In her 40-plus years as a resident of Clintonville, Dana Bagwell has shed many tears at the Southwick-Good & Fortkamp Funeral Chapel.
As a member of the Clintonville Area Commission, Bagwell said at the Sept. 6 meeting that it brought her joy to pave the way for the sound of children's laughter inside the historic structure.
"It makes my heart so happy," the District 5 representative said in casting a vote recommending approval of a Columbus City Council variance relating to one of the five parcels that make up the property in the 3100 block of North High Street, but which technically is located at 40 Walhalla Road.
The former funeral home, built in 1928 and encompassing the Clinton Chapel, constructed in 1838, would become the third site for the Balanced Family Academy. With a main location at 5150 Reed Road, the day-care operation was founded about four years ago by sisters Sarah Fite and Rebecca Handley.
They have been eyeing expansion to Clintonville for several years, real-estate developer Mark Smith told CAC members at their September session, but the right location eluded them until the funeral home closed in spring 2017.
"It's a neat building," Smith said. "It's a neat piece of property. It all kind of aligned for what we were looking for for a neighborhood site."
The problem with just taking over the property, Smith said, is that one of the five parcels on the site was rezoned from commercial to rural residential in 1974, the result of a petition by Walhalla Ravine property owners to ensure preservation of the area.
"We've begun to appreciate why it was done," Smith said. "It's absolutely amazing. We don't want to do anything to change the zoning on that piece."
The council variance would permit the day-care operation on the entire site without any change to the zoning, the developer said.
Zoning attorney Jackson B. Reynolds II said such a variance remains with the property, meaning the section that retains rural residential status could be used only as a day-care center, barring some future effort at rezoning.
Brooke Morin, who lives on West California Avenue near the former funeral home, said a day-care center that preserves the building is the "best possible use."
"I can't tell you how delighted I am," CAC Chairwoman Libby Wetherholt said.
When Balanced Family Academy's Clintonville site opens, it will have between 150 and 160 students, Smith said. Initially, it will be for children ages 6 weeks to pre-kindergarten, with the possibility of adding a private kindergarten, as is the case at the Reed Road location, he said.
Clintonville Historical Society President Mary Rodgers said her organization would be happy to accept any artifacts unearthed during renovation of the site.
"We definitely plan on being good community partners," Smith said.
The vote urging approval of the council variance was 8-0, with District 7's John Eschenbrenner abstaining due to the possibility his engineering consulting firm might be involved in the renovation.