Friday, May 25, 2012

Columbus Dispatch: Jury awards damages over failed Short North condo project

Jury awards damages over failed Short North condo project

By  John Futty
The Columbus Dispatch Friday May 25, 2012 8:24 PM

A company that failed to build a proposed condominium tower in the Short North defrauded the people who deposited money to reserve homes in the building, a Franklin County jury ruled today.

The Common Pleas Court jury awarded $200,000 in damages to 17 plaintiffs who lost a combined $191,000 when the Ibiza on High project went bankrupt.

The judgment was against RMRW Limited, a company owned by Short North developers Ray Brown, Michael Council, Rajesh Lahoti and Wilbur Ischie.

The jury found, however, that the company’s four owners were not individually liable. Afterward, the jurors told the attorneys that they were unable to attribute any single acts of fraud to any of the individuals.

“In our minds, a fraud verdict against RMRW is as good as a fraud verdict against the individuals,” said Brian Laliberte, attorney for the plaintiffs. “RMRW has assets.”

Tim O’Neill, one of a half-dozen plaintiffs in the courtroom when the verdicts were announced, said he was glad that the “long, drawn-out process” is over.

“We’re relieved the jury realized that we were wronged,” he said.

Terrence Wheeler, who represented the defendants, said his clients were “pleased that the jurors found that, individually, they did not commit fraud. In my mind, the jurors wanted to find a way to give (the depositors) their money back. My clients are OK with that.”

The developers bought land at N. High Street and Hubbard Avenue in 2006, cleared the site in 2007 and began taking deposits in 2008 for a $35 million tower that was supposed to open in 2010.

The proposed 11-story, 135-unit building, with a rooftop pool and adjacent parking garage, was to be the biggest condominium development in the Short North, with prices ranging from $159,999 to $1.5 million per unit.

The developers pre-sold more than 70 units, collecting about $1.2 million in deposits. But construction never began on Ibiza, buyers didn’t get their deposits back, and the developers’ real-estate company, Apex, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in April 2011.

It is unclear whether other depositors now will come forward with additional claims.

The jurors deliberated for more than four hours after hearing three days of testimony from 13 witnesses in the courtroom of Judge Richard A. Frye. Brown was the only defendant to take the stand.

In closing arguments this morning, Laliberte said it was clear to the developers by July 2008 that they couldn’t get a construction loan from a bank, yet they continued to tell depositors that the project would happen. In the end, he said, they spent all the depositors’ money “to keep the lights on at Apex” and on other items unrelated to construction.

Wheeler told the jury that his clients were acting in good faith, but the collapse of the stock and housing markets in 2008 prevented them from getting financing for the project. He said the plaintiffs failed to identify “one penny” that was spent improperly.

Columbus Dispatch: Another fix considered for leaky Goodale Park pond

By  Mark Ferenchik
The Columbus Dispatch Friday May 25, 2012 7:40 AM

The Friends of Goodale Park hope the next fix will be the last they’ll need to plug the persistent leak at the park’s pond.

Members of the group are discussing hiring a company to place a rubberized liner around the foundation of the sculpted fountain that the group installed last year, said Rick Miller, the design manager for Columbus Recreation and Parks.

The friends group will pay for the fix; the cost has yet to be determined.

The pond has been unable to hold water since the Friends of Goodale Park installed a fountain topped by two spouting elephants last year.

The city already has spent $144,600 to put down a clay called bentonite on the pond’s bottom and fix the walls in hopes of sealing the leak.

The pond’s water level has dropped about 2 feet since the city completed filling it on April13. From May 18 through Monday, the rate of water loss had slowed to about a half-inch a day, Miller said.

The Friends of Goodale Park are talking with Procon Professional Construction Services of Circleville, the same company that put down the bentonite, for the new fix, said Jason Kentner, who leads the group.

The group’s board still needs to vote on the plan.

“We certainly want to move on it quickly,” Kentner said.

Retired engineer Peter Korda, who has been advising the friends group, said it isn’t known whether the leak is in the sculpture’s foundation.

But Korda said that the city will have to accept responsibility for the leak if the friends group seals the foundation and the water level continues to drop.

Alan McKnight, the city’s recreation and parks director, said he’s hopeful that the seal will do the trick. The friends group recently bought dye to drop into the pond to try to find the hole draining the pond.

The results were inconclusive.

“It’s like a needle in a haystack with this,” McKnight said. “It’s such a small leak.”

