Council approves rezoning for Thrive Alliance proposed affordable housing project

The Columbus City Council on Tuesday night approved the first reading of an ordinance by a 7-0 vote to rezone property where Thrive Alliance plans to build a development with a combination of workforce family housing and housing for seniors.

Councilman Chris Bartels, R-District 1, was absent and Councilwoman Grace Kestler, D-at-large abstained from the vote because she’s on the Thrive Alliance board.

Ordinances must be passed on two readings to be approved.

Housing Partnerships Inc., a non-profit that does business as Thrive Alliance, is looking to rezone the former Columbus Health and Rehabilitation facility site at 2100 Midway St. from Public & Semi-Public Facilities (P) to Residential: Multi-Family (RM).

Housing Partnerships bought the 7.6-acre property for $1.5 million on March 22 and plans to apply for federal Low Income Housing Credits and accept Section 8 vouchers, The Republic previously reported.

Kevin Johnson, executive director of Housing Partnerships at Thrive Alliance, said there are two phases for the four-story development— the first phase would focus on providing workforce family housing and phase 2 would be senior housing for those 55 and older.

Phase one would see 64 workforce family housing units with a childcare component and phase two would incorporate an additional 64 units intended for seniors for a total of 128 units. The plan is to connect the two areas of the development “so that we can try to tie those two diverse populations together and maybe help with social isolation of some seniors,” Johnson told the council.

The AmeriCorps Seniors Foster Grandparent Program, sponsored locally by Thrive Alliance, would play a part as well, Johnson said, with the idea being that “grandparents could help some of the children in the facility after they’d been vetted to do homework and different things like that …” Johnson added that Aging and Community Services of South Central Indiana, a sister-organization of Thrive Alliance, would be involved too.

Typically workforce housing is defined as housing affordable for those who are employed and earning less than 80 percent of area median income (AMI), but Thrive Alliance, as a non-profit, has a different standard and would intend for the development to be for those earning anywhere between 30 and 60 percent of AMI, Johnson said.

City/County Director Jeff Bergman pointed out that parts of the property are located in the 100- to 500-year floodplain, meaning “those are areas where development is permissible, but that development, particularly new structures, will need to meet certain standards to be protected from flooding.”

The comprehensive plan future land use map identifies the area as future residential, although Bergman said it isn’t specific about density or types of housing at the location. He added the most important takeaway to be had from the intent of RM “is that the zoning ordinance says it should be used in locations where there’s highly developed infrastructure, good access to high volume roads, good connections to convenience goods and open space,” Bergman told the council.

The Columbus Plan Commission during their meeting on May 8 forwarded the matter to the council with a favorable recommendation by a 10-0 vote with a commitment that an additional right-of-way and sidewalk would be created along the property’s Midway Street frontage. There isn’t already a dedicated right-of-way there because the property had not been platted before, according to Bergman.

Councilwoman Elaine Hilber, D-District 2, said the development is “essentially what we’re striving for” and that it had been difficult in the past to find high-density affordable housing in areas that are easy for people to travel to and from.

Councilman Tom Dell, D-at-large) expressed support for the development as well saying it helps supply housing stock in areas where the city is deficient.

Jane Seelig, the president of the Two Worlds Condominium Association, told the council she was there on behalf of residents who would live just east of the development. She said they were concerned about traffic flow on adjoining roads that Two World maintains and what she called a potential crime increase if and when the development comes together.

Ground-breaking on the project, according to Johnson, would be by late spring or summer 2025, with construction tentatively expected to take around 18 months. That would mean residents likely would not be moving in until at least late 2026.

Johnson said previously that Thrive Alliance is planning to “go after multiple streams of funding” for the project, which is estimated to cost about $14 million.