Man and woman posing with award, map of south side

Bruce Miller, a Far South Columbus Area commissioner, has caught the eye of City officials after he spoke out about future development plans for the Far South Side. Now he’s facing intimidation, something a Columbus resident should never be dealing with when it comes to simply wanting their neighborhood having a seat at the table.

Miller, a nurse, has alerted hundreds of South Side homeowners and business owners to the City’s new “Zone In Columbus” plan, which has designs on building condos and apartment buildings – twelve stories tall possibly – at the Great Southern Shopping Plaza. Also in the crosshairs is a nearby beloved drive-in theatre, and all of South High Street, for that matter, from State Route 104 to 270, including residential side streets.

“I have been told by both a fellow member of the Far South Columbus Area Commission and by a legislative aide to a City Council person that when I come up for re-election this summer I will be facing a challenger as a result of my activism,” said Miller (pictured above) to the Free Press, which recently wrote about his effort to tell the Far South Side about major zoning revisions which could mean earth-shattering changes at the Great Southern Shopping Plaza.

Miller added, “And activism not only about Zone In Columbus, but about the deficiency in police and fire services, the schools issues, and in obtaining answers to questions residents have asked or advocating on their behalf.”

City area commissions, such as the Far South Columbus Area Commission, are strictly advisory bodies when it comes to City Council approved development. But Miller is also president of the Scioto Southland Civic Association, which is not City-affiliated. He’s utilizing this organization to reach hundreds of South Siders who are deeply concerned about the future of their community, and their next meeting is March 4 in the gymnasium of the Heritage Free Will Baptist Church, 575 Obetz Road, Columbus, 43207.

“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?’” he said.

Miller came under the microscope of City officials and the Mayor’s Office after he began posting on social media what City officials were telling him. That the Far South Side, specifically the Great Southern Shopping Plaza, will be bulldozed for high-end housing to attract future Intel and Honda employees, as Honda is building an electric car battery plant near Washington Court House, a 40-minute drive away.

It is wishful and ambitious thinking, something long-time South Side residents have been asking for, but probably not what they’ve envisioned (i.e., expensive condos and apartments). Nevertheless, last summer’s shootout in the plaza’s massive parking lot involving police was just another reminder of how bad it can get. The houseless have had camps behind the plaza for years. Disgraceful is how 25.5 square miles of the South Side has not a single primary care doctor, says Miller.

“The residents agree that change is needed, that has never been disputed,” stated Miller in a recent Reddit post. “In fact, the residents of the Far Southside are the number one community in the ENTIRE City of Columbus for the approval of and creation of affordable housing units in the City for many years running and continue to be such in 2024 with new zoning applications going before our Area Commission next month. These applications have met ZERO community resistance within the boundaries of the Scioto Southland Civic Association.”

Area commissioners being strong-armed and scoffed at by City officials is nothing out of the ordinary anymore in the Midwest’s last boomtown. They and their developer pals, as often noted by former mayoral candidate Joe Motil, get their way when it comes to building (unaesthetic) density. And Zone In Columbus – which has designs on all of Columbus not just the South Side – is looking more and more like a City-sanctioned tool to appease high-end developers such as Thrive and Casto.

“When the residents elected me,” says Miller, “I promised them I would represent them and their voices, even if I disagreed with their positions. This is a democracy, and at meetings their voice guides my actions. Example, many people say no more affordable housing, however, if you educate them as to what affordable housing actually is, and that an affordable housing community at 60% AGMI is someone earning close to $47k a year then they understand this is an entry level schoolteacher.”

Eye-opening is how Zone In Columbus may have already cost the South Side an institution important to many local residents. The Free Press has often ridiculed Walmart for the way it treats its hardest workers, but the Walmart at the Great Southern Shopping Plaza was doing good things for the community. But in the wake of high-end developers with fangs out for the plaza, it has now shuttered under questionable circumstances. Keep in mind the South Side, for the most part, is a “healthcare providers no man’s land,” says Miller.

“They scheduled plans for community health fair events to be held this spring at locations to be determined in two neighborhoods,” he says Miller. “The second long term commitment was that for back-to-school time 2024, Walmart was giving $1500 donations to every Columbus City School building on the Far South Side (6 total) for school supplies for students who were in need.”

Just north of the shopping plaza is the Fairlane Mobile Home Park, and when the Walmart announced it was closing, says Miller. The home park’s manager called him saying residents were worried about their future.

“I put them in contact with City officials to try to preserve that affordable housing community,” he said. “Where are 200 plus trailers going to be moved that pay $400 a month lot rent in this market when the City has Colonial Village residents in hotels and the county has Galloway Village residents in hotels?”