The Delaware City Council on Feb. 22 unanimously approved a rezoning and preliminary development plan for a Turkey Hill gasoline station, convenience store and car wash at Stratford Road and U.S. Route 23.

The Delaware City Council on Feb. 22 unanimously approved a rezoning and preliminary development plan for a Turkey Hill gasoline station, convenience store and car wash at Stratford Road and U.S. Route 23.

Community members from both sides of the controversial issue packed council chambers, with several giving their opinions during a two-hour public hearing.

The applicant is Skilken, a Columbus development company. The project would be developed on about three acres now occupied by Garth's Auctions Inc.

The site is adjacent to the home and barn that once belonged to Col. Forest Meeker, one of Delaware's original inhabitants, who settled here in 1811. The structures sit on five acres just north of the auction building at 2690 Stratford Road and are now owned by Carolyn Porter, as is the proposed gas station site.

If the project goes forward, the home, barn and acreage would be donated to the Delaware County Historical Society for an office, museum and library, said Dave Efland, the city's planning director.

If council were to turn the project down, Efland said at the beginning of the meeting, the current zoning would allow mid-size box retail, a strip mall or office complex on the entire site with no governmental approval needed. All a developer would need is a demolition permit and the city has no grounds to deny one, he said.

Four Stratford Road residents addressed council during the meeting expressing concerns about traffic and safety, and the environmental impact on the Olentangy River, which is just west of the proposed project.

Stratford Road resident Kathy Plummer accused the city, developer and historical society of using "bribery" to get the deal done, by saying the historical buildings could be demolished if the gas station isn't approved.

Historical Society member Jerry Heston said maybe the deal is "a trade-off" but the Porters can't afford to donate all the property and no "white knight" is waiting to buy all the land and the historical buildings to preserve them.

Councilman Joe DiGenova, who also serves as chairman of the city's planning commission, said he has asked the developer to agree to give the historical society the first right of refusal if the gas station should fail and Turkey Hill wants to sell the land in the future. The developer has agreed to that condition.

The planning commission approved the rezoning and preliminary development plan at its Feb. 3 meeting. Both the planning commission and council still need to approve the final development plan, which Efland expects to be completed in two to three months.

City engineering director Bill Ferrigno said the intersection at Stratford Road and U.S. 23 would be improved as part of the project.

The Ohio Department of Transportation has turned down the city's request for a right in, right out entrance and exit onto U.S. 23, he said.

Sammy Porter Flynn spoke to the council on behalf of her three sisters and their mother, Carolyn Porter. Flynn's father and Carolyn Porter's husband, Thomas Porter, died on Jan. 2.

Flynn said it always was her parents' intention that the house and barn remain intact.

Her mother requires 24-hour care, which her father provided until his death, she said. If the family could afford to donate all the property to the historical society, it would, but the income from the sale of the property to Turkey Hill will ensure her mother gets the additional help she needs, Flynn said.

"That was one of the reasons they entered into the contract with Skilken. They were willing to save the historical entities on the property," she said.

Turkey Hill, which is owned by Kroger, agreed to compromises her parents insisted on, she said. They include preserving green space and using stone and cedar walls, with pitched, slate roofs for the gas station and car wash buildings.

After the planning commission meeting, Flynn said, she spoke with her mother about their options if the plans were not approved by council.

"She told me she hoped people saw the merit in the project because she doesn't want to make the decision between her health and maintaining this property," Flynn said.

Roger Koch, the historical society's vice president, said this is the first time he can remember that a developer has come forward and agreed to "coexist with preservation."

The property is on the National Register of Historic Places, but that designation does not guarantee its preservation, he said.

"A significant portion of people don't give a damn about the preservation of historic buildings, and a number of companies made offers (to the Porters) for the use of the whole property," Koch said.

"Tom and Carolyn Porter held out for a number of years for the preservation of the property. Turkey Hill wants the site and is willing to pay enough to allow for the donation of the land and buildings for preservation," he said.