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With Woodland Meadows gone, neighbors envision field of dreams
By John Matuszak
Eastside Editor

The walls of Woodland Meadows are coming down, but what will rise in their place?

It should be something of high quality, suggested John Beckman, president of the North Eastmoor Civic Association, as Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman put the first dent in the housing complex May 24.

“We want to make sure it doesn’t become something in 15 years that we want to tear down again,” Beckman said before Coleman took the controls of a Lowendick wrecker to tear down a portion of one of the 112 buildings on the 52-acre site.

Crews will spend the next five months removing the other buildings that once housed 1,000 low-income people, before Environmental Judge Harland Hale declared the deteriorated structures a public nuisance in December.

It is the largest concentration of abandoned buildings in the city’s history, the mayor said.

Coleman called Woodland Meadows, previously known as the Greenbrier and derisively dubbed “Uzi Alley” by police for its gangs and drug crimes, to be “public enemy number one” and decreed a “death sentence” for its decay and blight.

Councilman Andrew Ginther, chairman of the safety committee, commented that “more than a definition of blight, it’s a death trap” for its rampant crime.

From November, 2005, to November, 2006, police and emergency squads made 720 runs to the area, and more than 229 code violation citations were issued.

Beckman knows that neighborhoods don’t become slums overnight, and he recalled when it was a respected community. But a succession of owners allowed the buildings to fall into “disarray and disrepair.”

The current owners, including Jorge Newbury, took over the troubled spot with an eye toward renewal and met with neighbors to promise improved living conditions.

The complex was hit with an ice storm in December, 2004, that froze pipes and flooded apartments. Woodland Meadows never recovered. Local, state and federal officials tried to hasten repairs, “but he fought us every step of the the way,” Coleman said.

He thanked City Attorney Richard Pfeiffer and Assistant Attorney Bridget Carty for “holding the owner’s feet to the fire” until Judge Hale okayed the demolition.

Columbus will spend $2.4 million on the demolition that it will attempt to recover from the owners. The city does not own the property, but Coleman vowed to keep up the pressure for positive development.

The land bounded by James Road and Allegheny Avenue is situated near Port Columbus Airport and the Defense Supply Center, both major employers. A new Veterans Administration hospital is being built on the base.

The land could be used for upscale housing or a park, Beckman suggested.

“We’re open to a lot of ideas,” Beckman said. “We want it to be quality, and something that will showcase Columbus.”

Heidi Samuel, economic development chairman for the Eastmoor Civic Association, also witnessed the demolition.

The surrounding neighborhoods felt the negative impact of Woodland Meadows, she said.

“Crime spreads, it doesn’t stay put,” said Samuel, a candidate for Columbus City Council whose group has fought for improvements along Broad and Main streets.

Even the perception of crime can corrode a neighborhood, she added. “Sometimes more than being safe, it’s feeling safe.”

There is a demand for housing for senior citizens and empty-nesters, Samuel noted, as well as economic development that the removal of Woodland Meadows could make room for.

“We need to take a larger look at its potential,” she said.

City Councilman Hearcel Craig, an eastside resident, shared the optimism that better days are ahead.

“The buildings need to come down, and hope needs to go up,” Craig said.

May 28, 2007


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