Some Clintonville residents were raising hell last week as a North High Street lot was cleared for a Raising Cane's restaurant.
However, Ohio Environmental Protection Agency officials inspected the site, reviewed the situation and found the project in compliance with stormwater certification, according to a spokeswoman.
That will probably do little to soothe the anger of members of Friends of the Ravines and Friends of the Lower Olentangy Watershed regarding the removal of trees, many of them two and three feet in diameter, on part of the Bill Moose Ravine across from the Graceland Shopping Center.
"I have some disappointing and very frustrating news about Bill Moose Ravine in Clintonville," FLOW adopted-area coordinator Julie Smiley wrote in a July 27 email that went out to many residents. "Part of Bill Moose Ravine in Clintonville, at 5132 N. High St., was destroyed to make way for a Raising Cane's fast-food restaurant. FLOW learned about the situation from a community member just a few days ago, and by then it was too late to try to do anything to protect the ravine from being destroyed.
"I am not sure FLOW or the community could have done anything to protect the ravine, but we will never know. This is a significant loss of green space, wildlife habitation and stormwater protection for our community."
Contrary to reports circulating online, the Ohio EPA did not issue a notice of violation regarding the construction project, said Heather Lauer, public information officer for the agency.
"We received a number of calls about it," she added.
When an official visited the site late last week, nothing about the removal of trees triggered any kind of action on the part of the EPA.
"We don't have any authority involving trees not involving wetlands," Smiley said.
"It really looks like they just denuded the steep slopes on the south side of the Bill Moose tributary," said Alice Waldhauer, a Friends of the Ravines board member. "It kind of snuck under our radar. We're heartbroken that damage like this was caused. It makes us feel like we're failing our mission to educate about being stewards of these ravines."
"It was a big surprise," agreed Martha Buckalew, another Friends of the Ravines trustee. "No one even knew that developing was going in on that site.
"What was once a wooded lot is now stripped of any kinds of trees and shrubs," she added. "You can actually see Graceland from a site that you could not see Graceland before."
The property already had the proper zoning to permit the fast-food franchise to operate there, so no variance requests or other issues came before the Clintonville Area Commission, "which is a huge oversight in my opinion," Buckalew said.
"We tried to understand how this could happen without coming before the Clintonville Area Commission," the Friends of the Ravines board member continued. "Also, how it could happen with all the conservation easements that have been put on the Bill Moose Ravine. It's still a huge mistake. Commercial developers have a history of raping the environment.
"I cannot understand why the city of Columbus cannot wake up to the fact that the ravines are an important geographical feature."
The property was purchased March 7 for $449,000 by NST Exchange LLC of Cleveland from 5132 N. High LLC.
A voicemail left with a Louisiana-based public-relations firm representing Raising Cane's was not returned Friday, Aug. 1.
However, a representative of the local franchise responded to a Clintonville resident's email about the issue.
Elizabeth Dennis, vice president of crew resources for RCO Limited, said the site's developers were asked to save as many trees as possible.
Dennis, who could not be reached by phone Monday, Aug. 4, wrote that only the strongest trees were kept, and others were removed for safety reasons. She added Raising Cane's is working with the Moms Club of Clintonville to plant new trees in the ravine and throughout the area.
"Cane's takes its role as an active community partner very seriously and remains committed to providing beautifully landscaped restaurant properties for the communities we serve," she said.