Mounds at Little Turtle

The following article is a prime example of what neighborhoods across Columbus are up against when trying to fight Columbus City Council and the Mayor’s office and the connections they have between developers (and others) along with those who serve on commissions and civic organizations that are Columbus City Hall lackeys who are pushing city policy down our throats. 

The name Little Turtle is in reference to Chief Little Turtle who was an Indian leader that helped lead Native Americans against federal forces in the late 1700s and early 1800s. One of his victories against U.S. troops is noted as being the U.S. Armiy’s worst defeat by American Indians. Residents of Little Turtle are holding out hope that they too can beat the odds and stop an unwarranted $5.4 million City of Columbus Road Project that reeks of political favoritism for another of our city’s many pay to play developers.  

Many people may not be aware of the fact that the Little Turtle subdivision sits within the boundaries of the city of Columbus. In 1969, The Schottenstein Real Estate Group developed, and opened to great fanfare, Little Turtle as the first “planned community” development in Central Ohio. Approximately 400 condominiums were for sale featuring a 200-acre plus golf course designed by Pete Dye. A recent survey of Little Turtle residents by social networking service Nextdoor, shows that neighbors love Little Turtle because it is quiet, beautiful, family friendly, safe, dog friendly, and has trees, freeway access, and nature. It has a population (2010 census) of about 4,800, 42% homeowners and average age of 44. Little Turtle has long been touted as a “hidden gem” while many long-term residents have remained at Little Turtle due to its park-like environment and peacefulness. 

Little Turtle sits in a natural setting with an abundance of mature trees, cedar wood residences and apartments. Inviting residents and guests into this neighborhood is a beautiful grand boulevard with mounded elevations that include natural meadowland grasses, and a civil war era tree, all in danger of being wiped out, along with the highly likely possibility of more of its golf course being developed into apartments and condos. And add to this yet another level of increased traffic with the increasing developments just outside the Little Turtle neighborhood (Ulry, Lee, Warner, and Cherrybottom Roads), all of which use the existing Little Turtle roadways as a gateway to SR161 – much to the dismay of 83.5% of its residents according to a survey conducted by the Little Turtle Civic Association (LTCA).

In 2018, the City of Columbus conducted a traffic study of Little Turtle Way, the main north-south corridor into Little Turtle, and the streets that intersect with it. When residents of Little Turtle were first notified of this new roadway plan in August of 2019, one of the first questions asked was why and who directed that a traffic study be conducted in the first place? Especially since the chances of an accident at the main intersection of Longrifle Road and Little Turtle Way are .0000008% to .0000013% (according to Franklin County crash statistics for the past 5 years). That question has yet to have been answered by city officials of the Public Service Department or City Council members.

Organizing efforts by the Little Turtle Civic Association (LTCA) to stop this new road project began in February 2020. Numerous materials printed by the LTCA stated that the community acknowledged that its boulevard needed repair. But the question was asked, “why is such a monumental change being made in our community, with our greenspace and mature trees to be razed, when the roadway simply needs repaired? The existing mounds are sound barriers to SR161 and also act as a rainwater basin. It’s interesting that City did not perform an ecological study. Our beautiful boulevard is a part of Columbus’ history, as it has been in place for half a century. Surely, the cost to repair the boulevard would not approximate the $5.4 million cost for the upcoming project. The city has not provided us with an estimate to repair the existing boulevard, despite our repeated inquires. We’re (the residents of Little Turtle) taxpayers too, and we don’t wish to pay for something we don’t need or want.” The message was clear that the roadway project was not for the benefit of Little Turtle residents and was purposely kept under wraps until the last minute while catching the Little Turtle residents off guard and with little if any rightful input into the project.

Other concerns that have been brought to the attention of city officials were that the proposed roadway plan will only create traffic back-ups at rush hour and guaranteed traffic accidents. “We know; we live here,” they said. And for the 75% of residents who live north and west of the main intersection (Little Turtle Way and Longrifle), they would be landlocked. They would have no other access to enter or exit the community if the roundabout would be blocked for any reason. And this was a genuinely concerning issue regarding emergency equipment getting in and out of the community in a timely manner—minutes that could mean life or death for our community residents.

Now to Connect the Dots

In April 2015, records from the Franklin County Auditor show that Firewater Limited purchased the Little Turtle Golf course for $2,100,241 and 2 other Little Turtle parcels between April and June of 2015 for $600,000. Records show that Mo Dioun and his wife Mina Dioun are agents of Firewater Limited which is a corporation of The Stonehenge Company. Son-in-law Adam Trautner is Vice- President of The Stonehenge Company. Mr. Dioun is also the President and founder of the development firm The Stonehenge Company who owns the Little Turtle Golf Course and other parcels.

Mr. Dioun and his Stonehenge Company have been in business since 1987. One of his first substantial development projects, Gahanna’s Creekside development which opened in 2007, ended up with lender Huntington Bank filing a lawsuit against Stonehenge for defaulting on $30 million worth of loans. The city of Gahanna owned the land that the project was built on and put the project up for sale in 2011 hoping to recover the $30 million loss. At the time, only 11 of the 69 condominiums which were built were occupied and most were unfinished.

In 2013 Dioun filed a lawsuit against the Gahanna-Jefferson Board of Education accusing the school district of fraud and false representation and public records violations. Although the school board claimed that Dioun’s lawsuit had no merit, they felt he would lawyer up on them and drag the lawsuit out in court possibly costing the district millions if they did not settle. Mr. Dioun agreed to a $980,000 settlement with the school district.

