Members of the Hilliard Planning and Zoning Commission on Nov. 8 unanimously approved a development plan for the construction of 687 single-family and multifamily units on 419 acres at the southwest corner of Alton Darby Creek and Davis roads.
The Heritage Preserve development plan was approved 5-0 at the conclusion of a two-hour hearing for the case, the first of eight on the agenda. One seat on the seven-member commission is vacant and Mayor Don Schonhardt was absent.
Commission members and city officials were unanimous in their resolve that other elements of the development plan were sufficient to warrant "density bonuses" that allowed the proposed density to exceed, by more than 50 percent, the recommended density in the Big Darby Creek Watershed area.
Heritage Preserve would be the first residential development in the environmentally sensitive watershed area, and it is virtually the last developable area for Hilliard.
In June, Dan O'Brien, developer of the nearby Heritage Lakes subdivision, petitioned to rezone the parcel from restricted residential and agriculture to planned-unit development. O'Brien's development company, Planned Development Co. of Ohio, owns the land.
The development plan calls for 387 single-family homes and 300 multifamily homes on the 419 acres that were annexed in 2009 from Brown Township into the city of Hilliard.
The Big Darby Accord Advisory Board unanimously rejected the plan Aug. 14, the first such proposal the advisory board rejected since it was formed in 2007. However, the advisory board's recommendations are not binding.
Still, the Heritage Preserve application was tabled at the Sept. 13 and Oct. 11 meetings of the Hilliard Planning and Zoning Commission to allow city officials and O'Brien more time to work out the details.
"The staff and the applicant worked hard to reach this agreement ... and I think it complies with the spirit and intent of the Big Darby Accord," said commission Chairman Bill Uttley.
Hilliard City Planner John Talentino said the development plan maintains wetlands and wooded areas, as well as their ecosystems.
Talentino said the plan was deserving of a "density bonus" that provides for an increase of the recommended density if other criteria are met.
The recommended density for development, per the Big Darby Accord, is 1 unit per acre. The approved development has a density of 1.64 units per acre.
Opponents of the development who spoke at the meeting attacked the plan on several levels, but most vehemently on the subject of density.
Beth Clark, executive assistant to the Brown Township Board of Trustees, told the commission that the Brown Township trustees were opposed to the plan.
Clark said the application of multiple "density bonuses" for the plan "was a serious misinterpretation" of the policy.
"The density is too high and should be reduced to comply with Hilliard's comprehensive master plan and the Big Darby Accord," said Clark, who also criticized the plan's handling of flood-plain management.
Joe Martin, chairman of the Big Darby Accord Advisory Board, also appealed to the commission to reject the plan.
"Our first and foremost concern was, and remains, density," Martin said. "(A) 64 percent (increase above the recommended) density is totally unacceptable."
Hilliard Service Director Butch Seidle said the city knew density "would be a concern."
But, Seidle said, other aspects of the development made the density acceptable. Those included the restoration of the nearby Hamilton Ditch stream the addition of an open space of 55 acres that is 5 percent in excess of the requirement and a regional pedestrian trail system.
"This was truly a balancing act," said Jim Houk of Bird Houk, a Gahanna-based architectural firm. "We wanted this to be unlike any other subdivision in Hilliard. ... This is one of the most unique developments we have ever worked on."
The development will be designed with natural barriers, such as trees and shrubs, to screen residences from the street.
The development also features a wide variety of homes, ranging from patio residences in the $250,000 rage to estates in excess of $750,000.
Cincinnati-based Fischer Homes is the developer of the single-family homes while Schottenstein Homes will develop the multifamily residences.
The developer eventually will build a connection to Davis Road to provide an alternate arterial road in the area and build a trail system to connect Hilliard Municipal Park with the Prairie Oaks Metro Park.
The developer also will pay an impact fee of $2,500 per unit to fund area infrastructure improvements, and a 5-mill Neighborhood Community Authority will apply to the property tax, providing revenue to the Norwich Township Fire Department, Hilliard City Schools and the city of Hilliard.