Percolating concerns about the influx of bars and restaurants on the south side of Clintonville boiled over last week as neighbors turned out to oppose a new High Street brewpub.
The discussion about the pub turned into a referendum on the direction of the neighborhood.
"South Clintonville has become the old North Campus, a drinking destination for college students," said Peter Gelpi, a self-described "mom-and-pop landlord" in Clintonville.
The debate played out Nov. 26 during a meeting of the Columbus Board of Zoning Adjustment. The board was deciding whether to approve a zoning variance to allow the Wetstone Beer Co. to open a brewpub in the former Clintonville Outfitters store, 2864 N. High St.
The developer, Evan Fracasso, sought the board's approval to open the pub and coffee shop with 10 parking spaces instead of the 43 required by zoning code.
But for Gelpi and others, the pub was the last straw. Gelpi distributed a map showing 11 businesses that serve alcohol in the half-mile of North High Street between Pacemont Road and Olentangy Street.
"Why do we need a 12th place to serve alcohol?" he asked.
Veteran bars such as O'Reilly's Pub have been joined in recent years by several others, including Lineage Brewing, Condado Tacos, Somewhere In Particular (SIP) and GROWL!
B.J. White, chairwoman of the Clintonville Area Commission, which supported Wetstone Beer Co., said the city should welcome investment, especially in old, empty buildings such as the Clintonville Outfitters building, vacant for almost two years.
"This should be celebrated," she said. "Please do not leave this storefront empty."
Despite comments from High Street business owners, White said she had seen no evidence that parking is a serious problem in that stretch of Clintonville. She also noted that virtually all restaurants and bars along High Street require parking variances except those such as Lineage and SIP, which are in shopping centers.
Some of the most intense opposition to the pub came from Olentangy Village, the massive apartment and retail complex directly across High Street from the pub site. The complex distributed fliers encouraging people to oppose the pub at last week's meeting.
"The pub is a neat concept; it's just in the wrong spot," said John Kennedy, an attorney representing Olentangy Village. "Their customers are going to park in our lot or in front of our businesses."
After considerable debate, the board approved Fracasso's request 3-2.
Board member Michael Jones approved the request after expressing concern that the pub could become "a domino, and the next thing you know we have a Short North situation," referring to parking issues.
Fracasso and Wetstone president Massie Lawson said they hope to open the pub by St. Patrick's Day and are talking with retail tenants about taking the rest of the space in the building.
"We're part of the solution in Clintonville, not part of the problem," said Fracasso's representative, developer Dwight McCabe, after the meeting.