Houses whose size has been recently doubled on Indiana Avenue north of Weinland Park

Your local blogger recently read The Columbus Zoning Plan, a pamphlet published by the the Columbus City Planning Commission that advocated the implementation of zoning in 1923. The aim of the publication is to convince the good Columbus citizen of 1923 that zoning is good. It’s also incredibly timely considering the debate about student rental housing in the University District.  The pamphlet contains a number of common experiences and travails of the 1920s homeowner. Of course, replacing “apartment house” with “people-packing student rental” makes the story slightly more timely. One aspect not mentioned in the pamphlet is that Mr. Smith should have known what was going to happen or rather what did he expect when he moved to that neighborhood. That train of thought appears to be a later development. Instead, the city throws its lot in with the homeowner and not the investor.

Mr. Smith purchased a house in an attractive neighborhood. All the houses have large well-kept lawns. Mr. Smith believes that children, like plants, must have plenty of sunlight and room to grow. The location seems an ideal one in which to live and raise his family. But there is a vacant lot next door. A speculative builder estimates he can buy that lot, erect a four-story, sixteen suite apartment house thereon, rent the apartments, sell to some investor, and clean-up a handsome profit for himself. The apartment is erected, quickly rented and sold. It rents well because it is in a section of private homes and has the benefit of lawns and open spaces about the adjoining houses.

11th alley

It could never happen in Weinland Park

But the value of Mr. Smith’s house is practically destroyed. His light and air are cut off by the huge bulk of the apartment house. The quiet and comfort of the entire block for private residence purposes has been largely destroyed. Each home owner fears that a similar apartment building may be constructed next door to him. Those who can sell out or move away and rent their home for any purpose or use that offers. Apartment houses are needed but is it necessary to permit them the scatter indiscriminately throughout the private home section? If Columbus is to be preserved as a city of homes we must protect the homeowner by establishing definite limits beyond which the apartment house may not spread.

cartoon zoning

Coming to a suburb near you – not really, they have zoning that protects homeowners.

It’s somewhat incredible to think that after 90 years later the same debate could be taking place in the University District. However, none of the major players in the student rental market live in the University District let alone in Weinland Park. Instead, they all live in suburbs that have strict zoning and code enforcement that protects them from neighbors paving their backyards for parking or doubling the size of a house for a student rental. And quite a few of our local commissioners feel that property rights shouldn’t be restricted at all, as long as they don’t have to live near a problem. It kind of makes you wonder what we’re missing here. One would think that building controls, or god-forbid, down zoning, would work here too, right?

milk plant

We’re just trying to help the neighborhood.

It’s impressive how long the “we’re just trying to help improve the neighborhood” narrative has been around.

Coincidentally, the city planning department is in the midst of rethinking these issues and there’s a survey to identify problems and give your opinion.