Zoning attorney Jill Tangeman sought to allay the fears of Northland Community Council development committee members about a potential Immigrations and Customs Enforcement facility at the May 31 meeting.
"It is not a detention facility," she said. "It is not a jail.
"They don't bring anyone who's dangerous or on the terrorist list."
Based on photographs provided to her by the federal government, which she showed at the committee session, the potential immigration facility in a former warehouse at 6480 Doubletree Ave. would be a drab-looking office, but the benches have rails for attaching handcuffs.
Tangeman, of Vorys, Sater, Seymour and Pease LLP, was representing Belle Isle Investments Co. of Atlanta. She convinced committee members that the potential Immigrations and Customs Enforcement facility would not pose a danger to the community. Committee members voted 13-0, with one abstention, to recommend approval of the Columbus City Council variances requested for the site, chairman Dave Paul reported.
Two conditions were included in the recommendation, Paul said. The first was to add immigration processing facility as a permitted use while excluding adult entertainment. The second was that the property, situated on two different parcels in separate taxing districts, still would have to meet city parking requirements.
The building in the Busch Corporate Center has been used as a water-science center, Tangeman said. The lease is up and the tenant is moving out. In seeking potential new tenants, Tangeman said her client has, among others, approached Immigrations and Customs Enforcement.
All potential tenants have shied away from committing to the site because the warehouse section would not allow for office uses, hence the variance request, Tangeman said. She said it is rare and probably wouldn't be permitted today for a structure to be erected on two separate parcels.
"I haven't seen that happen very often," she said.
If ICE were to become the tenant, Tangeman said the facility would be used for processing paperwork of people who violated their visas.
"Wherever they brought them from, they are returned to," Tangeman said. "This is not anything that's coming up as a result of the change in leadership at the federal government. This is a potential user.
"It is by no means a guarantee. We have a long process to go through to be awarded that contract."
Paul said part of the variance request, which will be decided by members of City Council, is needed because immigration process is not addressed in the zoning code.