A high-density apartment building has been approved by the Gahanna Planning Commission following city staff members' nudge to follow the Olde Gahanna vision plan that was adopted in 2009.
The commission on Feb. 12 approved a final development plan for Creekside District Apartments, 152 Mill St., by Strathmore Development and applicant Gary Sebach of OHM Advisors. A few variances and a flood-plain-use application also were approved. A related certificate of appropriateness for site plan and building design were postponed to Feb. 26.
Planning and zoning administrator Bonnie Gard said the urban master plan, which was included within the vision plan, encourages higher-density residential development. The plan was drafted after input was received from a 13-member committee, a 100-person survey and a series of public meetings.
Gard said the Creekside District Apartments is the first multifamily project to be submitted since the Olde Gahanna District code was changed in 2012.
"In theory, we thought this code would work for Olde Gahanna," Gard said. "In practice, it does not and cannot work given the size of the majority of lots in Olde Gahanna.
"I would suggest that the number of variances necessarily requested by the developer is a result of inapplicability of the code rather than the project is just too big for the lot."
Gard said the project could be a catalyst for Olde Gahanna redevelopment.
Development director Anthony Jones said a lot of heated discussions and dozens of public meetings were facilitated by OHM regarding the vision plan. He said the purpose was to create a vision for the downtown.
"A high-density residential was recommended as to what could be on the site," he said. "The city supports a high-density residential project on this property."
Strathmore plans to build a four-story, 29-unit apartment building with parking underneath on 0.52 acre at Mill and North streets. A car wash currently is at the site.
Commission member Dave Andrews said he gave the proposal much consideration and decided to support it.
"If we say no to this, I think we shoot ourselves in the foot," he said. "I kind of feel they've been good neighbors and a great contributor. We've asked them to change things. I don't think slamming a door in their face is something we can afford to do. I've made up my mind. I'm for it."
Andrews asked if features could be added to enhance the north side of the building.
Sebach said decorative balconies could be added.
"We looked at shutters with the windows, but it didn't look correct," he said. "We can look at vertical elements. We didn't want it to also look like a front. I think we need to get it to a proportion that's more vertical."
Commission chairman Thomas Wester told Strathmore president Scott Chappelle the city owes him a debt of gratitude for taking on the private portions of Creekside.
"Thank you for that," he said. "The Olde Gahanna vision plan made consistent remarks regarding high density. It didn't define density or building height. I've given a lot of thought to this. I think this is what Olde Gahanna needs.
"A year ago, Lew Griffin was before us with his building on the southwest. This is a real strong anchor on the northeast corner. You have my vote."
Commission member Don Shepherd agreed with Andrews about the north side of the building.
"I still think it's one floor too many," he said. "I think it would still fit the vision plan with one floor less. If we end up with this, I still think the north elevation needs something."
Shepherd voted against the group of variances because, he said, the building would be too large for the site.
"I would like one less floor," he said. "I think there would be less problems with citizens."
Wester read a letter from Doug Dachenbach, a property owner immediately east of the proposed project. Dachenbach said the apartment building is the wrong fit and a bad fit for Olde Gahanna. He said the lot is too small for such a building.
Commission member Joe Keehner said the developer wasn't making unreasonable requests.
"In the vision plan, it talked about developing that lot as a unit," he said. "A lot of the old, small-town part of Gahanna is gone. It's a new sense of place. I have to deal with that reality."
All commission members voted for related legislation for the project, with the exception of Shepherd on the variances and Kristin Rosan, who was absent.
Wester, Andrews, Joseph Keehner, Jennifer Price and Bobbie Burba approved.
The commission postponed the building design decision in an effort to review elements for the north side of the building first.