Far South Side residents upset over plan to build data center at former Hartman Farm

Mark Ferenchik
The Columbus Dispatch
Rathmell Road runs along the former Hartman Farm property on Columbus' Far South Side in what was once Hamilton Township.  A 500-acre section of the former farm property on the right or south side of the road is being proposed for development as a data center, something that some nearby residents in the Fischer Homes' Sweetwater subdivision  (in the distance at top of photo) oppose.

Developers want to build a data center on 500 acres that was once part of the historic Hartman Farm on Columbus' Far South Side, a plan that has upset neighbors who don't want such a large project on the site.

That includes Amy Rico, who plans to move into a new home this year being built in the nearby Sweetwater subdivision by Fischer Homes. 

"My husband and I started looking for a house in May (2020), and the reason we chose this neighborhood was the rolling hills farm scenery," said Rico, who is moving from Hilliard.

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"I'm honestly really disappointed," she said.

The proposed data center would be located on the east side of South High Street (Route 23), south of Rathmell Road and west of Parsons Avenue. It is located north of nearby Scioto Downs.

A 500-acre section of the former Hartman Farm property on Columbus' Far South Side has been proposed for development of a data center. The property (located south of the red marker on this Google map) is situated on the east side of South High Street (Route 23), south of Rathmell Road, west of Parsons Avenue and north of nearby Scioto Downs in what was formerly Hamilton Township.

Opponents have created a Save The Hartman Farm Facebook page and a website to fight the proposed center, which would be located near Scioto Downs.

The website contains reasons why the farm shouldn't be rezoned, including its historic designation — the Hartman Stock Farm District is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

"It is a significant piece of Columbus’ history and should be preserved for future generations," the website states.

A 500-acre section of the former Hartman Farm property on Columbus' Far South Side has been proposed as the site of a massive data center. Some nearby residents oppose the project, concerned about the impact on their properties as well as the Native American burial mounds and Spangler Hill, which was formed by glacial kame deposits dating back 14,000 to 24,000 years ago.  The superintendent of Hamilton Local Schools, whose campus sits across Parsons Avenue from the site, is in support of the project because it would be better than other development and traffic impact would be minimal with only some 20 permanent employees at the center.

The farm is also the site of Native American burial mounds and of Spangler Hill, a glacial kame formed by deposits when a glacier covered this part of Ohio 14,000 to 24,000 years ago. The kettle lake on the property was also formed by the glacier, the website contends.

The property is currently zoned for commercial and residential development. The applicant, PFK Company II LLC, wants it rezoned for manufacturing.

Opponents say the site won't be able to handle the increase in traffic from the development, and that it would hurt values of nearby homes.

"The big concern is dropping property values," said Patrick Haren, an Ohio State University dental student who moved to the nearby Hartman Ponds subdivision in May 2019. He also worries that if the land is rezoned to industrial and the data center falls through, something worse could be built there.

The Facebook page contains a Jan. 14 letter from Mark Tyler, superintendent of the Hamilton Local School District, whose complex of schools sits across Parsons Avenue from the site. Tyler said he supports the project because he believes a data center would be a good neighbor and is better than other types of development. He also said it would create minimal traffic — just 20 permanent jobs are proposed — and leave many of the landmarks on the site undisturbed.

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South High Street (Route 23) is heavily traveled on the Far South Side, with 40,848 vehicles daily north of Rathmell Road and 34,770 vehicles south of Rathmell Road, according to Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission traffic counts from 2019.

The Columbus Development Commission approved the rezoning on Jan. 14, and the proposal next goes before Columbus City Council. A date has not yet been set.

A 500-acre section of the former Hartman Farm property along South High Street (Route 23) on Columbus' Far South Side has been proposed for development as a data center.  A zoning change request was opposed by the Far South Area Commission, approved by the city planning commission and will come before Columbus City Council for final approval.

The Far South Area Commission voted against the rezoning 7-4 with two abstentions. Mike Walker, who chairs the commission's zoning committee, said representatives for the project would not tell the commission who the potential owner would be.

"There was no actual site plan submitted," said Walker, who voted for the rezoning.

"I think it’s a good idea. I worked at a data center before. I know how they are about upkeep property management," said Walker, an electrician.

Rico said she just wonders who is behind it.

"They won’t give us information. They keep saying it’s a Fortune 100 company," she said. "Who is it going to benefit?"

Jeff Brown, the zoning lawyer representing PFK Company II LLC, said he could not say anything more than what has already been presented. "It's a data center. It's all I can say," he said. 

The Hartman Farm was originally 5,000 acres. Dr. Samuel H. Hartman made a fortune in the late 1800s and early 1900s with a patent medicine made in Columbus called Pe-ru-na, a tonic that was 27% alcohol mixed with herbal ingredients.

He developed the farm, which became a central Ohio landmark that lined Route 23 for four miles with buildings and a dairy farm, while growing everything from peaches to grapes and apples and corn.

In a letter to the Columbus City Council, resident Amanda Hansel wrote the land is still being farmed.

"It is not sitting vacant and is not in a state of destruction," she wrote. "It's a flourishing farm, home to local wildlife, rolling beautiful green space with rich agricultural, historical, ancient and community history. We need to preserve the historical significance of the Hartman Farm and the currently worked land that exists."