Bexley News

Gramercy project

Marathon discussion precedes approval

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Both developer Frank Kass and Sherwood Road resident Dan Fulton, who spoke on behalf of 38 other appellants who opposed a proposed condominium and retail development at 2412-2418 E. Main St., say they are pleased with Bexley City Council's decision to uphold the development with additional height and parking restrictions.

Council members rendered their 6-1 decision in the early hours of June 26 after 10 hours of testimony on June 24 and June 25 and three hours of deliberation in executive session.

Council's decision upholds the city Planning Commission's May 19 approval of a development that will replace the existing building housing the Cup o' Joe coffeehouse and other retailers.

The planned development, known as the Gramercy project, will be a four-story, mixed-use condominium and retail development.

The 39 residents who appealed the Planning Commission's decision opposed the Gramercy project on the grounds that only four residential neighbors received written notices of the pending application within seven days of the commission's May 19 meeting.

The appellants also contended that the Gramercy project should have a minimum of 48 off-street parking spaces to accommodate the 4,800 square feet of planned retail and commercial space, rather than the 22 parking spaces that the Planning Commission approved.

They also asserted that instead of the proposed four stories and 60 feet of height, the Gramercy project should have a maximum of three stories and 48 feet of height in keeping with the city's Main Street Guidelines.

The city's records indicate that the Gramercy project is a proposed four stories and approximately 58-feet, 2-inches tall.

During the appeal process, Planning Commission Chairman Mike Simpson and Jason Sudy of Side Street Planning, the city's zoning and development consultant, testified that the commission has discretion to interpret the Main Street Guidelines on a case-by-case basis.

"The guidelines guide us about the height of the building," Simpson said while being questioned by Fulton during the appeal. "We decided that the height of this building was appropriate for this location."

Council members who upheld the Planning Commission's decision said they took the residents' concerns into account.

Councilwoman Lori Ann Feibel said she asked herself if the procedures by which the Planning Commission approved the Gramercy project followed proper rules.

"In my mind, yes, it followed the rules," she said. "One of the lessons we've learned is that we need to communicate better with our residents."

Councilman Mark Masser, who cast the lone dissenting vote, said the proposed height of the Gramercy project was the sticking point for him.

"I have no problem with notification, with parking; I just have a problem with the height," he said.

Council's decision set the following restrictions on the Gramercy project:

* The developer must make efforts to reduce the overall height of the building.

* Four parking spaces in the building's underground garage must be available to non-resident employees of the retail space.

* Three parking spaces must be made available in the building's drop-off zone with at least a 30-minute time limit.

* Three additional off-street parking spaces must be made available, per the revised proposal submitted by the applicant during the appeal hearing.

* Two additional parking spaces in the underground garage or on the surface must be made available for nonresident employees of the retail space.

Fulton said the considerable length of council members' deliberations and the fact that they addressed many of the points residents made during the hearing indicated that council took the appeal seriously.

"Most members of council indicated that they heard our concerns with height and parking," Fulton said.

Fulton said while he can't speak for the other appellants, he has no plans to appeal council's decision to Franklin County Common Pleas Court.

He said he is satisfied that the city has begun to take steps to expand notification to residents about commercial developments and is set to undertake a comprehensive overhaul of the city's zoning code later this year.

"I do think the process has been beneficial," Fulton said.

Kass, a longtime Bexley resident, said he anticipates breaking ground on the Gramercy project early next year and plans to live in the building along with co-developers Sam Koon, Lee Hess and their families.

"We are very happy to be able to move ahead with the project that will help change the landscape of Bexley's Main Street and will be well received," he said. "We will build with the least amount of density possible for an urban situation."

Kass said once he completes the purchase of the existing building, he will enter formal discussions with Cup o' Joe and other retailers about whether they will be able to occupy the new building.

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