Bexley News

Challenging commission's decision

Group not on board with Gramercy development

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Bexley City Council is set to hear an appeal, although a date has yet to be determined, from a group of residents who are challenging the city Planning Commission's May 19 approval of a development that would replace the existing retail building at 2412-2418 E. Main St. with a four-story, mixed-use condominium and retail development known as the Gramercy project.

The appeal was signed by 39 residents, including Sherwood Road resident Chris Rankin, who told council members at their May 27 meeting that he and his neighbors should have been notified about the proposed development.

"You could have residents in that (condominium) building looking into people's front and back yards that weren't even notified," Rankin said.

The existing building, located at the northwest corner of East Main Street and Cassady Avenue, currently houses the Cup o' Joe coffeehouse and other retailers.

Gramercy project developer Frank Kass said he is in conversations with the retailers about their potential future at the site.

Kass, a Bexley resident, said he followed the city's Main Street Guidelines that are designed to increase economic development when he submitted plans for the Gramercy project to the Planning Commission.

"(The city) decided Main Street needs to be cleaned up and fixed up," Kass said. "We're kind of shocked anybody's against it (the Gramercy project)."

Kass said he along with Sam Koon, a commercial real estate appraiser, and Lee Hess, founder of the Installs Inc. residential and commercial installation firm, got the idea for the Gramercy project while searching for properties that would enable them to downsize from their existing homes yet remain in Bexley.

Kass compared the Gramercy project to the mixed-use buildings at the corners of East Main Street and Dawson Avenue and East Main Street and Parkview Avenue, both of which have attracted new businesses and helped to revitalize the area.

"You have to look at underutilized corners and say, 'Where can you do something?' " he said. "The building (at the corner of East Main Street and Cassady Avenue) is old, it's in disrepair and it has environmental problems."

One of the objections of the group that is challenging the Gramercy project is that only four residential neighbors received written notices of the pending application within seven days of the Planning Commission's May 19 meeting.

A total of 16 property owners, including residential and commercial tenants, were notified seven days prior to the meeting, said Kathy Rose, the city's director of Building and Zoning.

"A copy of the application was also made available on the city website and a sign was placed on-site along the Main Street side of the property," Rose said.

Another of the opponents' contentions is that instead of the proposed four stories and 60 feet of height, the development should have a maximum of three stories and 48 feet of height in keeping with the Main Street Guidelines. The city's records indicate the Gramercy project is a proposed four stories with a height of approximately 58 feet and 2 inches.

The proposed development would be located in the Mixed Use Commercial District, where maximum height recommendations for that portion of Main Street are 40 feet on the north side of the street and 50 feet on the south side of the street and three to five stories, said Jason Sudy of Side Street Planning, the city's zoning and development consultant.

"The guidelines are not zoning standards, but are meant to serve as an overall guide to the process, noting the context and impact of each site individually in the review process," Sudy said. "The Planning Commission has some significant discretion in administering the specific provisions of the guidelines based on the overall vision for the corridor that the guidelines aspire to facilitate."

The Gramercy opponents also contend the development calls for six off-street and 18 underground parking spaces instead of a minimum of 48 off-street parking spaces to accommodate the 4,800 square feet of planned retail and commercial space.

Sudy said the Main Street Guidelines suggest a lower quantity of required parking spaces than the city's zoning code for retail, eating and drinking uses in the Mixed Use Commercial District.

"These lower standards take into account on-street parking," he said. "The result is that the Main Street Design Guidelines calculated a total of recommended spaces is 22 (for the Gramercy project)."

Mayor Ben Kessler, who also serves as the city's development director, said council members are evaluating the facts of the case and will set a date for the appeal hearing in the near future.

He declined to comment on the specifics of the Gramercy project because of the pending appeal before council. He did say, however, that he's confident council members will make an informed decision about the Gramercy project.

"I think we have talented residents with robust pertinent professional experience who serve both on the Planning Commission and on City Council," he said.

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