The Canal Winchester Times

Rockford Homes

Decision due by March 18 on latest appeal

Neighbors say they want condos, not apartments, built to current zoning codes

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Canal Winchester City Council is expected to decide by March 18 whether to override a planning and zoning commission vote and grant Rockford Homes permission to build an apartment complex near Groveport Road.

More than 30 residents packed Town Hall for the Feb. 18 public hearing on the company's appeal to city council. It was the latest in a series of requests and appeals by Rockford Homes, which first approached Canal Winchester in 2003 with plans to build a 112-unit apartment complex called Canal Crossing on the site south of Groveport Road, north of Eagle Ridge. The property was part of the Village at Westchester development.

The planning commission approved those plans, but the apartments were never built.

Two years later, the planning commission approved Rockford's proposal to instead construct 48 condominiums. However, the condos were never built, and in October 2008, Rockford sought permission to revert to its original plan for 112 apartments.

This time, the planning commission said no and council subsequently rejected Rockford's appeal after residents expressed fears that more rentals in the area could lower property values and burden local schools.

In 2010, the Franklin County Court of Appeals upheld a decision by the Environmental Division of Franklin County Municipal Court, which had ruled in favor of Rockford Homes. The appellate court said council and the planning commission erred in rejecting Rockford's plans -- which had been accepted years earlier by Canal Winchester.

However, the ruling had stipulated that the units had to be built within two years. Rockford Homes representative Catherine Cunningham said at the Feb. 18 public hearing that construction did not happen because the company couldn't get funding due to the country's economic slump.

"We were here before council three years ago on a like application for this same site, for the same layout, for the same plan," Cunningham said. "At that time, it had been disapproved by planning and zoning and then that decision was affirmed by council, but upon appeal to the county environmental court and through the 10th District Court of Appeals, the development was approv-ed."

She said Rockford is now seeking to construct "the remaining multifamily-zoned portion that came as a part of the original PUD."

"This is not a rezoning," she said. "It is properly zoned for multifamily use already. There is no difference between an apartment and a condo and the original ordinance from 1990 adopted the 1990 PUD (planned unit development) and zoning code."

Canal Winchester Development Director Lucas Haire presented council with staff recommendations, based on information from the law director that had been developed for the planning and zoning commission.

"We applied the original PUD, the 1990 zoning code, and then current zoning code, which was not in conflict with what the Villages at Westchester PUD stated -- specifically, looking at the current Stream Corridor Protection Zone (SCPZ)," Haire said.

According to Haire, after receiving modifications to the Rockford Homes plan, the outstanding issues that still conflict with city codes include having a private drive crossing an SCPZ, signage, the number of accessory structures and the type of vinyl siding being proposed.

However, residents who spoke at the hearing emphasized their desire for Rockford to build condos instead of apartments, or at least to build to the current zoning codes instead of 1990-era text.

"I assume if Rockford wants to be good neighbors and reach out to us," resident Jim Bohnlein said. "Then why wouldn't (they) want to conform to our current zoning laws instead of going back 22 years to standards originally adopted in 1989?"

Eagle Ridge resident Jerry Sowers said that he's had a good relationship with Rockford Homes regarding his condo property, but believes a contract had been broken regarding the apartments.

"When we bought our condo -- and many others said the same -- the sales reps for Rockford said that condos would be built in that lot," Sowers said. "There are no condos available in Eagle Ridge and when they do come up, they sell in 30 days. That says something about our community, so maybe Rockford should consider this again."

Residents Heather Bolin and Andrew Beausen agreed, saying that the transient nature of renters would change the community and decrease property values and community investments in the area, such as Hanner's Park.

Following the hearing, city council retired to executive session to review the information provided during the hearing and to request that the city law director develop a new findings of fact and a conclusion-of-law document to be used prior to a council ruling.

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