Hilliard City Council on June 10 voted 5-1 to approve an amended development plan for Landmark Lofts, but some residents still oppose the mixed-use residential and retail development at Cemetery Road and Franklin Street.

Hilliard City Council on June 10 voted 5-1 to approve an amended development plan for Landmark Lofts, but some residents still oppose the mixed-use residential and retail development at Cemetery Road and Franklin Street.

Councilman Joe Erb, who cast the dissenting vote, remained opposed to the development, and resident Marc Barraco, whose City Council bid ended in the May 7 primary, said he would seek a referendum ballot issue to overturn City Council's decision.

The amended ordinance included a reduction in the number of proposed apartments to 170 and lowered the height of one apartment building from four stories to three stories.

The developer, Buckeye KRG, had proposed 181 apartments, including 75 one-bedroom and 106 two-bedroom apartments in four-story buildings.

City Council President Brett Sciotto said June 10 the developer had agreed to remove one story from the apartment building nearest to the backyards of Norwich Street residences, a distance of about 600 feet.

The apartment building adjacent to it would remain a four-story structure, as would the two buildings fronting Cemetery Road.

The ground floors of the two Cemetery Road buildings would be used for retail and the other floors would be for apartments.

Franklin Street also would aligned with Luxair Drive and the site's inoperable grain elevator would be refurbished into a community center for the residents.

Developer trying to buy Sunbelt

Reducing one apartment building to three floors eliminated four one-bedroom apartments and seven two-bedroom apartments, reducing the total number of units from 181 to 170, City Planner John Talentino said.

However, Landmark Lofts could have more than 200 units if Buckeye KRG is successful in purchasing Sunbelt Rentals, 5274 Cemetery Road.

Attorney Glen Dugger, representing Buckeye KRG, told City Council members Buckeye KRG is in continuing negotiations with Sunbelt Rentals, which abuts the Landmark Lofts development to the west.

The developer and city officials indicated early interest in making Sunbelt Rentals part of the proposed development, but moved forward to keep the project on schedule after Sunbelt officials initially rejected an offer to be included in the rezoning application required for the development.

Even if an agreement were reached quickly, Dugger said after the meeting, the Sunbelt parcel would be rezoned and developed separately and added to what would be existing developments at Landmark Lofts.

If successful, Buckeye KRG would seek to build a structure similar to the four-story buildings that have ground-floor retail businesses and three floors of apartments, Dugger said.

"It's just gone up and down," said Dugger, referring to the seemingly on-again and off-again interest in Sunbelt relocating.

Potential roadblocks resolved

The city's iconic Starliner Diner will relocate, which Hilliard officials say they have taken into account.

Sciotto said he met with the owner of Starliner Diner, as well as John Royer, a partner at Buckeye KRG, to facilitate an arrangement by which the Starliner Diner could remain open at an alternate location until Landmark Lofts was completed.

"I know (the owner) and (Royer) have met, too, ... and I think it's headed in the right direction," Sciotto said. "I'm glad there appears to be progress."

In addition to reducing the height of one apartment building and reducing the number of apartments by 11 units, Butch Seidle, Hilliard's service director, told City Council members city officials had reached an agreement with the Norfolk Southern railroad for a lease allowing Buckeye KRG to install landscaping to screen Landmark Lofts from the backyards of Norwich Street residents.

The amount of the lease has not been determined.

Council members previously indicated concern with the application if the railroad did not permit the developer to install landscaping to screen the development from Norwich Street.

Some residents remain opposed

Numerous residents of Norwich Street and nearby neighbors attended a May 13 City Council public hearing for the ordinance to voice their continuing opposition to the development, but only two Hilliard residents spoke in opposition June 10, including Barraco, who lives on Braithway Street.

Barraco acknowledged the concessions of the developer, but called the Landmark Lofts development "ill-conceived" and said it "still felt like it was being forced through."

"Vital infrastructure is still needed before these apartments are built," Barraco said. "(Cemetery Road) can't handle the current traffic load."

He also said he was skeptical that Landmark Lofts would deliver what the city administration and developers envision.

City officials say the development would attract young, single professionals, few of whom would have children, and many of whom would bolster businesses on Main Street in the Old Hilliard district.

"We've worked diligently and come a long way in this final effort," Dugger said.

Councilman Al Iosue said while "not everyone is going to be 100-percent happy," the development is "an excellent project for the community."

"This isn't the same project that was first proposed. A lot of compromises have been made," Iosue said.

Erb concurred, but said he remains opposed to the development for two reasons.

"This is a lot better than when it started, but I still can't support it," Erb said before casting his dissenting vote.

Erb said he could not support it because the city attached a tax-increment financing district to the development. TIF agreements redirect property tax revenue for the purpose of funding public infrastructure, which would be needed to support the new development.

"I support TIFs for commercial uses, but not for residential uses," Erb said after the meeting. "It's a back-door property tax increase to fund police and other services for the property."

Erb said he also is concerned about increased traffic.

"Cemetery Road can't support it, especially considering the Giant Eagle (under construction at Cemetery Road and Britton Parkway)," Erb said.

Barraco said he plans to rally support for a referendum.

"If given the opportunity to vote on this, I think residents will vote against what was passed," Barraco said.