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Two large apartment complexes in the University District closer to approval

A man looks at a TV screen displaying a rendering of a towering apartment building.
Allie Vugrincic
A rendering of the proposed 9th and High student apartment tower is shown during the University Impact Design Review Board's Thursday meeting.

The University District is one step closer to getting two new, large student apartment buildings.

On Thursday, the University Impact Design Review Board, or UIDRB, approved zoning variances for the proposed projects. The UIDRB is a city board that grants approval to new construction and alterations to buildings in the University District.

Renderings for one of the proposed projects shows a dark-colored apartment tower rising over half of the block of High Street and 9th Avenue. Plans show the building would be made of mass timber, a type of engineered wood product that combines smaller wood pieces to make large building components.

Recent designs put the building at about 157 feet tall with 13 floors. Current designs are for 450 beds in 183 units, a decrease from a previous design that put 557 beds in 177 units.

The UIDRB approved variances for limits on housing units in a commercial district, height and parking for the 9th and High apartments. The building plan calls for no parking spaces, which is not allowed for a building of that size in current city zoning.

"It was something that incorporated our initial kind of concept, but then also took what the neighborhood's expectations were."
- Steve Willobee, VP of government affairs for Harbor Bay Real Estate Advisors


Steve Willobee, vice president of government and public relations for 9th and High developer Harbor Bay Ventures, said the current design for the development is the result of conversations with the University Area Commission and neighbors.

Willobee said designs were changed to remove proposed retail space on the first floor of the apartments. The current design also preserves existing houses along 9th Street.

“As a developer, it was something that incorporated our initial kind of concept, but then also took what the neighborhood's expectations were and brought it together,” Willobee said.

Construction of the 9th and High tower will involve the demolition of three buildings currently at the site, including the Bier Stube, a longtime dive bar on High Street. The other two buildings that would be demolished house a convenience store and Portofino’s Pizza.

At the UIDRB’s Thursday meeting, no one spoke in opposition to the project. William Wells, a resident of High Street, voiced his approval of the project, but with the caveat that he thought that a building of that size should have at least one handicapped parking spot.

“This is a really exciting building. It would add a lot of vibrancy to High Street,” Wells told the board.

Three board members sit at a long table in front of a window.
Allie Vugrincic
From left, University Impact Design Review Board members Kerry Richards, Laurie Gunzelman, and William Keoni Flemming consider proposed student apartments during the board's April 25 meeting.

Up Campus

The UIDRB also approved a dozen variances for a second proposed housing project, Up Campus, that would put a five-story, roughly 317-bed apartment building at 16th Avenue near Waldeck Avenue. Approved variances include increasing the maximum allowed building size, reducing the number of parking spaces and variances for landscaping and building height.

The Up Campus application includes letters of support from a rental company that owns property next door, residents of the neighborhood and the pastor of Summit United Methodist Church.

The church’s former building would be demolished to make way for the housing project.

“The useful life of our church facility has expired. We are attempting to monetize what value the property still possesses so those funds can be repurposed to further our ministry’s mission at other locations,” Pastor Allyssa Graves wrote in the letter.

“The site is just situated basically at the 50-yardline of campus. So, it’s, in our mind, the most prominent site."
- Tyler Ammermann, VP of development for Up Campus Student Housing

An “endangered” building

Columbus Landmarks, a nonprofit historic organization, listed the church building among its 2023 “Most Endangered Sites.”

The building was built in 1954 and originally housed the Wesley Foundation at the Ohio State University. In 1977, the Wesley Foundation merged with two churches to become Summit United Methodist, according to Columbus Landmarks.

“The developer has proposed an insensitive luxury apartment complex to replace the building which seems to neither meet the housing affordability needs of the area nor the height restrictions of the district,” reads Columbus Landmarks’ website.

Tyler Ammermann, vice president of development for Up Campus Student Living, said Up Campus looked at using the church building but it didn’t make sense. He said, however, that the spot is perfect for student housing.

“The site is just situated basically at the 50-yardline of campus. So, it’s, in our mind, the most prominent site," Ammermann said.

Ammermann added that Up Campus had actually hoped to build a denser housing development, but settled on the current plan after conversations with the UIDRB and the University Area Commission.

Ammerman said if all goes smoothly through the rest of the approval process, Up Campus could break ground by the end of this year and be available for students to move in by 2026.

Willobee said construction of the 9th and High building could begin as soon as November.

Allie Vugrincic has been a radio reporter at WOSU 89.7 NPR News since March 2023.