Community garden to be displaced by 10 new homes in South Side neighborhood near Nationwide Children's Hospital

Bill Bush
The Columbus Dispatch
Michael Doody, who started the Kossuth Street Garden, in 2017. The garden is going to be displaced by 10 new homes.

A months-long battle over a community garden being evicted from part of a vacant South Side property to pave the way for new housing ended Monday with Columbus City Council approving the developer's requested zoning change.

Developer Tracy Cohen said that he didn't trust the backers of the Kossuth Street Garden at the corner of East Kossuth Street and South 17th Street to actually vacate the property, but he nevertheless agreed during the council meeting to allow the group to use the lot until April 22 to facilitate a planned Earth Day gathering to celebrate the birthday of the garden, which has been around for more than a decade.

Cohen plans to build 10 new 2,000-square-foot homes on the 0.88-acre property, located about a half-mile south of Nationwide Children's Hospital and three blocks east of Parsons Avenue.

Kossuth Street Garden is located on the northeast corner of vacant property bounded by East Kossith Street, 17th Street, an alley and Ann Street on the west where a developer plans to build 10 single-family homes.

Cohen said allowing the garden, which is located on the northeast corner of the lot, to be used for another month shouldn't delay construction. The lot was previously zoned C-4 commercial, meaning Cohen could have built stores, a hotel, a halfway house, or other commercial buildings, but he opted to rezone the land residential to build single-family homes in keeping with the neighborhood, according to project architect Juliet Bullock.

South Side development set for 10 new homes

Cohen has allowed the garden to remain since purchasing the land in August 2018 so long as the community members cut the grass and maintained the lot. "But that maintenance did not happen," Bullock said.

Last fall, Cohen informed Michael Doody, garden founder and neighborhood resident, that the development was moving forward, and the garden had to relocate.

Several neighborhood sites were offered up as replacement lots in the area for the garden, including one offered by Nationwide Children's Hospital, but Doody turned them all down, Bullock said.

Columbus City Council approved a zoning change for developer Tracy Cohen to clear the way for plans to build 10 single-family homes on land on the southwest corner of East Kossuth Street and South 17th Street. Cohen agreed to give residents who have operated the Kossuth Street Garden at the site for more than a decade to remain until Earth Day on April 22 so they can mark the garden's birthday.

Doody said he proposed buying the garden portion of the land from the former owner, the Salvation Army. However, the Salvation Army sold it to East Kossuth LLC, in August 2018 for $100,000 — $35,000 less than the Salvation Army paid for it almost two decades before.

Doody said the mowing cost him and the garden's supporters $900, and they ran out of money to do that last spring. He added that the development isn't about providing affordable housing, because Cohen plans to sell the houses for up to $300,000 each.

"This is the perfect example of no good deed goes unpunished," said Robert "Skip" Weiler Jr., who represented the Salvation Army and Cohen in real-estate transactions involving the land. He said Cohen and the Salvation Army each told the garden's backers that the day would eventually come when they would have to vacate the property.

In the end, council voted 6-1 to change the zoning to residential. By the same vote count, the council granted variances to lot width, area district requirements and setback requirements. Council member Elizabeth Brown voted no each time. 

"I cannot support this without a protection for the garden," Brown said.

Amtrak return to Columbus?

In other business Monday, the council passed a resolution of support for a potential Amtrak expansion of passenger rail services to Columbus, encouraging Congressional action to pay for the expansion.

Columbus is the nation's most populous city without any fixed rail service, and the second most populous city without Amtrak service since a Chicago and Pittsburgh line that ran through the city disbanded in 1979, according to the council and the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission.

Restoring that corridor would connect more than 15 million residents with rail service, while a Cleveland to Cincinnati route, running through Columbus and Dayton, would connect Ohio's four largest metropolitan areas.

On other matters, the council:

  • Approved the Recreation and Parks Department entering into a $339,300 agreement with Trinity Transition Consultants LLC to provide support services in developing a sustainable, diverse, equitable, inclusive, and anti-racist workplace culture, to support strategic community engagement, dialogue, and outreach with diverse residents.
  • Approved allocating $550,000 to offer residents in five city neighborhoods $15-an-hour temporary jobs picking up litter, continuing a program last fall that collected 5,789 bags of litter and debris from alleys and streets in just a few weeks.