Commission seeks rezoning on riverfront parcels

The Columbus Redevelopment Commission is asking to rezone a few acres of downtown property near the riverfront in hopes of future development.

The commission voted to send the rezoning request, along with the recommendations made by planning staff, to the Columbus City Council with a favorable recommendation.

The redevelopment commission is seeking to rezone 3.52 acres in the vicinity of 15 Brown Street from Public/Semi-Public Facilities to Commercial: Downtown. According to the staff report, the land is east of the Robert N. Stewart Bridge and south of the Louisville & Indiana Railroad spur.

The commission said the rezoning is to prepare the property for future development that is “consistent with its setting in downtown Columbus.”

“Currently there are no concrete or solidified plans for development or redevelopment on the area, so we can’t speak to what will be present there in the future, but just trying to make sure the opportunity is available for redevelopment,” said Redevelopment Project Coordinator Mikala Brown.

As noted in the application, the property is already adjacent to Downtown Commercial zoning, which is “intended to serve as the primary commercial and activity center, where a complete range of goods, services, and entertainment is located.”

“Permitted uses allow for, but are not limited to, the following: small scale retail, dining, entertainment/recreation, office uses, dwellings, etc,” redevelopment officials wrote. “The city is interested in ensuring that the future use of the property contributes to the Envision Columbus Plan to make the downtown a civic and entertainment destination.”

According to the staff report, the subject property is vacant except for trees and a 8,352 square foot building, which Brown said is a cold storage space owned by redevelopment. Additionally, the property is almost entirely in the White River Floodway, 100 year floodplain or 500 year floodplain.

The redevelopment department’s application stated that the property is made up of two parcels, with one located at 15 Brown Street and the other between the bridge and Water Street.

“This area is considered in the Greenbelt around the Downtown,” planning staff wrote. “This area is designated as a prime location to continue to link greenspaces and parks with the People Trail. However, this rezoning potentially promotes infill development, which limits urban sprawl, and which is an efficient use of limited resources and nonrenewable resources, including land.”

Staff also noted that the property’s development could be an asset both downtown Columbus and riverfront, and its proximity to both areas is an advantage.

The report was in favor of sending the request forward with a favorable recommendation.

“The planning department’s view of this is that the criteria for rezoning are met,” City/County Planning Director Jeff Bergman said. “This property is a logical addition to the downtown area and really extends the core of our city out to the riverfront. … The only concern that staff identified was that those properties are not yet served by the full range of infrastructure.”

He explained that the site has “deficiencies” in terms of infrastructure for motorists, bicyclists and pedestrians. With that in mind, staff recommended a commitment to address these deficiencies in the eventual development.

The commitment states that the following actions should be taken “as part of, or prior to, the development of the property, and prior to any occupancy of that development”:

  • Right-of-way dedication for Brown and Water Streets across the subject property.

  • Improving both of these streets between the intersection with First Street and “the southern/easternmost line of the subject property.”
  • Construction of a shared-use path connection between the Riverfront and 1821 Trails.

The city council will consider the first reading of the rezoning request on Feb. 1.

According to the staff report, previous requests were denied by the council in 2003 and 2015.

In 2003, the Waterfront Committee requested that the parcels be rezoned from Public Buildings and Uses and Medium Industrial to Central Business District. Council denied the request and suggested further discussion about future use of the property. The properties were later rezoned as Public/Semi-Public under the adoption of the replacement Zoning Ordinance and Map in 2008.

Then, in 2015, the Redevelopment Commission brought forth a similar proposal to the one currently being considered, but it was also denied by the city council.

Former Mayor Kristen Brown had sought to rezone the land, calling it “prime riverfront development property,” but council members were skeptical of the idea.

Council member Ryan Brand said he preferred to see a developer’s plan for use of the Water Street property before changing the zoning. Jim Lienhoop — a councilman at the time — said that there was value to keeping the area as a green space and having a place for floodwater to go.

Council members also noted that given the area within the floodway and the land that would be used in street improvements and right-of-way caveats, there would only be a little more than an acre left for development.

Frank Miller, who still serves on the council, showed some support for the earlier request and made a motion to rezone the property, but none of his peers seconded.