The newly formed COTA Task Force met for the first and apparently only time last week.
Clintonville Area Commission chairman John DeFourny convened and then disbanded the group all in the same evening, evidently convinced that round three and site five in the process of relocating a Central Ohio Transit Authority bus turnaround from Graceland Shopping Center had come up smelling roses.
At the conclusion of last week’s inaugural session of the task force, which DeFourny announced Oct. 6 would be formed, he called for a special meeting of the commission on Tuesday, Nov. 1, to take a vote on the latest location, property on the west side of North High Street at Westview Avenue.
That same site, currently owned by the Hadler Cos., drew vehement opposition from nearby residents when it was proposed as a location for a Turkey Hill convenience store and gas station in spring 2010.
If the response to the property being turned into a bus turnaround, not a bus stop, with a small building providing restrooms for drivers was much more muted at last week’s task force session, neighbors nevertheless had plenty of questions for COTA officials.
And members of the task force, notably District 9 CAC representative D Searcy and Westview Avenue resident Rich Fowler, questioned the request for a Nov. 1 vote.
“I think we need to have as many public meetings as possible,” said Fowler, who was among the vocal opponents to the Turkey Hill concept.
Calling the bus turnaround a “pretty significant intrusion into a neighborhood,” Fowler said more meetings would lead to less hurt feelings.
“We’re going to move forward,” DeFourny replied.
“I think they’ve done a very good job of presenting what they have planned,” Searcy said of COTA officials, but added that they should be given more time to tweak the project in light of input from the task force and people in the audience, a total of roughly 25.
“There will be numerous other meetings on this site,” DeFourny said.
“What’s the need to rush?” Fowler asked. “They take a vote on Nov. 1?”
The issue has dragged on for 14 months now, DeFourny pointed out. He added that he wanted the CAC members to take a position on the site, not the specifics of the facility, so that COTA officials know whether or move on with designs.
“It doesn’t put the project in stone,” DeFourny said.
“There’s some point where we have to know if we’re moving forward,” said Mike Bradley, director of capital projects and planning for COTA.
The Nov. 1 special CAC session will begin at 7 p.m. at Clinton Heights Lutheran Church, 15 Clinton Heights Ave., DeFourny announced.
The task force meeting began with a presentation from Bradley that touched on the recent history of the transit authority’s quest to find a replacement for Graceland as a location for turning around buses on some of the busiest routes.
“This is our heaviest line on the system,” Bradley said. “This route has the highest ridership of anything.”
In his history lesson, Bradley did not touch on COTA’s first effort, one that would have involved the purchase of a strip shopping center on the east side of North High Street at Kanawha Avenue. The displacement of several longstanding businesses prompted significant neighborhood and community opposition, leading to a unanimous rejection of the proposal by COTA board members on July 22, 2010.
In the wake of that ruling, a citizens advisory panel was formed whose members suggested three sites, including a used car lot, land within the Wesley Glen Retirement Community and a former fast-food site adjacent to Graceland but not owned by the Casto Co.
Casto officials have requested that COTA cease the practice of turning buses around in the parking lot at some point in the future.
At an Aug. 29 meeting, after a COTA spokesman had indicated officials planned only to update residents on the status of investigations into those sites, it was abruptly announced that none of the three would work.
After that announcement, Bradley told task force members last week, COTA officials contacted Hadler Cos. CEO George Hadler about the one-time Turkey Hill site. They had not bothered because Hadler’s stated position was his company does not sell property it develops, but instead leases it.
“We wanted to be able to own the property,” Bradley said.
He displayed three alternatives for the design of the bus turnaround. The one that drew the most attention featured a single curb cut off North High with substantial greenspace between the house to the rear and Westview Avenue. It would have space for buses to lay over, Bradley said, but a new idling policy would require drivers to shut off the engine, with some exceptions. Those include temperatures below 32 degrees or above 80 degrees, or if a mechanical problem would prevent the engine from being restarted.
“This is conceptual,” Bradley said. “We will comply with the overlay. Anything to improve the aesthetics, we’ll do.”
Searcy asked COTA officials if they would be willing to “commit to make this sort of the state of the art, the standard of excellence.”
Fowler commented that the “roaring of buses and hearing noise all the time kind of counters out looking nice.”
Hadler was on hand for last week’s meeting and said he was willing to forgo his own policy in light of the significant role he believes public transit is increasingly going to play.
“We are in for tough times, and I believe public transit is going to be much more important than it is,” Hadler said.
He said they have been trying to develop the site for 16 years, but that he has been at pains to exact as much from COTA officials as possible to make the project palatable to local residents.
“We have a handshake,” Hadler said. “We have a meeting of the minds. There’s no contract.”
A price has been agreed upon, according to Bradley. That price was not disclosed.
If major opposition develops to the property at North High and Westview at the Nov. 1 meeting, causing CAC members to take a stance against it, the search would once again be on for a location, DeFourny said.