The free spirit that has characterized the evolution of the Warehouse District into an “urban village” for the last quarter century is coming face to face with a different kind of spirit — one that wants to preserve the gains that have been made.
Toledo City Council’s Zoning and Planning Committee on Wednesday gave its stamp of approval to the first formal plan for the downtown Warehouse District. It goes to council for approval.
If the plan is adopted, Warehouse District advocates will return with a set of proposed zoning regulations, design standards, and an architectural review committee that would rule on proposed projects. The standards are spelled out in the 57-page master plan awaiting council approval.
Robert Seyfang, a member of the Toledo Warehouse District Association, said the zoning overlay and architectural review committee are to make sure new buildings and renovated buildings complement the historical architecture, and contribute to a pedestrian-friendly environment.
He said some of the buildings will require up to $20 million to upgrade to usable space.
“People that are spending that kind of money, they need protection for their investment,” said Mr. Seyfang, an architect and coordinator of the Toledo Design Center.
A committee of five people would be appointed by the Toledo Warehouse District Association to include two property owners, one resident, one business owner, and an architect or planner.
Mr. Seyfang and Richard Rideout, a life insurance agent and developer of One S. St. Clair St., insist they’re not trying to throw up barriers to property owners.
“We’re not going to add another expensive layer of bureaucracy. We are going to be able to help someone speed up the process,” Mr. Rideout said. He converted a former machine shop into offices and apartments and a gravel parking lot into a paved lot, but had to negotiate costly building permit requirements.
Mike Moriarty, the owner of 151 S. St. Clair St. and 37-39 N. Erie St., told the council zoning and planning committee that he was concerned the plan was being adopted without enough input.
“I’m a free spirit. I’ve been down here 25 years. It appears to me that they’re concerned about the multimillion-dollar development rather than the property rights of the existing owners,” Mr. Moriarty said. “I have talked to other property owners and they have similar concerns to mine.”
His business tenant at 151 S. St. Clair, Jerry Gray, said he was not opposed but was concerned that “it would hinder the growth that is occurring.”
He said historic preservation rules in other neighborhoods have made it difficult for homeowners to renovate their houses.
“If you do the same thing in the Warehouse District, that might be a deterrent,” Mr. Gray said. “I don’t want to see it stopped.”
City Councilman Adam Martinez said, “I don’t think it’s meant to be overly restrictive. I think it’s meant to protect your investment.”
Mr. Seyfang, who bought into the Warehouse District with his wife, Susan DelVecchio, in 1989, has seen the number of residents grow from six at that time to more than 500 now.
But he said it has been a slow growth that stalled for a long time after the failure of Portside Festival Marketplace on the downtown waterfront.
“Fifth Third was a huge catalyst. That did it,” Mr. Seyfang said of the minor league baseball stadium that opened in 2002.
The plan sets up boundaries for the Warehouse District, encompassing an area of 86 acres that extends to Monroe Street to include Fifth Third Field.
At present, three-quarters of the zoning is industrial. The plan would shift zoning to “urban village,” with some neighborhood commercial and downtown commercial zoning.
Mr. Seyfang said that improving the appearance of the many parking lots, which account for 31 percent of the Warehouse District, is a priority, along with stopping any further building demolition. In the last two years, the city has tried to enforce licensing of parking lots, but many “eyesores” remain, the plan asserts.
The Warehouse District developed as an area of warehousing, wholesaling, and distribution of fresh produce and grocery items, clothing, hardware and auto parts, furniture, and appliances. It went into decline with the Great Depression and then stayed in decline when the interstate highway was built.
What was left were mostly produce wholesalers, warehouses, and bars, including a number of well-remembered strip clubs.
“For a long time, people considered this to be the Wild West,” Mr. Rideout said.
Contact Tom Troy at: email@example.com or 419-724-6058.