North Clintonville resident Steve Lake drew a laugh Jan. 24 at what had initially promised to be a tense affair, a re-geared effort by Central Ohio Transit Authority officials to locate a bus turnaround.

North Clintonville resident Steve Lake drew a laugh Jan. 24 at what had initially promised to be a tense affair, a re-geared effort by Central Ohio Transit Authority officials to locate a bus turnaround.

Last summer's plan to tear down a strip shopping center on the east side of North High Street at Kanawha Avenue to make way for the facility stirred up considerable ill feelings among nearby residents, so much so that on July 22 the COTA board of directors voted unanimously against the proposal.

Immediately after that decision, Lake said at a Jan. 24 meeting in the North Community Evangelical Lutheran Church, he approached board members to suggest what he felt was the perfect alternative site: on the east side of High Street just north of the old Melting Pot restaurant. It's since been sold twice, most recently to the Wesley Glen Retirement Community, representing a missed opportunity, in Lake's view.

"I don't know why you didn't listen to me," Lake told COTA president and chief executive officer William J. Lhota, to the guffaws of many of the 50-plus on hand.

COTA is listening now, Lhota assured him, and will be taking a very hard look not only at that property. COTA will also consider two others that emerged from residents who came ready to complain about perceived past lapses in judgment but left after complying with the CEO's request for suggestions.

State Rep. John Patrick Carney, R-Clintonville, served as facilitator at the gathering.

"I think it is a tremendous statement about our community that so many people are interested in this bus turnaround," Carney said to start the proceedings. "I see this as really the beginning of a dialogue."

Lhota came armed with a letter from Don M. Casto, one of the partners in the firm that owns Graceland Shopping Center where COTA buses currently turn around.

"While we value our relationship and partnership with COTA, our plans are to complete the redevelopment of Graceland that we began several years ago," Casto wrote. "The plans we have developed for the remaining parcels of our site would make it impossible for COTA to continue operating on the Graceland property."

The criteria for an alternative site, as outlined by Doug Moore, vice president of planning and customer service, included that it be across from or north of Graceland, at an intersection with a traffic light, have appropriate zoning, be three quarters of an acre in size and have a willing seller.

"We do not and I emphasize do not want to use eminent domain," Lhota said. "As far as we're concerned, eminent domain is off the table."

Stan Bradham, owner of Stan Bradham Car Co., 5150 N. High St., arose to pronounce himself a willing seller. While his property alone might not be large enough, he said, only a small section of wooded land owned by the Ohio State School for the Blind would have to be added to make it the right size.

"If that's an acceptable option for the community, we're more than willing to sit down with you," Lhota said.

Along with the former Taco Bell restaurant site inside Graceland but not owned by Casto, suggested by several on hand, Bradham's car lot and the property adjacent to the old Melting Pot, COTA officials vowed to have consultants determine which might best meet the transit authority's needs.

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