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Sign being held outside reading Downtown developers are the aggressive panhandlers

The joke around town about personal injury attorney Scott Schiff is, if you need to find him, just wait around any car accident. Poof, he’s going to appear out of nowhere, and if you need a chiropractor, he’s probably one of those, too.

Columbus born and raised, Schiff has made a killing off traffic accidents and slip-and-falls. He’s even become a TV personality of sorts and went into real estate 30 years ago when he started Schiff Properties, now a family-run business and one of the largest owners of commercial property around Ohio State.

He’s omnipotence continues to fester and this is no surprise. We live in an age when personal injury lawyers, real estate developers, tech gurus, CEO billionaires and healthcare executives, have too much the power and our city government, so desperate for tax revenue and campaign contributions, caves to their every whim. 

The problem is, many of these new city powerbrokers are selfishly and greedily leading us into a future of expensive housing, corporate anti-septic lameness (ie, the current state of OSU’s off-campus), and super-low wages you can barely survive on. All of which is leading to a massive divide between rich and poor.

Take Schiff Properties, for example. Yes, they replaced a run-down campus gas station at Lane and High with the shiny new mixed-use Wilson Place. But must the building’s tiny 2-bedrooms with a 24-hour concierge be $2,400 a month?

So should we be surprised by the nerve Schiff Properties has by targeting the quirky and mildly historic Greater Columbus Antique Mall in the southern end of the Brewery District for demolition to build a fast-food restaurant even though it’s not for sale and is believed structurally sound by the Columbus Landmark Foundation?

In the late 1800s the 120-plus year old antique mall was home to a family that made soap. A half century later transformed into a funeral home and then the Elks Lodge. Since the 1970s, besides housing the wares of antique vendors, a stop on the Columbus Landmark Foundation’s ghost tours.

Earlier this year Schiff Properties, not even having the deed yet, went in front Brewery District Commission saying the property is structurally unsound and the only option is demolition.

First off, the property is not for sale, said the building’s owner Fred Altevogt to the Free Press. He said Schiff Properties first approached him last year clearly wanting the property even though it wasn’t even listed.

“They (Schiff Properties) wanted to do different studies, like structural studies, and insurance issue studies. I said, ‘Look, you’re talking some stuff that costs some money because I’ve had to have it done before,’” said Altevogt, who admits Schiff Properties aggressiveness has peeked his interest in selling.

Second, the building, while needing a renovation, is believed to be structurally sound, says Matthew Leasure, the advocacy chair for the Columbus Landmarks Foundation, which has designated the building in its top-10 of most endangered.

“From my perspective as a preservationist, when a historic building is proposed for demolition for a use that is really not compatible for that site, it’s really disconcerting,” said Leasure.

Altevogt suggested to the Free Press he would consider selling the Greater Columbus Antique Mall if the right offer were made. Over the previous year the 60-something Altevogt has dealt with health issues, needing a wheelchair to get around.

If he does sell, one immediate question is, will the seven-member Brewery District Commission approve demolition? Keep in mind the commission, dedicated to protecting historical structures, is an office within the City of Columbus and its members appointed by Mayor Ginther. The appointees are not compensated, and has city employee Cristin Moody as a liaison, a Historic Preservation Officer.

According to Leasure and others, the Brewery District Commission can make it very difficult for Schiff Properties and others to demolish a building.

Under city law, before demolishing a structure and rebuilding within one of the city’s five designated historical districts, a developer must first win a Certificate of Appropriateness from their commissions. The five historical districts are German Village, Italian Village, Victorian Village, the Historic Resources Commission (individual historical buildings throughout the rest of Columbus), and of course the Brewery District.

If a developer is denied a Certificate of Appropriateness, Leasure says there is an appeals process, but “it’s very, very unusual for the appeals board to side with the developer.”

A developer could continue to appeal but are often discouraged from going forward, adds Leasure.

So considering Cristin Moody is a city Historical Preservation Officer and liaison to the Brewery District Commission, she must adamantly convince them to vote against demolition of the antique mall.

Yet as many know, local developers of late have had their way with the city, some getting a tax break to boot.

From 2015 to now, Scoff Schiff has given roughly $35,000 in campaign contributions to city council members and the mayor, says progressive activist Joe Motil, a former vice-chairman of the Columbus Historic Resources Commission.

“The major developers in Columbus are tremendously insensitive to the historical and architectural significant of our city’s older neighborhoods,” says Motil.

Crawford-Hoying demolishing a mid-1920s brick residence in Clintonville, he says. Elford Developments desires to tear down a Grandview house designed by Frank Packard, a renowned Columbus architect. The Pizzuti Companies is eager to destroy some of downtown’s last affordable historical apartments.

“Now here is Schiff Properties wanting to dispose one of the last few examples of Victorian Eclectic Italianate styled structures left in the Brewery District,” he says.

Revised 7/6/2018

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