Mayor rallies BTW residents to support Liberty District plan

ajjohnson@ledger-enquirer.comMarch 25, 2013 

Mayor Teresa Tomlinson fired up a crowd of about 100 residents at the Booker T. Washington apartment complex Monday, urging them to fight for proposed apartments around the Liberty Theatre despite opposition from a small group of leaders trying to block the development.

The mayor made the remarks at a Housing Authority of Columbus meeting, where residents were updated about plans to tear down the antiquated apartment complex at the intersection of Victory Drive and Veterans Parkway. She was accompanied by City Manager Isaiah Hugley and Housing Authority Chief Executive Officer Len Williams.

The redevelopment proposal calls for the units to be replaced with a mixed-use development at the current location and about 100 modernized apartments around the Liberty Theatre similar to those at Ashley Station and Arbor Pointe.

But the mayor told the crowd that plans were in jeopardy because of a small group of people who went before the Planning Advisory Commission last Wednesday and convinced commissioners to vote against the proposal. The final decision rests with the Columbus Council.

Tomlinson said residents would be surprised to know who the opponents were and didn't identify them by name. She said opponents "scared the bejesus" out of the commissioners. And they voted against rezoning for one of the three blocks needed to develop the apartments.

"There's a handful of folks, and I mean a handful of folks, this many," she said holding up five fingers. "And some, by God, don't want this to happen."

The group Tomlinson referred to was led by Tax Commissioner Lula Huff, who opposed rezoning of the property across the street from the Liberty Theatre. Huff said the Housing Authority's plans were in direct violation of a strategic concept included in a 2003 Liberty District master plan developed by the city. It stated that entertainment and commercial development was traditionally located on the north part of the district and that housing on the south and west ends near Victory Drive.

Huff said the master plan called for a variety of housing types and densities. And the property surrounding the Liberty Theatre was supposed to be developed into a mixed-use, commercial, civic, entertainment and residential anchor.

"That's what it's supposed to be, not multi-residential," she said.

City Councilor Jerry "Pops" Barnes announced on his Facebook page that a group of "concerned citizens" would meet 5:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Macon Road library auditorium to discuss the issue.

"We must ensure that the city honors its promise to the citizens in the 2003 Master Plan for the Liberty District," the Facebook post stated. "The present plan does not. Community support is needed to stop it."

But on Monday, Tomlinson and Hugley told the BTW residents that the plans to develop apartments around the Liberty Theatre were in their best interest.

They said it would allow them to live close to work, entertainment and schools that their children attend. Tomlinson said she believed concentrating residents in that area would also attract stores and other businesses.

She encouraged residents to show up at a city council meeting April 23 to fight for the project, and housing officials agreed to provide the group with bus transportation.

One resident, the Rev. Edona Alexandria, volunteered to start a petition.

Residents were also encouraged to attend the first of three Liberty District stakeholders meetings at 4 p.m. Friday.

Tomlinson said the Planning Advisory Commission held the meeting to vote on projects. "And all of a sudden they got a crowd of people screaming at them telling them they don't want BTW up there, telling them they've got all these other plans for up there," the mayor told the crowd. "And you would be surprised who it is, now. But it's only five of them."

Tomlinson told residents there were more of them in the room than the five who opposed the project and it was time for their voices to be heard.

"I think you all want this to happen -- I mean, do you?" she asked the crowd, which responded with a resounding yes. "Because I don't want to be out there fighting alone."

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