Hilliard officials agreed this week to meet with Brown Township officials concerning conflicting interpretations of the density provisions in the Big Darby Accord watershed master plan.
However, against the wishes of Brown Township trustees, they allowed an ordinance approving a development plan for Heritage Preserve to advance to a third and final reading.
The Brown Township trustees asked City Council members at a Feb. 11 public hearing to table the ordinance for Heritage Preserve, a 687 single- and multifamily residential development proposed for a 419-acre parcel at the southwest corner of Alton Darby Creek and Davis roads.
Hilliard City Planner John Talentino told City Council members that while the proposed density of 1.64 units per acre exceeds the one-unit per acre recommended in the Big Darby Accord, other components of the plan qualify it for "density bonuses."
At issue is the definition and application of density bonuses referred to in the Big Darby Accord.
Joe Martin, a Brown Township trustee and chairman of the Big Darby Accord Advisory Committee, told City Council that Hilliard was misinterpreting the application of density bonuses.
According to Martin, a single developer is eligible for a maximum of 15 percent density bonuses based on meeting combined criteria.
Hilliard, Martin said, has misinterpreted the accord by applying a density bonus to each individual benchmark a developer achieves.
Council Vice President Kelly McGivern and Martin challenged each other's interpretations of the density bonus, and Service Director Butch Seidle said the plan clearly allows local jurisdictions that agreed to the accord the flexibility to apply density bonuses.
Examples of components that qualify for density bonuses are stream restorations and green space.
Talentino said qualifying density bonuses at Heritage Preserve include a 20 percent bonus for stream restoration and 10 percent bonuses each for having excessive open space, a regional recreational path system, extraordinary infrastructure improvements and a conservation design of homes, which would total a 60 percent density bonus.
"Even if you eventually give approval to this, it will look much better if you give this consideration before doing so," Martin said.
Brown Township Trustee Ron Williams said he was concerned approving a development plan that exceeds the recommended density by 64 percent "is a major concern."
"It's inappropriate for the area (and) other developers will want the same thing," Williams said.
Councilman Nathan Painter asked why Heritage Preserve was being viewed "as a microcosm."
Painter said he did not see the significance of how Heritage Preserve is developed because it represents only a fraction of developable land in the accord area, and others could be developed at a lower density to maintain the desired average.
Many of the opponents in the audience expressed exasperation about the comment.
"We took a conservative approach," Martin said. "If you allow 1.64 units per acre, you'll have to do it for another."
In response to the request of Brown Township officials, Hilliard Mayor Don Schonhardt replied, "Hilliard is always willing to meet."
At the conclusion of the public hearing, Councilman Al Iosue said there was ample time for such meetings before the third and final reading of the ordinance, currently scheduled Feb. 25.
Not everyone agreed.
"It sounds like it's already been decided and it's being shoved down our throats," Barbara Robey said after the meeting.
Robey and her husband, Bruce, have lived on Davis Road for 30 years.
Heritage Preserve would be Hilliard's first residential development in the environmentally sensitive Big Darby watershed area of western Franklin County.
The Big Darby Accord Advisory Panel in August unanimously rejected the development plan. It was the first time the advisory board rejected a plan since the board was formed in 2007. However, the advisory board's recommendations are not binding.
In November, the Hilliard Planning and Zoning Commission did not follow that recommendation, but voted 5-0 to issue a positive recommendation to City Council at the conclusion of a two-hour meeting.
Dan O'Brien, of Planned Development Co. of Ohio, owns the land. Cincinnati-based Fischer Homes would be the developer of the single-family homes while Schottenstein Homes would develop the apartment residences, expected to range in price from $250,000 to $600,000, a price range city officials have welcomed.