A long-anticipated "gateway" commercial development, a new "signature" community festival and a fresh look for the police department all were newsmakers in Hilliard's 2012.

A long-anticipated "gateway" commercial development, a new "signature" community festival and a fresh look for the police department all were newsmakers in Hilliard's 2012.

It took nearly the entire year, and it nearly did not come to pass, but city officials and developers reached an agreement for a commercial and residential development on a 56-acre parcel at the northwest corner of Cemetery Road and Britton Parkway.

It was considered the "gateway to Hilliard" by city officials who demanded exacting standards for development for the parcel. Proposals in 2005 and 2009 were introduced and abandoned when agreement could not be reached.

It appeared in February the third attempt would falter after representatives from Continental Real Estate abruptly left a meeting with city planners when an impasse had been reached, but developers resumed negotiations and a development plan ultimately was achieved.

An 84,000-square-foot Giant Eagle store will anchor the site, coupled with a 450-unit residential complex, tentatively to be called the Villages at Britton Parkway.

A medical office, restaurant, gasoline station and other retail uses also are anticipated, but details of ancillary developments are forthcoming, including a hearing at the Dec. 13 meeting of the Hilliard Planning and Zoning Commission for additional retail development.

"What we saw with this development is precisely how government works," Mayor Don Schonhardt said about the lengthy process that culminated with approval of the project.

Frank Kass, chairman of Columbus-based Continental Real Estate and representing First Industrial LP, the Chicago-based landowner, said, "It hasn't always been easy. ... But we won't disappoint you. (This development) will bring jobs here (and) have the look you want."

Planning and Zoning Commission members approved the development plan 5-1, but council members passed it unanimously.

"It's a quality, mixed-use development (and) there will be a synergy between the business and residential components," Schonhardt said.

City officials in November heard about another landscape-changing development proposed at the corner of Cemetery Road and Franklin Street.

Buckeye KRG proposed a development that would result in the construction of a signalized intersection that would align Luxair Drive with Franklin Street, demolition of an inoperable grain elevator and silo and relocation of the iconic Starliner Diner.

"It's a blighted property and the last eyesore in Hilliard. We need to get it developed," Economic Development Director David Meeks said at the Nov. 5 meeting of the City Planning, Projects and Services Committee of City Council.

Commercial and residential uses are proposed for the site.

Like the development at Cemetery Road and Britton Parkway, tax-increment financing district revenue will fund infrastructure improvements in connection with the development.

Community events

In January, Destination Hilliard announced the new "signature event" for Hilliard, designed to become a regional attraction for the city in the vein of Reynoldsburg's Tomato Festival or Pickerington's Violet Festival.

Called Solebrate!, the inaugural festival is scheduled for the third weekend of June in conjunction with the summer solstice.

"We looked at a schedule of festivals and fairs throughout Ohio and found there were very few events around the third week of June," said Christy Clark, executive director of Destination Hilliard. "We want everyone to see Solebrate! as the kickoff to summer (and) mark it on their calendar at the start of every year."

While Solebrate! was just beginning, it appeared that 2012 might be the final year for another festival, the Old Hilliardfest Art and Street Fair, to be held on the streets of Hilliard.

Following the conclusion of the 2012 festival, Schonhardt directed Law Director Pam Fox to direct a letter to festival organizers advising them to find an off-street home in 2013.

Officials maintained that organizers had not obtained permission from all business owners to close Main Street and suggested the festival relocate to other streets adjacent to Main Street.

"It's a birthday cake without candles," John Peters, vice president of the Hilliard Civic Association, said about an alternative site for the 27-year-old festival.

However, city officials and festival organizers reached an agreement concerning future organization of the festival.

Festival supporters attended a subsequent council meeting and council members, together with the administration, meted out a formal process and requirements for obtaining permits for street closures for the purpose of public festivals.

Fierce storm

Mother Nature made news in 2012 as a violent rush-hour storm passed through central Ohio June 29. Winds as high at 70 mph knocked out power to an estimated 660,000 customers in the region, but Hilliard mostly was spared, although residents in Ridgewood were without power for the ensuing five days.

New-look cruisers

Hilliard's police cruisers also received a makeover in 2012. The new-look cruisers were unveiled at the Fourth of July parade.

The four new cruisers are black-and-white Chevrolet Caprice PPV cruisers that will replace the silver-and-blue fleet of Ford cars.

In other local law-enforcement news, two high-profile criminal cases related to Hilliard concluded in 2012.

Former Hilliard City Councilman Dan Nichter in January was sentenced to four years in prison for identity theft in connection with a mortgage-fraud scheme.

Nichter pleaded guilty Nov. 17, 2011, to three counts of identity fraud, each a second-degree felony, and among the top counts in a 48-count indictment a Franklin County grand jury handed up in December 2010.

On March 7, Donald J. Schlarman, 28, was in Franklin County Common Pleas Court where he pleaded guilty to two counts of voluntary manslaughter and two counts of aggravated assault.

Schlarman pleaded guilty to fatally stabbing two men in the early-morning hours of March 7, 2011, at the VIP Lounge. The murders were the first in the city of Hilliard in almost 22 years.

Jeff E. Fijolek, 44, of Grove City, and Tyler Bronson, 34, of Hilliard, were pronounced dead at the scene from multiple stab wounds.

Two other men, Clarence L. Shepard III, 45, and Thomas Cline, 35, were injured and treated at area hospitals for non-life-threatening injuries.