By Brian Williams

Central Ohio has been blessed with some developers and policymakers who were ahead of their times – and whose foresight came from their hindsight.Jack Lucks of Continental Real Estate Companies foresaw 25 years ago the appeal of living in an urban apartment above shops and restaurants in modern buildings that reflect the character of nearby historic ones. The Victorian Gate apartments in the Short North area of Columbus were a hit from the start and set the stage for a building boom that continues to this day.

Bill Bonner, developer in the 1970s of The Continent – the proto-Easton: mixed-use community on the urban fringe – and later a suburban developer and advocate of the “new urbanism,” was a Clintonville native who in his later years tried to use the Columbus neighborhood of his childhood as a model for future development.

Richard Sensenbrenner, a Columbus City Council member from 1996 to 2004, was a dogged advocate of policy changes such as adoption of the Traditional Neighborhood Development alternative zoning code in 2001 and Urban Commercial Overlay code in 1999, and creation of the form-based zoning model of the Columbus Downtown Commission in 1997.

Terry Foegler, former president of Campus Partners during the OSU South Campus Gateway Development and later the driving force behind the Bridge Street Corridor development in Dublin, has been a leader for decades in preparation for impending changes in population, demographics, and consumer preferences.

These are among the people who helped shape my views as I listened to and wrote about them almost 20 years ago when I was the urban-affairs reporter for The Columbus Dispatch.

Whether they focused on projects or policy, and whether they worked in cities or suburbs, they shared an appreciation for what worked in the past and a vision of how those approaches could be adapted for the future of their communities and the region.

Coming from a family of history buffs, I already had an appreciation for historical accomplishments and historic preservation when I arrived at the Dispatch in 1995. And I had lived in and written about land use and development as a reporter in other places, including Chicago, where new neighborhood development typically echoes models of the past.

But writing about and getting to know these people allowed me to see these things from a variety of perspectives – the business, political, regulatory and community challenges that are always factors in change.

 

In the late 1990s and the first years of this century, as now, Central Ohio was a fast-growing place, but most of the growth was in the same suburban and exurban patterns of previous decades.

We had less of the demographic data and projections that later fueled the regional analysis of insight2050. Still, people like Foegler, Sensenbrenner, Bonner, and Lucks sensed the changes and information that were coming. They sensed there were subtle demands not being met and options not being provided.

I wrote articles about the original mixed-use plans for Jeffrey Square in Italian Village and found suburbanites drawn to a proposal for a dense new urban neighborhood. I quoted a Powell resident who liked the idea of walking to buy a gallon of milk instead of having to drive, and who wanted a new Victorian-style home that didn’t require the handyman skills he lacked.

The original developer of the project, Joseph Recchie, said he was banking on renewed interest in urban living among people of all incomes, and that while the homes and businesses in Jeffrey Square would have room for parking, residents would be able to get by with fewer cars or even no car. “Houses are a better investment than cars,” he said at the time. “A home close in, near work, enables you to get by with one car.”

Lucks came to the same conclusion a few years earlier when he found that 20 percent of renters in the 160-unit Victorian Gate complex in the Short North did not own cars.

Columbus developers today – downtown and in the Short North and OSU area – say that even with the city’s relaxed parking standards, they find apartment dwellers and condo owners do not make use of all the off-street parking required by code.

The original push for new downtown and urban living in Columbus was introduced by Mayor Michael Coleman in 2000 under the assumption that aging baby boomers and other empty nesters would be among the first in line.

Since that time, a new generation of Millennials has come of age with an interest in carless, walkable, mixed-use urban living. But the sensibilities of previous generations a couple decades ago laid the groundwork for insight2050 and began preparing the region for up to a million new residents.

Brian Williams, a senior planner at Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission, spent 30 years as a reporter for newspapers, including The Columbus Dispatch, before a second career in planning.