Rocky Fork Enterprise

Northeast School

Planning Commission approves Sunapple Gardens submission

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Sunapple Gardens at Gahanna's Northeast School will take root about six months after a plan initially was presented to Gahanna's planning commission.

The planning commission on Sept. 11 approved a certificate of appropriateness for a site plan, landscaping and building design for the Sunapple Gardens and Education Center by the Franklin County Board of Developmental Disabilities.

The gardens at 500 N. Hamilton Road will allow adults and youth populations from the board of developmental disabilities to grow produce, herbs, cut flowers and fruit.

In Gahanna, the board of developmental disabilities operates a school-age program at Northeast School and an adult program at ARC Industries East.

A revised plan presented during the meeting shows 73 Norway spruce trees will serve as a buffer on the north, west and east, said David Hodge, attorney for the applicant.

Seven greenhouse structures and an education center have also been pushed to the center of the site. There are three planting areas on the east side of the site plan and two to the west along Hamilton Road, Hodge said.

The education center would replicate an Ohio historic barn, said Jean Gordon, an architect with Moody-Nolan.

Gordon said a round therapeutic or sensory garden will be in the southwest corner of the gardens, where a vegetated swale will be retained.

All seven greenhouses are described as gothic frame. The five larger greenhouses have a metal frame with double poly exterior, while the two smaller ones consist of a metal frame and a polycarbonate panel exterior.

"A greenhouse is a greenhouse is a greenhouse," Hodge said. "It's equipment for this use. We've done our best to mitigate concerns. We have the smallest greenhouses we could go with.

"But it's a greenhouse and it is what it is. We think we've worked hard with neighbors and the city."

Millwood Court resident Judy Horch said she and her neighbors are disappointed their written concerns to the commission weren't addressed.

She said a petition with more than 75 signatures was submitted to oppose the plan.

Horch said neighbors are concerned about drainage and runoff; life expectancy and maintenance of the green houses; and the visual impact for anyone traveling Hamilton Road.

Millwood Court resident David Williams circulated the petition against the plan.

"They said they would be good neighbors but the neighbors don't want it," Williams said. "One (family) didn't sign it because they have a disabled daughter and think it would be a good thing. (Neighbors) oppose plastic structures."

He said the city isn't protecting its residents and alleged the project will decrease home values.

Resident Patricia Kovacs, however, supports the project.

"It will provide a learning opportunity for students at the school," Kovacs said. "I think we should help students the best we can. I'd prefer a farm rather than any other use of this property."

Commission member Kristen Rosan said she looks forward to having the gardens as part of the community.

She asked that the applicant work with the city to relocate the pines along Hamilton Road.

Rosan said people would enjoy seeing the gardens from Hamilton Road.

"Maybe there's room to nestle the pines on the eastern and western border for the neighbor buffers," she said.

As far as the greenhouses, Rosan said, the height is less than a two-story house.

"I think the applicant has done a good job with a number of workshops with us and meeting with neighbors," she said.

Commission member David Andrews said the board of developmental disabilities isn't a fly-by-night organization.

"They've done a lot of good for the community," Andrews said. "I volunteered for them years ago. This isn't going to be cheesy.

"There's a buffer. They've guaranteed they will return the area to existing conditions if it doesn't go as hoped. If I was looking to buy a house, looking out to an empty field or beautiful gardens, I would like the garden. I would buy the house. I think it would be better. It will be a beautiful garden for Gahanna."

Teresa Kobelt, director of the Franklin County Board of Developmental Disabilities and CEO of ARC Industries, has said a mission of the board and ARC Industries is to help people to live, learn and work in their community.

She said ARC Industries has been a longtime community partner of the board of developmental disabilities.

As a nonprofit business, ARC creates jobs and training opportunities for adults eligible for county board services. In 2012, ARC employed more than 1,400 adults with developmental disabilities, and almost a quarter of those employment opportunities were in Gahanna, according to Kobelt.

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