City officials see the Great Southern Shopping Plaza as a future home for Intel and Honda employees
City meeting and map of area

When it comes to the last boomtown in the Midwest, certain Columbus neighborhoods make for unusual destinations for future residents to call home. And at first glance, the Far South Side near the Great Southern Shopping Plaza doesn’t seem like a prime location for Intel and Honda employees.

But according to a South Side activist, the future of the Far South Side could be radically altered if City officials and developers get their way, which as many already know, is a sure thing for all parts of Columbus.

“Tony Celebrezze [Deputy Director for the Department of Building and Zoning Services in Columbus], in a conversation, told me that they want to – and this is a verbatim quote – they want to make the Far South corridor the next Short North or the next off-campus, as far as the way they look,” says Bruce Miller, president of the Scioto Southland Civic Association. Miller also sits on the Far South Columbus Area Commission, a City-affiliated and strictly advisory body for the community when it comes to City-approved development.

Miller, a nurse, has a background in agriculture in an “economically disadvantaged area.” He’s deeply concerned about the houseless who reside near the Great Southern Shopping Plaza and the mental health care disparity they face. He has his hands full with helping many people, but now he faces something he would have never predicted just a few years ago. A historical transformation of his neighborhood, for better or for worse.

“Celebrezze said they have completed studies where they have interviewed the people who are moving here for Intel and the Honda battery plant down in Washington Court House, and that they are already driving three or four hour commutes out in California and in the Silicon Valley, and so if they have to only drive 40 minutes to an hour one way, these people are saying, ‘Praise Jesus, hallelujah, we’ll do it’,” Miller stated.

Miller has been trying to “trumpet these” City plans to South Side residents, and recently called a meeting under the umbrella of the Scioto Southland Civic Association (pictured above). Many residents wanted to know why the Walmart in the Great Southern Shopping Plaza is closing. Walmart has said the store is not meeting “financial expectations.” But Miller believes Walmart was persuaded to move by the developer who owns most of the shopping plaza, Columbus-based Casto, which no doubt has fangs for the potential gold mine that high-end residential could bring instead of retail.

“We held this meeting to discuss the closing of Walmart and to discuss the rezoning of South High Street, because about 85 percent of the individuals that I spoke to who contacted me and asked, ‘Why is Walmart closing?’ and I said, ‘Are you aware that there are City plans in the future that have not been voted on by City Council yet, but are in the works, to rezone South High Street and to make it residential housing?’”

He continued, “I was absolutely shocked about how few residents were aware of the City re-zoning. The City has said they have put surveys out in the field and there has been fantastic responses to these surveys, but I can tell you at our meeting we had approximately 300 people in the room and approximately 85 percent of the people said they had no idea this rezoning proposal from State Route 104 to the 270 loop even existed.”

Miller is referring to the City’s relatively new “Zone In Columbus” program, which has designs on nearly all of Columbus (pictured above). The City is modernizing its zoning code for the first time in seventy years because, according to them, it’s currently stuck in the 1950s. Hundreds-of-thousands are predicted to move here and “Zone in Columbus” wants to “support growth that prioritizes environmental and economic sustainability through improved transit, additional housing opportunities and the creation of job centers.”

Miller says Zone In Columbus wants to re-zone both sides of South High at the Great Southern Shopping Plaza for high-density residential (condos and apartments).

“The point of this whole meeting was the residents wish to have a conversation with City leadership to find out about the re-zoning plan and to have some input and a seat at the table about what’s going to go on in their neighborhood,” he said. “They are not against progress. They are not against re-development. They are not against anything.”

Miller continues to be swamped by South Side residents now that the City plans have been exposed. He wants to reiterate that they are not against new housing and especially affordable housing. Indeed, several South Side affordable housing complexes for low-income households are under construction or beginning to rent.

But the South Side, like any neighborhood, at the very least wants to be part of the conversation before the entire place is leveled.

“I have been too busy with over 1,000 emails from local residents concerned, over 550 phone calls, and I can’t count the number of people who stop me on the street asking how do we get involved,” said Miller.

The next Scioto Southland Civic Association is March 4th in the gymnasium of the Heritage Free Will Baptist Church, 575 Obetz Road, Columbus 43207.