Prior to a Northwest Civic Association board of trustees vote last week, unanimously recommending disapproval for a large apartment complex on West Dublin-Granville Road, the board’s president announced a meeting of state and local officials would be convened Friday, March 22, to begin grappling with the very reason for the rejection: traffic congestion.
The meeting will be closed to the public, John Ehlers said.
The purpose of the gathering, Perry Township Trustee Chet J. Chaney said at the civic association’s monthly meeting, is not to solicit public involvement but rather to bring together a group to determine who all needs to be involved in coming up with a long-term solution to the traffic snarls that routinely bedevil motorists and residents along state Route 161 near the intersection with Linworth Road.
“It’s a big problem and it takes a lot of money to solve it,” Ehlers said.
“Somebody has to pay for it,” Chaney added.
And one of the ways for doing so, the trustee said, is through a mechanism called “Tax Increment Financing,” under which money derived from increased value of property through developer is set aside to deal solely with the infrastructure impact created by the project.
The impetus this time around for addressing the long-festering problem is a proposal for a 320-unit apartment complex on 20-plus acres on the south side of West Dublin Granville Road just east of Linworth Road and the railroad tracks, which also often contributes to backups and delays.
After six months, five NWCA board appearances, various compromises and concessions, attorney Connie Klema went away empty-handed last week on behalf of client Vision Development of Upper Arlington. At the February session of the civic association board, Klema was once again permitted to withdraw the request from consideration while the type of meeting Ehlers and Chaney outlined was organized.
If the development were to be approved, “there will be some additional suffering for people living in that area,” Ehlers commented.
After initially concentrating her arguments on the fact existing zoning for the parcel on the south side of West Dublin Granville Road almost directly across from the Village Bookshop would permit a shopping center, light industrial uses and office buildings that would have an even greater impact on traffic, Klema more recently had been suggesting adding to the congestion with the apartment project might spur action among officials to improve the troubled stretch of road.
Since the Feb. 6 meeting, Ehlers said in advance of the vote being taken, he has had meetings with members of Columbus City Council. He also plans to meet with officials from the Franklin County Engineer’s Office, Worthington city manager’s staff, Ohio Department of Transportation and others on March 22, trying to get what he referred to as a “critical mass of people” thinking about what can be done to deal with the twin issues of development pressure and an inadequate roadway.
Ehlers said he even had a meeting with Ohio State University Airport Director Douglas Hammon about a possible land swap involve the controversial 20-acre site proposed for the apartment complex for a larger parcel south of West Case Road.
“I have no idea if this is something that can work,” Ehlers admitted.
“No way,” responded trustee Rosemarie Lisko when the board president suggested West Case Road could handle the apartment traffic better than West Dublin Granville Road.
When it was her turn to plead her case once again, Klema said there was little she could add other than reiterating that her client was willing to make improvements to minimize the impact of the project, such as adding turn lanes, and that it would be a quality development.
Architect David Brehm, who lives in nearby Brookside Estates, was the one member of the public to comment prior to last week’s vote.
“I feel bad because the applicant has worked very hard … but it doesn’t change the fact that it’s still a threat to the safety and the quality of life for the people who live in that area,” he said.
A vote approving this project, however nice it might be, would set a precedent for future similar proposals in the same area, added the former member of the Columbus Development Commission.
“You will have no basis to say no,” Brehm said.
Actually, at first the trustees did say no when they meant yes in response to the motion by Lisko for disapproval.
“I thought I was winning,” Klema joked.
In the end, even student trustee Dan Schlosser voted yes on the motion.
“That sounds to me like 6-0,” said Ehlers, who as president only votes in the event of a tie.
He commended Klema for all the work she had done to try to make the project palatable for the civic association’s leaders regarding the traffic issue on that stretch of roadway.
“My personal feeling is that the city has dropped the ball in not revisiting this since … 2002,” Ehlers said. “I think we need to hold their feet to the fire.”