Developer Seeking Support for Six-Unit Columbia Tusculum Townhome Project

The developer responsible for building “Cottage Hill” along Columbia Tusculum’s Strafer Street is now seeking the community’s approval for a six-unit townhome project.

On Monday, Gary Osterfeld presented to the community council what he called “very preliminary” sketches for the attached buildings at the bottom of Strafer Street – along Columbia Parkway – which would likely be around 1,900 square feet apiece and could be either apartments or for-sale homes.

The site is currently undeveloped and is used as a small community gardening space. If he pursues the project, Osterfeld will be seeking a zoning variance from its current zoning classification of community commercial-mixed to residential mixed, as it would have no commercial component.

“The commercial market in Columbia Tusculum is not real good, despite what people may think,” he said. “The problem is, relative to the number of people, there’s more retail than there is need for it. There’s already more retail than there is people; so in order for businesses to come in there and be enough demand and for the businesses to be profitable, we need more people.”

Osterfeld also told the community council that Al. Neyer’s Columbia Square, which is located directly across Columbia Parkway from his proposed building site, took five years to fill with tenants. He also said that he’s been trying to market his site for about the same amount of time but “hasn’t had a single serious call”.

The site is also challenging because of its steep slope and six-foot retaining wall, which Osterfeld said the City would likely want to keep in place.

“The idea of the zoning in place – what they would like to see – is they would like to see retail on the street level, so that people can walk in the shops like Hyde Park Square or Oakley Square – or like most squares – and the upstairs is residential,” he said. “The problem with that is you don’t see hills in Hyde Park, Mount Lookout, Oakley. The other neighborhoods you don’t see built on a hill like this. So the topography does not lend itself well to what the City’s insisting be there.”

The earliest the project could begin is this fall. Price points are expected to start in the mid-$300,000s, based upon what Osterfeld has seen of the local market.

“My guess is that it’s probably going to be a younger, more transient market,” he said. “There’s going to be a lot of steps, the price point’s not going to be like [the Cottage Hill development on] Strafer. I think that Strafer started out in the upper 3’s [$300,000s] and ended up in the upper 6’s [$600,000s]. I don’t see that happening. But we’re designing it to try to accommodate anybody. We’re going to be as flexible in our design as we can.”

Osterfeld said he plans to keep the neighborhood notified as the proposal navigates the maze of design, variances and permits.

“The City would like to have neighborhood support and neighborhood cooperation, as would I,” he said. “Your interest is what’s good for the community. So, I’m trying to help with that.”

  • Jonathan Hay

    I think Mr Osterfeld made a few good points, but there are also some points that I have doubts about. TC does need more residential. And he has done a good job to fit his architecture to fit in with the neighborhood. He is also right that residential will want to be above the traffic and would want a setback variance. On the doubt side, there are successful business districts in areas with hills. Pittsburgh for example has many neighborhood districts on hills. I’m also a bit leery that younger transients have 300k for condos (I hope he is right). Most importantly, if this critical spot in the business district is rezoned residential will we regret not having commerce or commerce/residential in 10 years?

    • Curtis Gable

      I agree that the proposed drawings look like they were designed to fit the neighborhood. I think they would really enhance that stretch of Columbia Pkwy. Because of the way things have gone in I don’t think this area will ever become a commercial destination, even for residents who have so many other options close by.

      I also hope this means that eyesore of a billboard comes down…

    • EDG

      Yeah, he’s guessing as much on the commercial viability of CT as he is a mid-$300K condo selling right on Columbia pkwy.

  • Neil Clingerman

    My biggest frustration with that whole part of town is the patch of green across the street from that place – the guys who developed that completely and utterly inappropriate shopping center, felt it okay to leave a giant patch of grass in the middle of the development, thus negating any sense of a complete business district. Very sad. I’m hoping this development will be supplanted with commercial frankly, maybe it will give the neighborhood a chance to restore some vestige of the business district it once had prior to Columbia Parkway being built.

    • Jonathan Hay

      Our original business district was on Eastern Ave. one block over. It use to have a movie theatre, grocery stores, laundry, etc. I think it’s starting to come back. There is benifits, a hair salon, a florist, Irish Heritage Center, Plumbing, A guitar store, several churches, and a wonderful community center.

    • Jonathan Hay

      I agree that the suburban strip mall was not a great add to the community. It was originally an exciting mixed use project. That said the green patch of grass is only because it is not currently full and they are looking for something else to build there. I’m not sure the parkway will ever be walkable/shopable like it originally was.

    • Neil Clingerman

      It does seem some repair can be done at least. Get the green patch filled and it won’t be too bad, though it could have been much better.

    • EDG

      You mean a hometown developer bait-and-switch like Oakley Station??

    • I think the plan is to build on that grassy area at some point.

  • I feel pretty sure that the retaining wall could be rebuilt behind the homes so that it doesn’t provide a barrier to pedestrians walking along Columbia Parkway through the business district.

  • One other thing…I think the designs are quite nice, but that street-level commercial should absolutely be included so as to bolster the NBD. You don’t want a blank spot with a retaining wall and nothing happening at street level in the heart of your NBD.