Council to consider house demolition requests

Columbus City Council members will be asked to decide whether a local church is allowed to tear down three homes near its facility to create space for a parking lot.

The request from St. Peter’s Lutheran Church, 719 Fifth St., is being forwarded from the Columbus Plan Commission to the city council without any recommendation as to whether the council should approve it or not after plan commission members could not come to a consensus.

The council is expected to take up the matter during a 6 p.m. meeting April 2 in council chambers at Columbus City Hall.

The church is seeking to demolish three existing houses it owns at 903, 911, and 915 Fourth St., creating roughly 18,000-square-feet of space that the church plans to make into a parking lot.

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The three unoccupied homes are side-by-side on the south side of Fourth Street, extending east from Sycamore Street.

Along with other programming, the parking lot would serve clients of LifeWorks, the church’s intensive outpatient program (IOP) and counseling services, said Executive Director of Ministries Mike Hinckfoot and Director of LifeWorks Jan Kiel.

Founded with the encouragement and collaboration of Bartholomew County Community Corrections, LifeWorks has been praised by the Alliance for Substance Abuse Progress (ASAP), and is expected to serve a key role with the new Bartholomew County Adult Drug Court, Kiel told the plan commission members.

The dozen people who attend evening sessions with LifeWorks now meet in the basement of the St. Peter’s school, but Kiel says new plans are to move the entire outpatient program into a leased office building east of the proposed parking lot.

The 4,326-square-foot office building is located at 326 California St., next to Art’s Cleaners, Hinckfoot said.

Not only will those offices provide ideal accommodations for both group and individual counseling sessions, but it will also allow LifeWorks to hold daytime sessions while school is in session, Kiel said.

LifeWorks has three group therapists, as well as four additional therapists involved in individual meetings, Kiel said. Gaining that parking lot is essential for LifeWorks to keep growing to meet community demand, she said.

In addition to LifeWorks, the extra parking would also accommodate weekly programs for hundreds of teens, after-school youth camps, fitness programs, funerals, luncheons and holistic development, Hinckfoot said.

“This is not being done to give our Sunday worshipers a shorter walk on Easter and Christmas,” Hinckfoot said. “We’re here to request help to accomplish the church vision.”

Hinckfoot said some vehicles park illegally along Fourth Street now, and having more available parking spaces might create a safer environment for nearby students at Central Middle and Lincoln CSA schools, as well as St. Peter’s Lutheran School.

City planners’ response

City planners had recommended an unfavorable response to St. Peter’s request prior to the plan commission meeting, according to city documents.

Associate planner Stephen Hughes said rezoning this property for a parking lot is not consistent with the city’s comprehensive plan, which seeks to protect the character of neighborhoods. The planning staff had concluded that the church’s proposal does not represent responsible growth, development or the most desirable use for this property, Hughes said.

Rather than a parking lot, the staff report concludes the property is well-sited for housing, since it already contains existing homes that could be renovated in order to better serve the needs of modern residential use.

During the discussion, planning staff and commission members frequently mentioned Envision Columbus, an update to the Downtown Strategic Development Plan presented last fall. Although the update has not yet been incorporated into the city’s comprehensive plan, Envision Columbus does recommend development in this area that could include residential, commercial or retail destinations.

Commission member Barry Kastner said he believed there were already too many parking lots downtown.

And while this proposed parking lot would not harm neighboring property values, the report states that if additional parking lots keep going up in this area, it has “the potential to negatively impact the value of properties in near-downtown residential neighborhoods and the core downtown as well.”

Several plan commission members did not vote on whether or not to recommend the project. Dave Hayward and David Bush attend St. Peter’s Lutheran Church, and recused themselves from the discussion and the vote. In addition, commission member David Fisher was absent.

With seven commission members still eligible, a vote to deny St. Peter’s request to demolish the three homes received four votes in favor and three against.

The normally 10-member plan commissions requires a minimum six votes for a proposal to pass, so the vote did not provide a decision.

When Hinckfoot was asked if he wanted to change his proposal, he responded the church had already done its best work.

The seven voting members then agreed to send the proposal to the Columbus City Council without any recommendation.

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The Columbus City Council is expected to consider a rezoning request from St. Peter’s Lutheran Church early next month.

The church is asking that three existing houses located a 903, 911 and 915 Fourth St. be demolished and replaced with a parking lot to house several church programs.

The city council is expected to take up the matter during their 6 p.m. meeting on April 2nd in their second floor chambers at Columbus City Hall.