Columbus Dispatch: Clintonville returns to turn-lane issue that caused so much drama

By  Mark Ferenchik
The Columbus Dispatch Friday May 25, 2012 7:50 AM

For a commission drowning in controversy, it would seem like an issue that new members might want to avoid.

Yet members of the Clintonville Area Commission are putting the controversial turn lane at North Broadway and N. High Street back on the agenda.

Clintonville commissioner D Searcy and three newly elected commissioners met yesterday with city officials to discuss the turn lane and other issues, said Dan Williamson, Mayor Michael B. Coleman’s spokesman.

Williamson said the area commission would have to vote in favor of the turn lane from westbound North Broadway to southbound N. High Street for the city to consider the issue again.

“If they get the votes for it, the mayor’s committed to it,” Williamson said. “He supports the turn lane.”

City council would have to approve the money for it.In 2009, the commission voted in favor of the turn lane. The next year, members voted it down.

Now, the commission has three new members — Dana Bagwell, Jason Meek and Daniel Miller — and another will be needed to replace Chairman John DeFourny, who resigned last week amid conflict-of-interest accusations.

“There are many people in Clintonville that want the turn lane done,” Searcy said. “Until the turn lane is done, the community cannot be settled.”

Bagwell favors the turn lane. She said it would help the area of High Street south of North Broadway thrive while cutting down on speeders who use side streets to get around the intersection.

Meek said he still is considering the issue.

The mayor had planned to make a decision on the turn lane himself. But in March he said he would leave it up to the commission.

The turn lane, a bus turnaround, gateway signs and a rezoning for a parking lot are among the laundry list of issues that have divided the community.

Bickering among commission members as well as name-calling and other bad behavior have given the commission a bad reputation.

A Columbus resident who doesn’t even live in Clintonville fired off an email to commissioners this month, writing that “it is quite embarrassing to read about the drama, self-interests, selfish/personal motives and what appears to be an overall lack of true commitment to YOUR community about many of the issues.”

Clintonville is a place where residents take pride in their leafy streets, well-kept yards, and for many, their progressive views. Columbus City Council President Andrew Ginther, a Democrat, lives there, as does state Sen. Jim Hughes, a Republican.

Ginther, who said he favors the turn lane for safety reasons, said that an at-large council system in a city as big as Columbus works only with organized and effective area commissions. Commissions advise the council on neighborhood priorities and zoning issues.

Meek said he worries that the commission has hurt its reputation and weakened its relationship with Columbus officials.

Neighborhood politics can be messy, and that isn’t unique to Clintonville, Williamson said.

“City Hall is never going to turn its back on Clintonville because of instability in the commissioners,” he said.Bagwell said she and others will work to restore the Clintonville Area Commission’s reputation.

“We’re going to have to prove to (City Hall) that we can be taken seriously again,” Bagwell said.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Columbus Dispatch: Zeno's in Harrison West Loses in the State Supreme Court

By  Darrel Rowland
The Columbus Dispatch Wednesday May 23, 2012 1:56 PM

Ohio’s smoking ban is legal, a unanimous Ohio Supreme Court ruled today.

The high court’s 7-0 decision affirmed a ruling by the Franklin County Court of Appeals upholding the Ohio Smoke Free Workplace Act, approved by Ohio voters in 2006.

Today’s decision, written by Justice Judith Ann Lanzinger, rejected claims by the owner of Zeno’s Victorian Village that state fines against his bar for violating the statewide ban on smoking in workplaces exceeded the state’s legitimate police powers or were an unconstitutional governmental “taking” of private property.

“We have previously stated that the General Assembly has the authority to enact a public-smoking ban,” Lanzinger wrote, citing a 2002 Supreme Court case.

“Although the Smoke Free Act was ultimately passed pursuant to a ballot initiative, the voters of Ohio also have a legitimate purpose in protecting the general welfare and health of Ohio citizens and workforce from the dangers of secondhand smoke in enclosed public places. By requiring that proprietors of public places and places of employment take reasonable steps to prevent smoking on their premises by posting ‘no smoking’ signs, removing ashtrays, and requesting patrons to stop smoking, the act is rationally related to its stated objective.”

Maurice Thompson, an attorney for the 1851 Center for Constitutional Law, a nonprofit legal center that represented Zeno’s, called the decision “shameful” in that it seems to give government a free hand in deciding how it will deal with use of private property.

“It really means there is no meaningful limit on regulation of private property in Ohio,” he said. “For us at the Constitutional Law Center, this was about private property rights, not about bars or about smoking.”

Thompson said his client has not decided whether to exercise the option of asking the Ohio Supreme Court to reconsider its decision.

