Rocky Fork Enterprise

Right-of-way issue divides commission

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A proposed 18-inch right-of-way encroachment for a building being renovated on Mill Street brought debate and a 4-3 vote in favor of a variance for applicant Lew Griffin's LGI Building LLC.

During the Jan. 23 Gahanna Planning Commission meeting, Griffin said it comes down to pride of ownership for a building design that's improving the structure at 73-77 Mill St. He asked the commission to approve the variance in an effort to achieve a dimensional exterior front facade that would include four structural pilasters that encroach 18 inches. The original building already was encroaching into the Mill Street right of way.

"I feel strongly about having a building I'm proud of," Griffin said. "If you take (available) square footage and try to make the most attractive building on Mill Street, it's more difficult than you think."

Members who voted in favor of the variance were Donald Shepherd, David Andrews, Joseph Keehner and David Thom. Dissenters were Jennifer Price, Kristin Rosan and Thomas Wester.

Keehner said the old part of Gahanna brings difficult issues to start.

"In the old part of town, you run into glitches," he said. "The hardship is based on the building already on the property line. If we want people to invest in Gahanna, we need to be flexible."

Keehner said he understands the sanctity of right of way, but the code sometimes has to be bent to preserve the integrity of a place.

Thom said a lot in Olde Gahanna already is nonconforming.

"I think the design and aesthetics far outweigh any problem," he said. "I think it outweighs the encroachment. Looking at Olde Gahanna, nothing is going to be perfect. What you have right now is a building in Olde Gahanna being beautified."

Price said she appreciates the investment with the remodel, but she wanted other options to consider.

"Are there ways to achieve the bump-out on the upper level and still have architectural interest?" she asked. "Is there middle ground without the encroachment with a quality look you're going for?"

George Parker Jr., the project's architect, said there are lots of ways to design. He said the building would look flat without the pillars, though.

"We did a lot of sketches," Parker said. "He's (Griffin) spending as much money as if he had torn (the building) down."

Griffin said the site has no room to add dimension to the building without the encroachment. (See main story.)

"If we can't do this, it's a flat face," he said. "I would have trouble with that."

Andrews said he appreciates the investment in Gahanna.

"It's four sections of 18 inches," he said. "As much as I know there's foot traffic, I don't think it's that big of a deal. I think it's a beautiful improvement. Sometimes to get something beautiful, you have to give on some things."

He said the Olde Gahanna Commission really wants the downtown to be a beautiful area, and he urged colleagues to vote favorably for the variance.

"That building was ugly -- ugly," Andrews said. "I don't want to scare other developers off, making them think we're hard to work with."

Wester said he agrees that the building design is attractive, but he's sensitive to encroaching in the right of way.

"I haven't seen alternative designs, and I believe there are options," he said.

Rosan said she doesn't want investors to think that if they propose a nice-enough building, the commission would vary the code.

"I believe the applicant is doing a tremendous job rehabilitating a building," she said. "I think there are other options to build a beautiful building without encroaching on right of way."

Shepherd said he appreciates the points his colleagues have made.

"I try to do everything but vary (the code)," he said. "I think there are special circumstances since it's built on the property line."

Shepherd said the public gets a better-designed building for the encroachment.

"There are times the code needs changed," he said. "There are variances because not everything fits in a square box. The property looks beautiful."

The commission also approved a wrought-iron fence and additional sidewalks for Panera Bread, 91 N. Hamilton Road, and signs for Firestone, 1120 N. Hamilton Road.

A final development plan, design and conditional use for Doc Thompson Plumbing, 1601 Eastgate Parkway, was postponed to Feb. 13, as was a design review for property at 83 Granville St.

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