Plan commission places Rubicon site development plan on pause until June meeting

The Columbus Plan Commission on Wednesday night unanimously voted to continue Rubicon Investment Group’s request for site development plan approval for a mixed-use development at 921 Jackson St. and 1008 and 1020 Washington St. in downtown Columbus.

Commission members and the public still had similar concerns that were brought up during the previous public hearing on the development back in March that they felt were not addressed. These were concerns about the development’s height, which is slightly above the 60-foot maximum, but more so the amount of parking that would be available and how that would impact the surrounding area.

Community members at the meeting felt as though the development does not reflect Columbus’ architectural heritage in a satisfactory manner and that similar developments like it could be found anywhere across the country. There has also been a persistent worry from the public about how the development would affect the already busy intersection at 11th and Washington streets and regarding the addition of yet another mixed-use development before the city has finished its first housing study in over a decade.

Commissioners were enthusiastic to develop the area some called “blighted,” but weren’t sold on its specifics quite yet.

The planning department’s preliminary recommendation was continuance to give the applicants time to address more than 20 comments from planning staff that relate to various compliance-related documentation that Rubicon didn’t submit or was lacking detail.

The public and commissioners also had questions about the environmentally restrictive covenant on the site, meaning the groundwater is contaminated, which is why a proposed parking garage is not underground.

The development would include 120-multi-family units of apartments, commercial space and a parking garage and would require the demolition of the former Joe Willy’s restaurant, a drive-thru bank and a house with historical ties to the city.

It was brought up a couple of times that the commission doesn’t have jurisdiction over what is demolished and what is not because the properties are privately owned.

According to site plans, the development would include a ground floor with nearly 50,000 square feet for parking and 2,000 square feet for office/commercial space.

The ground floor would also consist of space for a 1,500-square-foot lounge, a 1,200-square-foot outside area for dogs, bike storage, and green space along Jackson Street.

On the second floor above the parking garage, Rubicon intends to incorporate a 6,600 square foot common patio with some sort of court on it for recreation. The plan details a 850-square-foot fitness center and two 1,000-square-foot private balconies on the second floor as well.

Floors three, four and five would be apartments including eight three-bedroom units, 40 two-bedroom units, 48 one-bedroom units and 24 studio units.

Although city/county planning director Jeff Bergman cautioned that the commissioner’s purview is to consider the site development plan itself and not price point, given concerns from the public regarding affordable housing Commissioner Zack Ellison asked what the likely price would be for one of the 600 square-foot studio apartments. Rubicon’s Matt Nolley said it would start at “plus or minus $1,`300 a month.”

“That’s purely a market number,” Nolley said.

Commissioner Dennis Baute asked if it would be less if they were to get support from the city.

“It depends, there’s variables that go into that,” Nolley said. “If there’s support from the city, there’s discussion to be had about some portion of units being at a discounted rate.”

Commissioner Evan Kleinhenz observed that “the more difficult we make this to build, the more they have to charge. The taller it is, the more economical units are. If we made them go shorter, they’d have to charge more.”

In order to determine what would be an appropriate amount of parking, planning staff and Rubicon representatives looked at relatively comparable complexes in Columbus and calcuated available parking. These included The Cole and Rubicon-developed St. Barts Apartments.

Most commissioners signaled that 1.2 parking spaces per unit would be the bare minimum amount they would consider appropriate.

According to planning’s Kyra Behrman, the site would have 139 to 140 parking spaces. That would equate to 1.15 parking spaces per unit, per Matte Black Architecture’s Matt Ellenwood, who was there on behalf of Rubicon.

Commissioner Laura Garrett pointed out that also doesn’t take into consideration parking for those who would work in the development or visit the commercial spaces and Ellison later added that some potential families living there may have more than one car.

The project would necessitate an administrative subdivision to combine the three existing separate lots and the dedication of a 35-foot half right-of-way along the properties Jackson Street frontage.

During public comment, Kerri Sinabaldi brought forward a model to give a conceptual idea of how the development would look compared to its surroundings.

“That is what the proposal is, it’s bigger than a football field. So we question whether or not this is what downtown needs in terms of activating. It will be a monolith in that area and in terms of cohesive planning, we don’t feel in the neighborhood that this is where we should be going.”

Zack Patchett said the development would be “a slap in the face of all the architects that have worked here previously” and that the developers “don’t have an incentive to give competitive rate because, well, we’re probably going to give them money to help build this.”

Michael Cartwright said he was surprised to find out that the plan commission has no criteria relating to the historic architecture of the downtown and that “it seems to me that is something that the city council, planning commission need to give attention regardless of what happens here.”

Sinabaldi later tacked on that little of Rubicon’s plans had changed since March when they came to discuss parking layouts and ingress and egress points.

“The plans that were submitted, there was not a single gained parking spot and the height did not change. So they are not looking at the difference. If you take that top floor off to be more consistent with the adjacent zoning and neighborhood— would they build it? And would you allow somebody to have that few of parking spots? Because at the end of the day, it’s not 140, it’s 138 plus you have to have it ADA compliant.”

Kleinhenz asked Rubicon representatives what they know of the environmental covenant on the site, which was the subject of a few letters submitted.

Banning Engineering’s Steve Brehob said the plan is to use an “underground detention system” that’s “basically like building a concrete bathtub under the parking deck.”

Bergman said the matter will come before the commission again during its meeting on June 12.