Some members of the Clintonville Area Commission are upset by what they perceive to be an overreach by city officials that has held up the return of Ritzy's to the neighborhood.
CAC Chairwoman Libby Wetherholt said last week she was awaiting input from others before issuing a letter voicing the advisory panel's displeasure that the proposed new restaurant at 4615 N. High St. would be responsible for a quarter of the $160,000 intersection fix proposed by personnel in the Department of Public Service.
Ritzy's owner Graydon Webb said he is willing to pay in order to proceed with renovations to the former used-car business on the site so he can revive the once-iconic burger joint, which he founded in May 1980.
"We've gotten to the point where we don't want to fight City Hall, because that could cost more than $40,000," Webb said.
He said his concern is that the intersection reconfiguration, including new traffic signals at Garden Road and North High Street, which he will help fund through a "maintenance agreement," will take place about the time he hopes to open the restaurant in the spring.
"The good news is there's a lot of walk-in traffic in Clintonville," Webb said.
"Maintenance agreements have been around, it's my understanding, for quite some time," Jeffrey M. Ortega, assistant director of the Department of Public Service, wrote in an email.
"The main purpose is to share the cost of public-infrastructure improvements with those interests that will ultimately be benefiting.
"In this case, the total cost of the planned infrastructure improvement was estimated at about $160,000. This requested improvement involves about 25 percent of the traffic signal, making the developer's cost about $40,000."
Speaking at the Jan. 4 CAC meeting, District 5 representative Matthew Cull said he didn't think the $40,000 demanded of Ritzy's was enforceable. That sentiment was echoed by District 1 representative David Vottero, who said it seemed like a case of a private entity being required to fund a public improvement.
"I don't know that I want to say it is categorically not enforceable, but at best I think it's an example of procedures within the city that might need to be tightened up a bit to provide especially small-scale developers and small-business owners more upfront consistency and knowledge of what they should expect," Cull said. "It in my mind leaves some question as to the enforceability.
"I'm not 100 percent sure of my assessment. I might have misread something."
"I guess we've given up and said, 'What do we need to do to get open?' " Webb said.
"The manner in which it happened is unfortunate," Cull said. "It feels like they took a very basic approach to it that doesn't seem to match what I believe the code and the handbook provide for."
Vottero said small developments such as Ritzy's are "what turn a neighborhood around," and he proposed the letter expressing the panel's position.
Intersection improvements identified in the Division of Traffic Management review include retaining traffic signals at northbound and southbound North High Street and westbound Garden Road, along with adding a light from the southern access point of the Ritzy's property.
Webb announced his intent to resurrect the former G.D. Ritzy's chain in May, sparking a wave of nostalgia among Columbus diners.
Known for its burgers, shoestring fries, chili dogs and premium ice cream, the chain's first restaurant opened in 1980 and at one point, it had 100 locations.
The last Columbus-area store shut down in 1991.