A developer wants to convert an old industrial site along East Livingston Avenue in Driving Park into 134 low-income apartments.
But some neighbors have other ideas, with some hoping the development could include condominiums or spaces for stores and restaurants.
Woda Cooper Companies plans to spend $24 million to $25 million on the project at 1826 E. Livingston Ave., just west of the Norfolk Southern railroad overpass at the neighborhood's eastern edge.
David Cooper Jr., Woda Cooper principal, said in an email that the company plans to apply for low-income housing tax credits to help finance the project. All 134 units will qualify for those tax credits, he said, and will serve households making up to 80% of the area's median income.
In 2021, that was $46,950 for one person and $67,050 for a four-person household.
The long-vacant, 54,369-square-foot building was built in 1949 and was a bakery that made cookies. The site has been for sale for some time and the developer negotiated control of the site in December, Cooper said.
"We are not certain whether we will be able to retain much if any of the existing buildings," he said.
"Regarding demolition, our Development Department says it is too early to say what will be needed – we are keeping all options open," Karen Bernick, a Woda Cooper spokeswoman, said in an email.
The property has been owned by Lee-Elle Management LLC of Bexley. Bernick said no renderings of the project are available yet.
The 3.27-acre property would need a zoning variance. Woda Cooper has planned for a 46-foot-tall building in an area zoned for a maximum height of 35 feet.
Driving Park residents and others are still figuring out what this project means to them and their community.
"This is all brand new to us," said Michael Aaron, director of the Rickenbacker Woods Foundation, based in Driving Park.
"Start explaining to folks now. You have a better chance of getting this approved," Aaron said.
Aaron said he supports affordable housing and that this development is geared toward "working folks." But he also would like to see housing with retail space and restaurants on the ground floor.
"Livingston is short on retail space," he said. "We're talking about a brand new build. Let’s do something innovative here as well."
Danielle Dillard, a Driving Park resident on the Livingston Avenue Area Commission, said she'd like to see affordable condominiums and townhomes, mixed with office and retail space.
"Not only do we have a massive inventory of duplexes or multifamily dwellings, we need more (home) ownership," Dillard said. "Why do we need another large-scale complex?"
In August 2020, Woda Cooper completed another housing development in Driving Park, The Livingston, at 1567 E. Livingston, a 45-unit senior complex. The company incorporated the facade of the former movie theater, built in 1946, into the project.
Cooper said the company commissioned a market study in 2017 in anticipation of doing the Livingston Theater project. He said at that time that the study determined there was a need for 6,263 affordable housing units in the primary market area, with only 425 such units existing at that time.
The Driving Park neighborhood is undergoing transformative changes, as Columbus' housing shortage pushes up rents and home prices in the area, and investors buying houses, fixing them up and reselling them. Some worry that long-time homeowners in the predominately Black community could be forced to leave as home values and property taxes rise.
Dillard said she hopes the area commission can discuss the new Woda Cooper project at its Feb. 15 meeting.
This story is part of the Dispatch's Mobile Newsroom initiative, which is currently focused on Driving Park and surrounding neighborhoods. Visit our reporters at the Driving Park branch library and read their work at dispatch.com/mobilenewsroom, where you also can sign up for The Mobile Newsroom newsletter.
This article originally appeared on The Columbus Dispatch: Developers aiming to build affordable apartments in Driving Park