Houses in the snow

For luxury condo or apartment developers, we have heard it’s feast or famine. So it’s no surprise they want density in our coolest neighborhoods, which is bad enough. Worse is how they are building boorish and Easton-like monsters without any empathy for current residents or historical preservation.

Nothing is sacred to them. Not even German Village, the city’s most historical and aesthetic neighborhood.

Indeed, three conceptional development proposals have stalked German Village over the previous year to two years. They are faceless and unimaginative. You know the kind: a square beehive of glass and concrete.

 “We are now at a place where all of a sudden this group of developers have turned and looked South and said, ‘There’s some opportunity there. We can take advantage of the destination, the charm, the identity of German Village for our projects. And we are here to make money. This is the game we play and we are not here to make your life good,’” says Katharine Moore who served as Executive Director of the German Village Society for over a decade. “They are taking advantage of what we’ve spent years creating with care, blood, sweat and tears.”

But German Village preservationists contend German Village isn’t threatened by development itself, but encroachment of development on its borders. All three current conceptional designs are for parcels on the edges of German Village.

 “Are we at a pivotal point? Yes. The pivotal point is encroachment from surrounding areas,” says Delilah Lopez, current Executive Director for the German Village Society. “There’s very minimal actual land within the German Village historical parameters that can even be developed. Are we at risk where we need to be on guard for those particular parcels? Absolutely. Are we? Absolutely.”

Lopez believes two of three conceptional proposals for German Village are dormant for now but could be restarted.

It is the third proposal that has German Villagers on edge over its look and added density. A 135-room hotel for Livingston Avenue not far from the courthouse. The developer is Wickford Holdings LLC of New Albany and they’ve chosen local architect Moody Nolan for the design. And while we cheer for Moody Nolan being the largest African-American owned architecture firm in the nation, we’re not big fans of their Easton-esque look, which some like to call “remarkably bland.”

As one reader on Columbus Underground put it, the Moody Nolan-design for this hotel “looks like what would happen if Children’s Hospital, the (new) Short North, and German Village had a baby.”

The German Village Society is opposed to the hotel design’s height (five stories) because it is too high to comply with German Village guidelines, says Lopez.

But is the hotel’s look a given?

Wickford Holdings could go in front of the German Village Commission with its seven mayoral appointees this December to win approval for the hotel. And while the hotel’s design height is still being debated, its look and style will be approved because we can’t remember the last time a city commission denied a luxury developer to build something that will make a lot of money no matter how ugly and lame.

 “I can’t argue against the look and aesthetic as long as they get what we like to call the rhythm. And if they can get the right mix of materials, I can’t argue against a hotel,” says Lopez. “The German Village Society is not opposed to development when it complies with German Village design guidelines. That is a broad and sweeping opinion of people both in and outside German Village.”

Going forward, how will city leadership and its German Village Commission continue to respond to developers who are salivating at the chance to build condos and apartments in German Village?

Former German Villager Eddie Hamilton, who moved to a nearby Southside neighborhood, sees a future where German Village and other Southside neighborhoods could face a wave of developer encroachment they won’t be able to control because they can’t. Lest we remind you: the German Village Commission has seven mayoral appointees.

 “All of us on the South end know that there was a massive land grab by developers,” says Hamilton. “The encroachment occurs when a property is granted zoning and other developers want parity or carte blanche granted. They will tell the commission, ‘You approved their project, why not ours?’ Next thing you know, a whole quadrant gets changed by a thousand cuts.”

Hamilton, like many others, doesn’t have faith the German Village Commission will respond as they should.

 “I’m less than two miles away and development creates a domino effect down the line. If the city finds value in tearing up a neighborhood to accommodate developers, they will,” he says.

Moore recalls a story she heard recently where German Village residents were on vacation in Florida when by happenstance they met a developer who has designs on building a mixed-use monster in German Village. They insisted he wasn’t going to be able to build anything five-stories or taller. One of the German Villagers even bet him $10,000 it wasn’t happening.

“This guy said, ‘I wouldn’t take your money. I know how this gets done. I could do it in my sleep’,” says Moore. “We have a city government, a development department, a mayor, who cater to developers at almost every turn.”

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