The Canal Winchester Times

Canal Winchester

Council upholds denial of Rockford Homes plan

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Canal Winchester City Council voted unanimously March 18 to uphold the planning commission's rejection of a site development plan for a 112-unit apartment project Rockford Homes wants to build near Groveport Road.

Last week's vote was the latest in a series of actions dating back to 2003 and came after the company appealed a Canal Winchester Planning and Zoning Commission decision in January. Several residents testified then in opposition to the project and continued to raise objections at a public hearing Feb. 18.

City officials said they were disappointed by Rockford Homes' desire to develop the project based on out of date zoning text.

The company first approached Canal Winchester in 2003 with plans to build a 112-unit apartment complex called Canal Crossing on property south of Groveport Road, north of Eagle Ridge, that 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, but stipulated that construction had to start within two years. That didn't happen, because, according to Rockford Homes representative Catherine Cunningham, the company couldn't get funding due to the country's economic slump.

She said at the Feb. 18 public hearing the company wants to build "the remaining multifamily-zoned portion that came as a part of the original PUD."

Resident Jim Bohnlein has been a vocal opponent of the plans. He has argued that Rockford Homes' desire to build the apartments based on 1990s-era zoning text suggested that it didn't "want to be good neighbors."

"I'm extremely excited that our council members affirmed planning and zoning's decision and I hope they continue to follow through," Bohnlein said. "This fight is worth it."

If the company chooses to continue to appeal, the next step would likely involve filing suit in the Franklin County Municipal Court, Environmental Division, as it did previously. The company could also choose to modify the current site development plan based on the issues cited in the city's Findings of Fact and Conclusion of Law document, then resubmit a new application for approval to the planning and zoning commission.

Council President Steve Donahue said the city hopes Rockford Homes will reconsider the project but is prepared if it doesn't.

"We're supporting the findings that our law director provided us, the denial of the application, and we'll continue supporting planning and zoning," Donahue said. "We've got our documentation and feel it supports our decision, which is where we need to be as a community."

Following the March 18 vote, Canal Winchester City Council went into executive session to discuss the possibility of future litigation surrounding the decision.

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