Janette Knowles said she was surprised, to put it mildly, when she saw heavy equipment behind her East Mithoff Street house last week.

Dilapidated structures are being demolished at the southeast corner of Thurman Avenue and South Fourth Street, across Nursery Lane from Knowles' residence.

"I am just, absolutely, stunned," she said.

She isn't the only one. Neighbors said they fear the demolition is tied to a proposed 36-unit apartment project at 1140 S. Fourth St. that is under consideration by the German Village Commission, the neighborhood's architectural-review board.

The Fourth Street property, along with several other nearby parcels, was purchased by Kevin Lykens of the Lykens Cos. under the name 121 Thurman LLC. The plans were submitted to the German Village Commission in behalf of Lykens by Shremshock Architects and Engineers. Attempts to reach Lykens and the architects for comments were unsuccessful.

Although the demolition was occurring on properties owned by 121 Thurman LLC it is unclear if the work is directly related to the proposed apartment complex development.

Neighbors said they feel blindsided by the proposed project, which has a higher density than one proposed two years ago in roughly the same location, but with a smaller footprint. That project was eventually dropped because the commission couldn't agree on design standards.

Lykens purchased 1104 S. Fourth St. and several surrounding properties in January. The 1.5-acre property, on which Lykens is proposing to build, is mostly a surface-level parking lot at the southeast corner of Thurman Avenue and South Fourth.

Preliminary design

The proposal calls for a three-story wood-framed apartment building, with two stories dedicated to residential space and parking on the ground level under the building.

In addition, there would be a new 1,200-square-foot single-family house facing Thurman and three apartments above three three-car garages directly behind it.

The Amy M. Levine & Associates law firm, 147 Thurman Ave., will continue to occupy its current space.

The German Village Commission held a conceptual review of the project April 4. There is no formal action considered at that level of the process.

"I didn't know about it at all," Knowles said of the review. "And, I would have thought the last time this was an issue there would be a hearing. None of the concerns we spoke about have been alleviated."

Jay Panzer, chairman of commission, said the board only requires notifications when requests for variance recommendations are to be heard. The April 4 meeting did not involve an official request for a variance. It was a conceptual architectural discussion, which resulted in no action by the commission, he said.

The most recent attempt to redevelop a portion of the property was in 2015, when applicant John D. Space, representing Aaron Haas, the listed property owner at the time sought to build a single-family house, three townhouses and two four-car garages along the eastern edge of the property between Thurman Avenue and Nursery Lane.

The commission never agreed on design standards and the project was eventually dropped. Approval for demolition of three structures was denied by the Village Commission in 2015, but eventually granted by the state of Ohio Board of Building Appeals.

'Too much'

The development site was once home to the Brass Foundry, originally built in the late 1800s.

After small additions to the building, the complex was known as Modern Brass Foundry and Mfg. Co.

Aside from density and traffic issues, neighbors said they are also concerned about the environmental impact.

Julie D'Elia, who also lives on East Mithoff Street, said she worries about litter along Nursery Lane, which is on the southern edge of the property.

D'Elia said neighbors clean and take care of landscaping the alley between Jaeger and South Fourth streets.

"I understand they want to put something in there, but it's too much," said D'Elia, who also owns Hausfrau Haven on South Third Street.

Historic context

The latest project reignites long-standing passions about new developments in the historic district, where there are few open properties on which to build.

Developers often reformat existing buildings, or in rarer circumstances, tear down and rebuild -- usually residential buildings -- always under the watchful eye of the German Village Commission, German Village Society and neighbors.

Nancy Kotting, historic preservation advocate for the German Village Society, said the preliminary site plan for 1140 S. Fourth St. "was unsuitable in my opinion, lacking adequate sensitivity for the historic context within which it will be built."

"The communication, however, between the applicants and the commission was quite constructive and I am optimistic we will see a more suitable site plan and subsequent architectural renderings presented in the near future," Kotting said.

"As the historic preservation advocate, I am prepared to work closely with anyone interested in new construction here in the village," she said.

"Over the years, I have seen some extraordinarily successful collaborative efforts between trained preservationists and forward-thinking developers, developers who understand the need for creativity and flexibility when integrating existing structures into their projects."