The ruling has national significance, said Chris Hansen, president of the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, the nonprofit advocacy affiliate of the American Cancer Society, in a statement.

“Today’s decision represents a major blow to the tobacco industry’s ongoing efforts to defeat proven tobacco control measures nationwide that discourage kids and adults from smoking and save lives,” Hansen said.

Dr. Deepak Kumar, president of the Ohio State Medical Association, said in a statement: “Ohio’s physicians commend this ruling and hail it as an important public health victory. Ohio has seen a tremendous public health benefit since the passage of the Smoke Free Workplace Act as this law protects the public from exposure to secondhand smoke in workplaces and public places.”

Attorney General Mike DeWine, whose office represents the state health department, said, “This is great news for the health of Ohioans and for the democratic process. The Ohio Supreme Court has upheld a law passed by a statewide majority of Ohio voters, and patrons and employees of Ohio businesses will continue to enjoy surroundings that are safer because they are smoke-free.”

Lanzinger rejected contentions that the actual smokers, not the owners of establishments where smoking occurs, should suffer the consequences – especially if the owners have posted no-smoking signs and removed ashtrays.

“It is not unreasonable or arbitrary to hold responsible the proprietors of public places and places of employment for their failure to comply with the Smoke Free Act,” Lanzinger said.

“Our review of the act leads us to conclude that it is neither unduly oppressive nor arbitrary in its restrictions. Appellants’ own witness testified that most patrons who are asked to stop smoking readily do so. We therefore hold that the Smoke Free Act is a valid exercise of police power.”

She also noted that Zeno’s and others “have failed to demonstrate that the Smoke Free Act has had a significant economic impact on their business.”

The bar at 384 W. 3rd Ave. owes $40,457 in fines and interest penalties for numerous smoking-ban violations. The state is threatening to seize and foreclose on the Harrison West bar to get the money.

Enforcement of Ohio's smoking ban began in May 2007, affecting 280,000 public and private places of employment, the Ohio Department of Health says.

Secondhand smoke causes 46,000 deaths from heart disease and 3,400 lung cancer deaths in otherwise-healthy nonsmokers every year in America, anti-smoking advocates say. They also say secondhand smoke contains more than 60 known or probable carcinogens and more than 4,000 chemicals, including formaldehyde, arsenic, cyanide and carbon monoxide.

As of March 1, 2010, 32 states plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico require 100 percent smoke-free workplaces and/or restaurants and/or bars, anti-smoking groups say. The count more than 3,000 municipalities with local laws restricting smoking; those areas combined represents more than two-thirds of the U.S. population.

Zeno’s won a case to dismiss its fines in Franklin County Common Pleas Court but lost an appeal in the Franklin County appellate court in November 2010. Since then, it has gained the backing of the 1851 Center, the Ohio Licensed Beverage Association and the Buckeye Liquor Permit Holders Association, among other groups.

Lanzinger’s opinion was joined by Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor and Justices Paul E. Pfeifer, Evelyn Lundberg Stratton, Robert R. Cupp and Yvette McGee Brown. Justice Terrence O’Donnell concurred in judgment only.

Central Ohio buyers hungry for good homes

Central Ohio buyers hungry for good homes

(May 22, 2012) The number of homes listed for sale over the past two months is lower than the
previous year suggesting the market may be beginning to adjust itself. The 3,629 homes added
to the market in April were 7.0 percent lower than April of 2011 and the 3,466 new listings in
March were 10.4 percent lower than the previous year according to the Columbus Board of

The number of new listings January through April (12,588) is now 4.2 percent lower than the
same period last year.

“The number of residential homes for sale continues to decline - which is what the market
needs,” said Jim Coridan, 2012 President of the Columbus Board of REALTORS®. “The inflated
inventory we experienced  after the housing boom of the mid 2000’s caused home prices to
decrease. But 2011 saw a real stabilization of those inventory levels. As a result, home sale
prices are rising.”

The average sale price of a central Ohio home in April was $165,324 – up 8.4 percent from last
year and 7.7 over the previous month.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Business First: Columbus rated healthiest economy in Ohio

Columbus rated healthiest economy in Ohio

Date: Wednesday, May 16, 2012, 7:31am EDT

A state index of economic indicators shows that Columbus has the most economically healthy conditions among the state's largest metropolitan areas, the Toledo Blade reports.

The index includes employment factors and the valuation of housing permits, the newspaper reports. Columbus had the highest index, followed by Cincinnati and Akron, which all outperformed the overall state index, the newspaper reports.

