Since officially taking the reins from longtime Clintonville Area Commission District 9 representative D Searcy in July, B.J. White has been getting an earful from residents unhappy with the appearance of some commercial buildings along North High Street.
White would like to turn those frowns upside down -- and she knows just where to start.
Donning protective clothing and arming herself with a shovel, trash bags and equipment for removing graffiti, White took it upon herself last week to clean up the exterior of the former Avalon Bar and Billiards, 5432 N. High St.
Before braving the warmth of the afternoon Aug. 28, White met at the site with Columbus City Councilman Michael Stinziano to try to enlist his help in not only connecting with the owner of the property, but in general to instigate streetscape improvements on the north end of Clintonville.
In a report prepared for their meeting, White informed Stinziano that the former billiards hall had become one of the more dilapidated commercial properties in her district, which generally stretches from Morse Road north to the Worthington border.
"There has not been a legitimate business operating there since approximately 2004," she wrote.
White explained to Stinziano that a group of homeless people had been using the doorway and stairwell of the building as a sort of camp dating back to November. Efforts to get these people to move on "humanely" by guiding them into local programs didn't work, she said, and police finally evicted them.
Efforts to contact the owner of the property have so far been fruitless, White said. The current owner -- Big Red Ventures LLC of Pittsburgh, according to Franklin County Auditor's Office records -- bought the property for $840,000 on Nov. 29, 2009. Since that time, White said, the owner dutifully has paid $18,000 in taxes without apparently ever trying to create a revenue stream from the building.
"It calls into question the purpose of the property," she told Stinziano.
"The goal would be to have the property not sit vacant, seek the best use," he said.
City officials, Stinziano added, can't order the owner of a private property to make use of it, although they can require that the site be kept up to code.
A public-nuisance notice, dated March 23, is posted on the door of the billiards hall that faces Meadowlark Lane.
"We would love to work with the owner," White said. "I don't know what the next step is. It's not just a blight problem. It goes to the health and wellness of the community.
"There's a lot of potential that's going to waste."
Stinziano said other District 9 residents had filed complaints about the building and vowed to follow up on them.