While quite a bit has been written regarding the recent Commission meeting where concerned residents organized around the issue of variance requests for large-scale new development, I want to take this blog post and focus in on just one of the speeches authored by residents and delivered by a chosen speaker that evening.
Historically speaking, there was a tradition of maintaining vegetable gardens in rear and side yards throughout the district. We have photos depicting hothouses, outhouses converted to garden sheds, and clear evidence of vegetable raising for personal consumption and sale in local grocers no doubt.
For example, in the case of 640 Mohawk, the traditions of gardening both for visual enjoyment and food production came to the district with German immigrants. Gustav Pacht resided at 640 Mohawk, practicing the art of topiary he had learned in Germany. He also grew onions, garlic, apples, plums, pears, peaches and grapes as well as cherries, strawberries and raspberries. Gustav was known to have gooseberries that were the ‘biggest between Blenkner and Zimpfer St.’ It has been said that he flat-headed his mulberry inside his front fence for over 28 years.
Gardening and green space have cultural and historical relevance to the district. Today, we view the presence of green space not so much for food production but for aesthetic enjoyment as well as our own health and that of the environment.
In organizing efforts to address variance requests being proposed at this past Commission meeting residents joined together to research and craft their speeches to be delivered and entered into the public record during the public comment portion of the meeting. I wanted to share (see below) one of them with you here for your own consideration. It was authored by neighbors Katharine Moore, Mary Ross, Elspeth Willoughby, Connie Swain, Edward Sadar, and Melinda Sadar. Our thanks to them for their work.
“Variance requests regarding trees and parking lot planting beds in German Village development:
As you may have seen, in August 2018 there were two articles in the Columbus Dispatch reporting on Columbus’ failure to keep up with the need for new trees – that is, having an Urban Tree Canopy (UTC) which is a layer of leaves, branches and stems which cover the ground when seen from above. Pittsburgh has 42% coverage, Cincinnati 39% while we fall well behind at 22%.
Why do we need trees? They reduce the heat-island effect, hence decreasing the temperature and conserve energy. They scrub the air of CO2, replacing it with Oxygen. They capture airborne particulate matter, thereby decreasing both smog and risk to residents with pulmonary problems. They capture rain hence slowing runoff and the risk of flooding from overwhelmed storm sewers. Finally, trees not only buffer unpleasant ambient city noises, but also provide the habitat in which wildlife, such as song birds, live. I would like to add that small and narrow columnar trees, as have been proposed by the developer, are little more than narrow poles since these “trees” do not provide the canopy which is an important part of the trees function in any environment.
On the other hand, what do parking lots do? They collect grease, oil, antifreeze and heavy metals from brakes – which they then flush into our sewers and aquifers.
Does the City of Columbus recognize any need to protect its residents from these problems? Interestingly, the Columbus City Code has design standards for surface parking lots.
The code, adopted into law, specifically addresses parking lot trees and the islands in which they are planted. The requirement: one tree planted on an island for each ten parking spaces.
The proposed development seeks not a variance but instead, a complete disregard for the code, arguing that they cannot comply with the code. Their request on the submitted plans – ZERO TREES rather than the required minimum of six – is a choice of profitability over compliance with the Code and German Village standards.
The Duncan Standards ask first whether or not the variance being sought is substantial. Zero islands with zero trees almost makes a mockery of the term substantial.
Next, the Duncan Standards ask if the variance sought would adversely affect the delivery of governmental services. The City has responded that they are unable to measure this without a sanitary sewer study…which has not been done. We ask that this documentation be provided.
Finally, the Duncan Standards ask if the submitted plan supports the spirit and intent of the zoning requirement. Since the proposed plan paves paradise in favor of a parking lot which meets none of the code standards for an environmentally sustainable design, the answer is obvious – it does not.
German Village is a community of proud, voting homeowners and small business owners who have chosen to move into an Historic District, knowing full well the restrictions and responsibilities which that move entails. The investments made by villagers – financial, emotional and through volunteerism – maintain a district which brings tourism to the City of Columbus. Properties on Livingston Avenue are part of the gateway into German Village and must not be allowed, through requests for variances driven only by profit motives, to ignore those standards imposed upon all other members of the Community of German Village. New plans, if properly conceived, can and must comply with the preexisting codes which protect and benefit not only the residents of German Village, but all of Columbus and its visitors.
-Katharine Moore, Mary Ross, Elspeth Willoughby, Connie Swain, Edward Sadar, and Melinda Sadar. As read into the public record at the German Village Commission meeting by Edward Sadar September 5, 2018