Three metropolitan areas — Toledo, Canton-Massillon and Youngstown-Warren-Boardman — tied for the largest increase (0.8 percent) to their index, the newspaper reports.
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US News and World Report: 5 out of Top 10 Best Ohio High Schools are in Central Ohio

We reviewed 21,776 U.S. public high schools; 242 Ohio schools made our rankings. 

Ohio high school students must earn at least 20 credits in various subjects, including economics and financial literacy. In 10th grade, students take the Ohio Graduation Tests, which assess reading, writing, math, science, and social studies skills, according to the Ohio Department of Education.

Of the numerous Ohio schools ranked in 2012 among the U.S. News Best High Schools, 19 were awarded gold medals, 93 earned silver medals, and 130 received bronze medals. Many of Ohio's Best High Schools are located near the state capital of Columbus, or in Cincinnati, such as Walnut Hills High School, within the Cincinnati City School District.
Top Ranked OH Schools

To be eligible for a state ranking, a school must be awarded a national gold or silver medal.

#1 Walnut Hills High School

#2 Bexley High School

#3 Indian Hill High School

#4 Wyoming High School

#5 Dublin Jerome High School

#6 Chagrin Falls High School

#7 Olentangy Liberty High School
3584 HOME RD, POWELL, OH 43065

#8 Ottawa Hills High School

#9 Upper Arlington High School

#10 Olentangy High School

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Columbus Dispatch: Did they find the leak at Goodale Park pond yet? Er, no

Did they find the leak at Goodale Park pond yet? Er, no

On Tuesday, city officials and members of the Friends of Goodale Park went to the leaky pond yet again to try to solve the mystery of the disappearing water.
They dropped two more dye packs into the pond in hopes of tracing the leak. And while the dye spread over the northern end of the pond, they still couldn't find the hole, or crack, or whatever is draining the pond.
So they're going to contact city water officials to see if they have any ideas, parks spokeswoman Terri Leist said.
They tested the water last week with the green fluorescent dye, to no avail.
The pond has leaked since it was refilled on April 13. It couldn't hold water last year after they tried to refill it after the friends group installed a fountain.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Business First: Columbus tops in Ohio for college-educated young adults

Date: Tuesday, May 8, 2012, 12:39pm EDT - Last Modified: Tuesday, May 8, 2012, 1:01pm EDT

The Columbus area is home to one of the largest public universities in the nation, but more than 20 major metropolitan areas have a greater share of college-educated young adults.

The state capitol, home to Ohio State University and a slew of other public and private colleges, has about 125,000 18-to-34-year-olds with bachelor’s degrees, according to an analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data. That represents about 27 percent of the 461,000 people in that demographic in the Columbus area in 2010. Columbus’ share of young adults with bachelor’s degrees ranked No. 23 among the top 100 metropolitan areas.

On Numbers, which crunches data for Columbus Business First parent American City Business Journals, compiled the data. It found that the Boston metro area had the greatest percentage of educated young adults, with 39.2 percent holding bachelor’s degrees. Washington D.C., San Francisco, San Jose, Calif., and Madison, Wisc. rounded out the top five.

Columbus’ ranking was the best in the state. Its closest competition came from the No. 36-ranked Cleveland area, where 23.8 percent of the 18-to-34-year-old population holds a bachelor’s degree. Cincinnati’s 22.7 percent ranked 37th in the nation.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Columbus Dispatch: Test can't pinpoint leak at Goodale Park pond

Test can't pinpoint leak at Goodale Park pond

By  Mark Ferenchik
The Columbus Dispatch Thursday May 3, 2012 5:36 PM

The dye test last night to find the leak plaguing Goodale Park’s pond was inconclusive.

But the test did indicate some possibilities, including an area near a light illuminating the pond’s fountain, Recreation and Parks Director Alan McKnight said.

So officials plan to drop more dye on Tuesday in one more attempt to solve the problem that’s been plaguing the pond since last year.

Packs of green fluorescent dye were dropped into the pond Wednesday evening in the north and west sections of the pond to try to determine the source of the leak.

The pond has been leaking water since refilling ended on April 13. As of Wednesday, the water level had dropped by almost a foot, assistant parks director Terri Leist said on Wednesday.

It seemed to have stabilized earlier this week, she said, but weren’t sure if the rains earlier this week contributed to that.

The pond has been unable to hold water after the Friends of Goodale Park installed a fountain topped by two spouting elephants last year. The city spent $144,600 to put down bentonite (clay) on the bottom of the pond and repair walls.

“We’re continuing to plug away at it,” McKnight said.