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Rezoning moves forward

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A city plan to sell its historic Pump House and limit the building’s future use to retain its historic charm will now be considered by the city council.

However, Mayor Kristen Brown and Redevelopment Director Heather Pope were asked Wednesday by city plan commission members to explain how limiting future uses of the building at 148 Lindsey St. could make the property more attractive to a buyer.

Plan Commission President Roger Lang wanted to know whether narrowing a buyer’s use would result in the building remaining vacant and continuing to deteriorate. The Pump House has not been significantly remodeled or upgraded in nearly 40 years, according to the city’s appraisal of the property.

About six private investors already have expressed interest in purchasing the property, Brown said. However, the city wants to approach selling the building by focusing on keeping it a community asset under private ownership. An estimated $2.5 million would be required to bring the property into usable condition, city officials estimate.

The city doesn’t want to be in the landlord business on this property, Brown said, but does want to make sure the historic exterior of the building is retained, and that whatever is done to the inside is compatible with the city’s downtown redevelopment plan.

The property, sometimes referred to as the Power House, has been empty since 2011, when a plan from local chef Daniel Orr to convert it to a restaurant failed. It was built in 1901 as a city water plant and is located near downtown Columbus along the East Fork White River. The city briefly sold the property in 1951 to Southern Machine Co. but got it back and in 1976 turned it into a senior center. When the new Mill Race Center opened in 2011, the city began looking for a new use.

The plan commission voted to approve the rezoning change. If the city council also approves the rezoning request next month, a future buyer could use the property for a museum, restaurant, farmers market or food co-op, or liquor store, for example. The facility’s current zoning allows a wider range of options including a funeral home, government offices, a call center, trade or business school or a hotel.

The city is not interested in making money on the sale, the mayor said, but is focusing on letting a private investor restore the property to a use the entire community can enjoy, something that could generate tourism.

The property has been appraised in the $220,000 to $470,000 range, depending on what restrictions are placed on the zoning and the historic easement requirement.

If the property is rezoned, and the historic easement requirements are in place, the value is estimated to be in the $220,000 to $300,000 range. The city needs to make sure the future use of the Pump House is something to be proud of, even if the price received is less, said Frank Jerome, a city council member appointed to serve on the plan commission.

While the interior of the Pump House could be refitted for a new use, the city hopes to keep the building’s exterior intact by easement enforcement through Indiana Landmarks. Exterior improvements would have to meet federal Secretary of the Interior Standards for Rehabilitation. The building needs a new roof, work or replacement on the windows and has handicap access issues. On the inside, it’s unknown whether the heating or air conditioning works and interior lighting is described as outdated and inefficient.

It is somewhat unusual for a city to want to limit a use on a property, but the plan commission and council can come back to reconsider expanded uses for the property at the request of the new owner, city Planning Director Jeff Bergman said.

Brown and Pope acknowledged that the new owner, whoever that might be, could seek rezoning to a wider range of uses. But the plan commission and the city council would have to decide whether to allow such a request.

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