Residents of The Preserve -- a northeast Columbus neighborhood in the New Albany-Plain Local School District -- think they got a late Christmas present when the New Albany Co. purchased about 105 acres adjacent to their subdivision.
"This is truly a wonderful news event for New Albany and our community," said Natalie Henry, a resident and homeowners association board member. "The New Albany Co. has set such a high standard of protecting the wetlands and environment of New Albany. We trust them."
The New Albany Co. on Dec. 31 purchased eight parcels at the southeast corner of Hamilton and Dublin-Granville roads for $9.2 million, according to company officials.
It bought the land from Casto, which had considered developing apartment buildings, as well as commercial uses and offices, on the site.
"The 105 acres of land at Hamilton and East Dublin-Granville roads is situated at an important entry point for New Albany," said Tom Rubey, development director for the New Albany Co. "The New Albany Co. has been committed to the highest development standards over the years and wanted to ensure that this piece of land was planned using the same standards and attention to detail.
"Equally important is the impact this parcel could have on New Albany-Plain Local Schools. We were concerned about it being fully developed with multifamily housing which would have a major impact on the school district."
Rubey said the New Albany Co. currently has no plans for the site.
"The New Albany Co. will hold this land for now and determine its best use at a later date in keeping with New Albany's master plan," he said.
Casto still owns land zoned for commercial use and located between the New Albany Co.'s purchase and the Albany Park subdivision, said Charlie Fraas, vice president of development for Casto.
Fraas said he could not comment on why Casto sold the property.
As part of the transaction, Casto officials agreed to avoid residential uses on the 75 acres the company retains, Rubey said. The land off Dublin-Granville Road and east of Hamilton Road is in Columbus and within the New Albany-Plain Local School District boundaries.
"All told, this takes approximately 180 acres in the New Albany school district off the table for imminent high-density residential development," Rubey said.
Henry said residents' voices were heard by the New Albany Co.
"During the lengthy process ... we reached out to the New Albany Co. several times," Henry said. "We were told they were listening and observing and monitoring."
Last spring, residents of The Preserve rallied against Casto's proposed development. Despite their efforts, Columbus City Council on July 30 approved a zoning change for a commercial planned development and limited apartment office district for 116 acres at the site.
The residents said they opposed the zoning change because many of the trees on the northern border of The Preserve would have been removed and apartments could be built near their homes.
"People were getting very concerned, in all the neighborhoods, about the schools and the New Albany Co. making this commitment secures residents' futures and desire to live in New Albany," Henry said.
New Albany-Plain Local officials had also questioned Casto's zoning-change request in February because the development company asked to double the project's recommended density and build 30 units per acre on the property.
District officials said that could produce 761 students and cost the district an estimated $8.9 million in operating costs.
Later that month, Casto officials agreed to reduce the density back to 15.5 units per acre, which would have added, at most, 300 students to New Albany-Plain Local schools. District officials said they already had planned to receive that many students from the site and declined to participate in any other zoning hearings.