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Troubled housing complex finally being torn down
By Mark Ferenchik
The Columbus Dispatch

Public enemy No. 1 is on its way to becoming public enemy no more.

The notorious Woodland Meadows apartment complex, 52 acres of squalor, crime and misery on the East Side, soon will be part of Columbus history. The city's contractor began demolishing the first of 122, three-story brick buildings yesterday, to the delight of nearby residents.

"That land has been so abused and mutilated with drugs, crime, murders. Now this is the final mutilation, and maybe the land can come to rest and heal," said Dorothy Lupo, who lives in the nearby North Eastmoor neighborhood.

The complex was known as "Uzi Alley" years ago, when drug dealers plied their trade there. More recently, a judge likened its windowless, bombed-out-looking buildings to Baghdad. The property's future is unclear. Woodland Meadows Partners LLC still owns it.

All the buildings should be down in five months.

Mayor Michael B. Coleman led the charge yesterday.

He's the one who declared the complex "public enemy No. 1" in November, when the city asked a judge to declare the property a nuisance so the city could demolish the 1,100 units.

"This blight, this eyesore, is coming down," Coleman said.

"The death sentence has been rendered."

Then Coleman, wearing a hard hat, took the controls of a Loewendick excavator. The machine's claw punched a hole through the roof of one of the buildings. Coleman then sent it crashing through the bricks above a third-floor window opening. Bricks toppled to the ground. Dust clouds rolled off the building into the air.

The city has set aside $2.4 million for the demolition and will put a lien on the property for that cost.

Heidi Samuel, an Eastmoor Civic Association member and a Republican City Council candidate, said the buildings had to come down. For many driving down James Road from Port Columbus, Woodland Meadows was the first impression of Columbus, said Samuel, who lives nearby.

The buildings have been vacant since last summer. Since then, they've been stripped of copper pipes and other valuable scrap metal.

The complex's owners started removing aluminum window frames and copper last year, trying to beat scrap thieves so they could profit as much as possible before the end came.

Although officials patted themselves on the back for ending Woodland Meadows' existence, Lupo said that for too many years the city ignored the property.

A December 2004 ice storm knocked out the power and left water lines to freeze and break, starting the complex's death spiral. But crime was a problem before the current owners bought the property at auction in November 2002. The previous owner filed for bankruptcy.

Residents of the surrounding neighborhoods complained about break-ins and other crimes they think were connected to Woodland Meadows. Coleman said that between November 2005 and November 2006, police made 720 runs to the complex. A body was found in a van there in October.

"Since that area cleared out, the mischief has dropped to nothing," said Lupo, who lives on nearby Lowell Road and came out for the demolition.

"It wasn't our imagination what was feeding all the mischief and misbehavior."

Woodland Meadows managing member Jorge Newbery made no last-ditch effort to stop the wrecking ball. He could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Newbery had fought to preserve the complex, telling a judge he planned to redevelop the land with affordable housing. Earlier this month, Franklin County Environmental Judge Harland H. Hale said he wouldn't stop the demolition.

Newbery told the court there are now $20 million in liens on the property. An Oklahoma bank is seeking foreclosure.

Crews are removing asbestos before they knock down buildings. They're also ridding the property of rats.

Loewendick President David Loewendick said concrete sidewalks and slabs will be crushed and recycled. All of the asphalt removed from the streets will be milled and recycled. They'll sell as scrap any remaining metal. The bricks will be used as fill on the property, which will be graded and seeded. Roofing and other materials will be hauled to landfills.

The trees will stay.

Coleman said he doesn't know what will happen to the property after the buildings are razed.

He said he wants something the city can be proud of.

"Not something we're ashamed of."

 

Friday,  May 25, 2007 3:29 AM

 

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