In 2016 Dioun once again found himself in more legal issues going to battle against his Barleys Brewing Company business partner over disputes of handling money, management, and business decisions. Partner Ron Jezerinac and Mr. Dioun have each been attempting to take full control of the popular bar-restaurant which sits prominently across the street from the Columbus Convention Center.

The dots truly begin to connect with Mo Dioun and his Stonehenge Company when they were awarded the contract by Michael Coleman’s Columbus Urban Growth Corporation (CUGC) in 2007 to develop the 75 acres of the former Northland Mall site. Mo Dioun donated $3,000 to Coleman’s campaign committee in 2006. Dioun formed the Northland Village Developers LLC to purchase the properties and develop his $80 million project.

The CUGC was formed in 1996 by then City Council President Michael Coleman. Coleman selected his friend David Baker as President and head of this non-profit economic development arm of the city. Coleman’s agency folded in 2009 when it was discovered that the agency was $4 million in debt. Mr. Baker had a sexual harassment lawsuit filed against him in 2003 by two former employees that was settled by CUGC. In 2009, Coleman appointee David Baker also defaulted on a small business loan of $1 million that was given to him by the City of Columbus.

Dave Paul was the President of the Northland Community Council civic organization in 2010 when the transformation of the old Northland Mall was taking place. Mr. Paul has been a longtime community advocate for the Northland area and is currently a member of the City of Columbus Recreation and Parks Commission, a Council Residential District Commissioner and zoning chairman of the Northland Community Council. By all rights, a trusted foot soldier of city hall.

Current appointed Columbus City Councilman Emmanuel Remy also served as President of the Northland Community Council during the conversion of the Northland Mall site from 2012 – 2018. Some of the projects that have transpired from this development have been the Menard’s, Franklin County Dog Shelter, Franklin County Jobs and Family Services, Ohio Department of Taxation, Northland Performing Arts Center, and more. It should also be noted that the Franklin County Board of Elections relocated its operations in 2014 from East Broad Street to the old Kohls Department store. The old Kohls Department store was purchased by Stonehenge and is located immediately north of Northland Village. In November of 2017, the Franklin County Board of Commissioners purchased the building for $7.5 million.

As of 2017, the City of Columbus had spent about $20 million for infrastructure improvements along the Morse Road corridor from I-71 to Cleveland Avenue. Mo Dioun’s Northland Village development benefitted tremendously from the Franklin County Board of Commissioners approval of locating county operations on the Northland Village site and the purchasing of his Kohls Department store property.  

In April of 2017, Mo Dioun applied for and received a 4-1 vote approving of a BZA zoning variance to construct 8, 18-unit 4 story residential buildings on property that was previously used for part of its 18-hole golf course. The complaints were overwhelming regarding what this and future development would do to the character of the Little Turtle neighborhood. Stonehenge Vice-President Adam Trautner attempted to justify his company’s development plans by claiming the golf course was in “very bad shape.” Northland Community Council zoning chair Dave Paul voted in favor of the zoning variance while publicly commenting that he did not perceive anything of concern regarding the variance .

BZA members of course are appointed and approved by the Mayor and City Council which immediately puts neighborhoods and concerned citizens at a huge disadvantage. BZA member Bill DeMora is the current Secretary of the Ohio Democratic Party and longtime Franklin County Democratic Party lackey. BZA member Michael Jones was Mayor Michael Coleman’s realtor regarding the very questionable sale of Coleman’s former house to a Chinese businesswoman Jianhua Li in 2015. The house sale brought forth an investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice. Jones has been a longtime friend of Coleman’s. Another longtime BZA member John Behal of Bexley is an architect who also serves on the Bexley Architectural Review Board and someone who can be trusted to side nearly 100% of the time with City Hall officials and the development community in which he is involved.

And although this was a BZA and not a City Council variance, it is interesting to note that in 2017 alone, Mo Dioun and his wife Mina gave a combined $24,250 to Shannon Hardin, Priscilla Tyson, Michael Stinziano, Zach Klein and Ginther: $9,500 going to Tyson, $6,000 to Klein and $5,000 to Ginther. Between 2014 and 2019, Mo and his wife have donated a total of $74,877.29 to City Council members and the Mayor. And it was in August of 2019 that the Little Turtle community was first notified that a $5.4 million new road project was in the works resulting from a 2018 traffic study that had been conducted. A traffic study that no one from the city seems to be able to justify why or who suggested that it be carried out.

Mr. Dioun and his Stonehenge Development Company were not shy about spreading their wealth to buy influence from others too. As stated earlier, the Franklin County Board of Commissioners decisions to build the Franklin County Dog Shelter and Jobs and Family Services and Franklin County at Stonehenge’s Northland Village was a huge win for Mr. Dioun. And Dioun’s purchasing of the old Kohl’s department store which was eventually sold in November of 2017 to Franklin County for $7.5 million for the new home of its Board of Elections was icing on the cake. Between 2014 and 2020, Mo and his wife have given a combined total of $39,500 to Board of Commissioners John O’Grady, Kevin Boyce, and recently retired commissioner Marilyn Brown. As expected, Ms. Brown who was President of the Board of Commissioners from 2008 - 2016 received the most at $17,750, O’Grady $14,500 and Boyce $7,500.

The mounds at the Little Turtle entrance from SR 161 are owned by the Stonehenge Firewater LLC corporation. It is speculated that one of the reasons for eliminating the northbound (east) existing road and creating only one road with a roundabout is to allow for more favorable new development conditions that will eventually decimate the mounds. Pay to play is paving its way at Little Turtle.