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OSU’s Bier Stube will be replaced by a 13-story wooden apartment building

A Chicago-area company plans to build a 13-story apartment building in the University District from wood, making it the second-tallest timber-framed building in the country.

Harbor Bay Ventures is proposing the building on the site of the BIer Stube, an old Ohio watering hole at 1479 N. High St.

“Our plan is to build Columbus’ first mass timber building,” said Dan Whalen, Harbor Bay’s vice president of design and development. “We are very excited about that.”

This would be Harbor Bay’s second large wooden frame. Two years ago, the company opened INTRO in Cleveland’s Ohio City neighborhood, consisting of two half-timbered buildings nine and 11 stories high. Harbor Bay bills INTRO as the largest timber-framed building in the country, but not the tallest.

The tallest wooden building in the world, the 25-story Ascent Tower, opened in Milwaukee almost two years ago. According to several online lists of mass timber buildings, the building in the Harbor Bay campus area is said to be the second tallest mass timber building in the US after the Milwaukee Tower.

“Mass timber” has been used in the construction of European high-rise buildings since the mid-1990s and is slowly becoming more common in the US. The technique, which involves laminating soft wood into large panels and beams, is considered more environmentally friendly than traditional steel-and-concrete construction, among other benefits.

“Using wood as a construction or finishing material not only provides aesthetic beauty, but also improves indoor air quality, acoustics, thermal comfort and energy efficiency,” says Harbor Bay.

Harbor Bay’s plans were approved by the University Area Commission on Wednesday after the company agreed to make changes to the plan, including reducing its height by 15 stories. Harbor Bay is partnering on the project with Marker, a Philadelphia-based student housing company, and the Mollica and Ryan families, who own the Bier Stube site.

Harbor Bay’s proposal is the latest for the Bier Stube site. Early last year, Buckeye Real Estate proposed a six-story apartment building on the site, but that proposal fell through.

Harbor Bay’s plan, like Buckeye Real Estate’s plan, would occupy the southwest corner of the North High Street and West 9th Avenue intersection. In addition to the Bier Stube, the 14-0 Express supermarket and Yau’s Chinese Bistro would be removed to make way for the apartments.

Harbor Bay’s plan calls for a first-floor “stage” of traditional steel and concrete topped by 12 wooden floors. The building would include 184 apartments ranging from studios to four-bedroom units, for a total of 452 bedrooms. As with other student complexes, the units would be rented per bedroom. Harbor Bay estimates that 90% of tenants would be students.

The building would have a U-shape, with the open part of the U facing south. On the north side of the building, five townhomes would front onto West 9th Avenue.

A deck, including a Block O-shaped hot tub, would sit in the center of the U on the first floor roof. A fitness center and lounge would open onto the deck. There are also plans for a library room, a listening room/record lounge, a ‘simulator room’, a multimedia studio, several meeting rooms, several study pods and a bicycle shed.

In addition to allowing the height, the University Area Commission granted a variance that does not allow parking in the building, instead of the 276 spaces that current zoning requires. Harbor Bay’s proposal notes that residents would have access to a parking lot on West 9th Avenue and a parking garage on East 9th Avenue, which Harbor Bay says are underutilized.

The apartment building would be by far the tallest of a series of new student housing being developed along High Street and Lane Avenue. Harbor Bay notes in its proposal that the building would be significantly shorter than the new 26-story OSU Wexner Medical Center building and the Morrill and Lincoln Towers, also on Ohio State’s campus.

Under the city’s current zoning code, Harbor Bay’s plan requires variances to increase height and reduce parking. The project would require few or no variances under the city’s proposed zoning code, which would eliminate parking requirements and allow buildings up to 12 stories to be built on the site, or 16 stories if the building includes affordable housing.

In its proposal, Harbor Bay says the site already includes affordable housing because it includes a series of affordable rental properties along West 9th Avenue that Harbor Bay partially owns.

Although the building was approved by the University Area Commission on a split vote, some commissioners remain concerned about the plan.

“It is completely irresponsible not to include parking,” said Seth Golding, chairman of the University Area Commission. “Even with the height reduction, this is twice as high as anything we approved.”

Golding said some commissioners felt like their hands were a bit tied because Harbor Bay said it would leave alone the old affordable housing apartments it owns on West 9th Avenue if the proposal were approved.

University Area Commissioner Michael Kehlmeier said he also has concerns about the project.

“The building will be much larger than any other building in the area,” he said.

“I’m concerned about the amount of student housing that developers are building in the area,” Kehlmeier said. “This is dorm-style student housing, not intended for non-students. … I’m also concerned that there is no parking in the building at all.”

Kehlmeier also expressed concern that the building does not have low-income housing.

Harbor Bay spokesman Steve Willobee said the company hopes to begin construction on the building this fall and complete it 18 to 20 months later.

Willobee said Harbor Bay officials have met with Columbus Building & Zoning officials about plans for the building.

“We are working to current building regulations, but as with any construction method that has not been used before, awareness needs to be built and questions need to be answered,” he said.

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@JimWeiker