearing things up. And when large groups of youngsters tear things up no one in Zone 4, which includes Clintonville, have any police presence. Wouldn’t that be a good time to commit a crime?

Fun on 15th Avenue with fire

Proudly Weinland Park – The new campus Gateway on 11th Avenue

Since most of the action was on 15th Avenue there doesn’t seem to be much to worry about for the WP resident. Right? Well, it is creeping closer to the core of Weinland Park. Part of Weinland Park has been campus housing for years although this does not make it good planning. Chittenden and 11th Avenues east of 4th Street have essentially have long been converted in people-packing houses with the conversion of attics and basements into bedrooms. The whole affair leads to some interesting questions. Since 11th Avenue is the gateway to Ohio State how much will the university do to protect their image versus the perceived right to put 15 undergraduates in house and letting them run wild.  And since the historic district on 11th Avenue is on track to be restored the student housing portion from Kelley’s Carryout to campus is slated to be the newest university area eyesore.

Ann Arbor and East Lansing currently have laws in campus areas that limit occupancy to three unrelated people. It was not popular with landlords but does radically help make a neighborhood more liveable. An even more interesting question is what do you do with a house like that after all the sophomores move to campus?

New investment at 11th Avenue and Summit with ample room to park 14 cars.

A new people packer being made on 11th Avenue

The major question is whether the University Area Commission, who must notice that history is repeating itself, will have the political will to try and stop it. The general consensus is not hopeful especially since the UAC has a fairly attentive absentee landlord representation and a number of other commissioners who don’t actually reside in the University area. But it does set up an interesting situation as far as the gateway to Ohio State, currently paved with broken glass, and with  organizations that are fostering revitalization in Weinland Park.

It’s an age old question in Weinland Park that concerns investment and power. What responsibility does the neighborhood have for an individual’s investment? Especially one who will never live here? The person who owns the above house could cry hardship if not allowed to use it to pack in students as the return on their investment will be sharply lowered. This is countered by revitalization and making a healthy, liveable neighborhood for all residents. Consequently, will the powers that be view this as a bad investment on someones part or something that needs to be protected for the individual’s profit at the expense of those who live around it?

This latter train of thought is what got Weinland Park into it’s current predicament. Zoning favored individual owners and their bottom line over the health of the neighborhood and granted variances for people-packing, car lots and gas stations that eroded the residential quality of the neighborhood. And it wasn’t a big deal because the vast majority of property owners did not live here and profit consistently won over people and neighborhood liveability in zoning battles. And  “if someone else did it then why can’t I” was the winning argument. This is combined with the practice that if I own the land and want to make an apartment but there’s a house there it’s cheaper to convert the house than to buy another parcel. And this made even more variances even more attractive for individuals even as it made the neighborhood less attractive to live in.*

A former single family home on Chittenden near the gateway – at a price not assured to build neighborhood diversity

Already some are writing off the northwest corner of Weinland Park as being too “campusy” but your local blogger feels that’s somewhat premature. And there is a wild card – another phase to the South Campus Gateway. The student conversion process is barely underway and looking around one doesn’t actually see that many students – yet. So, why take a chance when the problem can be nipped in the bud now. After all, is the University District such great urban planning that it needs to be repeated today with the  albeit, unwitting, assistance of federal tax dollars and the help of the City of Columbus. So there’s going to be a political choice that has to made soon concerning absentee individual investment versus the quality of residential life in Weinland Park. Who’s going to win?

*This entire zoning argument is laid out in convincing detail in Patricia Burgess’ Planning for the Private Interest. It’s a fascinating history of zoning in Columbus except there’s no happy ending.

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