Hilliard Northwest News

Commission OKs apartments; neighbors vexed

Roberts Road multifamily residential development plan forwarded to Columbus City Council

By ThisWeek Community News  • 

Hilliard residents opposed to a proposed apartment complex in neighboring Columbus must appeal to Columbus City Council to address their concerns.

The Columbus Development Commission on May 9 voted 5-1, with John Ingwersen absent, to approve a rezoning application for a 5-acre parcel at 5652 Roberts Road and approved the construction of 44 apartments.

Maria Manta Conroy, an assistant professor in city and regional planning at the Ohio State University, cast the lone vote against the application. In a written report, Conroy said the plan still "feels too dense for the property."

The commission rezoned the parcel to limited apartment residential. The rezoning and development plan are part of the same application.

The commission is an advisory board to Columbus City Council.

Columbus City Council members will review the recommendation before upholding or overturning it. The review has not been scheduled, but commission Chairman Michael Fitzpatrick said it typically occurs within four to six weeks.

The Columbus Development Commission tabled the application March 14, ordering the developer, Bell Properties, to improve landscaping and proposed access points to the development on the north side of Roberts Road, just west of Rustling Oak Boulevard.

Several neighbors in Hilliard and Columbus remain opposed, citing residential density and turning restrictions at the Roberts Road entry that they say will force traffic onto neighborhood streets.

"I'm incredibly disappointed we didn't get a (majority) 'no' vote," said Nadeane Howard of Penbrook Court in the adjacent Brookfield Village subdivision in Hilliard.

Bell Properties had proposed 60 apartments on the 5-acre parcel at the March 14 meeting but the lack of a landscaping plan and details of access points to the property caused the commission to table it, according to Fitzpatrick.

"They didn't have a great buffering game plan for the neighbors (and) the access to the development was unknown (at the March 14 meeting). We told them to come back," Fitzpatrick said May 13. "When they came back (May 9), it was down to 44 units and I attribute that to the neighbors who brought pressure to the developer to lower it.

"Most developers, every chance, will put more than five gallons in a five-gallon bucket (but) the residents got a lower density."

Fitzpatrick said Bell Properties also come back with "effective privacy screening" after the commission required it to install 6-foot-tall evergreen and deciduous trees that will "canopy out" the new apartments from view. Required fences provide additional screening.

"In my opinion, (the application approved May 9) was a reasonable and appropriate use for the property," Fitzpatrick said.

Mike Shannon, an attorney representing property owner Tom Bell, said his client tried to provide buffering in excess of the standard and responded to the concerns of the residents.

"Any time a homeowner hears the word 'multifamily,' there is a fear factor ... and we know the opposition is sincere in their concerns, but we feel this is a good transitional use," Shannon said. "This will be a quality development that will enhance (the surrounding) property values."

Howard and several of her neighbors do not agree, however, and further criticized the commission for not adhering to the Trabue-Roberts Area Plan that recommends a lower residential density of two units per acre or less for the area.

At 44 units on the 5-acre parcel, the density is almost nine units per acre.

"It's out of character. You don't pull the rug out from under people who have invested money and their blood, sweat and tears into their homes," Howard told commission members May 9.

In a Columbus staff report provided to the development commission, city staff members wrote: "Staff has come to the conclusion that this proposal is compatible with the surrounding residential development and feels that the Trabue-Roberts Area Pan recommendation for very-low residential uses did not take into consideration that future development may occur on this property."

Kevin Wheeler, assistant planning administrator for the planning division of the Columbus Department of Development said a provision should have been included in the Trabue-Roberts Area Plan concerning the 5-acre parcel.

While the Trabue-Roberts plan calls for "very low density," two units per acre or less, there are subareas within the plan that have provisions for higher density.

A good example, Wheeler said, is San Margherita.

"We recognize that it is not inappropriate for a developer to seek to build something comparable to what is around it," Wheeler said.

The area Bell Properties seeks to develop is similar in that higher density areas are adjacent to it, Wheeler said.

Steve Strawser, of Oldwynne Road in the neighboring Oakwynne Estates in Columbus, criticized the departure from the Trabue-Roberts plan and the traffic plan accepted by the Columbus Development Commission that ruled a right-turn lane was not warranted.

Opponents said the plan is flawed because it considers Rustling Oak Boulevard as a second access point, but that would be inconvenient for drivers, who instead would use the complex's primary driveway.

"People are going to use (the primary entrance from Roberts Road)," Strawser said.

However, the primary entrance is right-in, right-out, so motorists needing to make left turns to or from the driveway would use Bluewynne Place and Rustling Oak Boulevard, Strawser said.

"I won't use (Roberts Road and Rustling Oak Boulevard) at rush hour now because it's too dangerous," Strawser said.

Opponents thanked the developer for the landscaping and screening but they still said the important issues such as density and how the apartments are situated on the parcel were dismissed.

"It will look like we're living next to army barracks," Strawser said.

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