Some neighbors opposing the proposed closing of Leonard Street between Wildwood and Forrest Avenues have signed a petition against it.
John S. Griffin, president of the Wildwood Association, emailed a letter to Columbus Council on Wednesday, objecting to St. Paul United Church’s request that the city abandon the property for an expansion project. Attached to the email was a petition with 160 signatures.
“St. Paul is a powerful church and they intend to pass their agenda with no concern for the neighborhood in which they reside,” Griffin wrote. “They have shown little respect for the neighborhood as we have been forced to endure their screaming air conditioner for years and the eyesore of an empty lot that has been poorly maintained. Now they intend to close a street to access their new proposed building, yet much larger churches in Uptown are faced with the same issues and manage without requesting street closure.”
Residents believe stipulations that city officials added to a resolution council will consider Tuesday “are not applicable and will not be enforced in any way,” he also wrote. “We also feel that we have been misled, are being railroaded, and that our voice is not being heard.”
The church, located at 2101 Wildwood Ave., just north of Columbus High School, plans to build a 15,000-square-foot youth center with classrooms. Two buildings currently owned by the church will be demolished and a parking lot developed adjacent to Wildwood Avenue. Leonard Street will be transformed into green space for a more cohesive campus, according to church officials. It will remain open to the general public.
On Tuesday, Brinkley Pound was the only resident to speak in opposition of the project at a council meeting. In the audience, about 45 people raised their hands in support, most of them people affiliated with the congregation.
Will Cliatt, a St. Paul representative, told the Ledger-Enquirer the church believes the project will enhance the area.
“We feel like we need to do this,” he said. “Our church is growing and expanding, and this is something that we need to go forward and stay in the Midtown where we are. We don’t want to hurt the neighborhood, we don’t want to hurt our neighbors, we want to be a good neighbor to them.”
But Robert Arnett, a resident opposed to the project, said the church has been using its clout with city officials and its vast mailing list to drum up support for the project. He said the neighborhood, on the other hand, has been at a disadvantage because it has no influence.
Councilors Skip Henderson and Mike Baker are members of the church, according to city officials, and intend to recuse themselves from the vote.
“We’re just a neighborhood, we didn’t know the importance of being at the meeting, whereas the church has two councilors on the city council, and they knew the importance of it,” Arnett said Thursday in an interview with the Ledger-Enquirer. He said many of the church members are more affluent than residents in the neighborhood who couldn’t take off time to attend the city council meeting.
“I will be addressing the council on Tuesday before the vote,” he said. “But I can assure you that there won’t be many of our people there on Tuesday either, for the same reason, because it’s a working-class neighborhood other than Leonard Street and a couple of houses across from the church on Forrest.”
In a June 11 letter to council members, Arnett wrote that a Columbus Consolidated Government Engineering report found 80,000 automobiles use Leonard Street annually.
But on Thursday, City Engineering Director Donna Newman told the Ledger-Enquirer the city usually doesn’t do annual traffic calculations. She said the city conducted a traffic study May 8-16. Addressing council on Tuesday, she said there was an average of 234 vehicles per day on school weekdays, 217 vehicles per day on Saturday, and 150 vehicles per day on Sunday.
“What happens if you try to do that annually, it blows it up to a lot larger number that seems like a lot more vehicles than on a daily basis,” she said. “... As far as the (daily) traffic numbers, those are really low numbers for a street, and St. Paul owns both sides of the street as far as the property.
“... I understand the concern of the neighborhood, but from a traffic standpoint, it’s not a big deal for us,” she said. “Obviously, they have some issues, but some of that stuff we can’t govern.”
The Ledger-Enquirer tried reaching all 10 city councilors Thursday to get their views on the issue. Those reached Councilors Walker Garrett, Jerry “Pops” Barnes, Evelyn “Mimi” Woodson, Glenn Davis and Mayor Pro-Tem Evelyn Turner-Pugh.
Garrett represents District 8, where the property is located. He said he is still trying to work things out between the church and neighbors.
“... I’m not planning on voting against the street closure,” he said. “But I do want to make sure the version of the street closure has any protections that I can get for the neighbors. I believe we will be able to reach a compromise.”
When asked about the petition, he questioned the validity of the document, pointing out that some names were duplicated.
“I saw at least four different couples and single individuals who signed the petition twice,” he said. “... I called a few people on the list, and they said they either had not signed the petition or they did not understand what the project was going to be like, and they support the closure.”
Barnes said he felt comfortable voting for the street closing, because Garrett and most neighbors he spoke with support it. Woodson and Turner-Pugh said they’re still undecided.
Davis said he’s leaning toward voting in favor of the project.
“I think everybody has got to understand that there’s going to be development there, there’s going to be construction, it’s gonna happen,” he said. “I think what people really need to weigh is if it’s gonna happen, what’s the best option. I think what they’re presenting is a campus-style development that’s going to be sensitive to the community and the neighborhood. ... I would be in favor of that any day if it’s going to happen.”