A new apartment complex is nearly set for construction at the northeast corner of U.S. Route 23 and Lazelle Road, pending final approval by Columbus City Council.
Plans for the apartments were approved at an Oct. 10 meeting of the Columbus Board of Zoning Adjustment, despite protests from several residents and business owners. The board's approval acts as a recommendation to Columbus City Council, which will vote on the issue at an upcoming meeting.
The parcel, formerly part of Orange Township, was annexed into Columbus in 2011 but remains in the Olentangy Local School District.
In recent weeks, residents, local business owners and district officials have expressed fears that several planned apartment complexes will bring an unreasonable increase in traffic, as well as an influx of new students to the area.
Concerned residents may not be able to stop construction of the Lazelle Road apartments, but their efforts put a dent in the development. After meeting with the Far North Columbus Community Coalition this fall, developer Metro Development LLC agreed to drop the number of planned apartments from 172 to 148.
At the Oct. 10 BZA meeting, the developer agreed to shave off an additional eight apartments in one of the planned buildings, shrinking it from three stories to two, after a neighboring resident complained the building would overlook his private back yard.
Plans to build the apartments are all but finalized, but plans for the portion of the development site that faces U.S. Route 23 remain up in the air.
Metro Development struck a deal with Columbus to keep that portion zoned commercial, in exchange for residential zoning for the remainder of the site. The Route 23 corridor is reserved primarily for businesses.
The developer is considering building a 90-unit extended-stay hotel that would face the roadway, but Jill Tangeman, a land-use attorney representing the developer, said it might sell the land instead.
She said Metro Development wants to keep its options open as part of the final development plan.
"We have been approached by a couple of buyers, so we want to keep as much flexibility as we can," Tangeman said, "but knowing that (a hotel) is a low traffic generator, that is one good option."
But Tom Carpenter, owner of Columbus Mitsubishi North just north of the development site, said any cars turning right out of the complex onto Route 23 North would probably use his lots to turn around. That would hurt his business, he said.
He added the proposed extended-stay hotel effectively would be an extension of the apartment complex.
"They look and function like apartments," he said. "This is a loophole in your zoning code. It's like calling an automobile junkyard an extended-stay parking lot."
Olentangy Local Schools Business Director Jeff Gordon said the Lazelle Road apartments, which will boast a relatively low price point and fewer amenities compared with other complexes planned around the district, aren't likely to add more than 20 new students.
He said the apartments potentially could generate positive tax revenue for the district, so long as the student yield is as low as predicted. The district would break even if it added 21 students.
But at the Oct. 9 meeting of the Olentangy school board, members agreed the district should be wary of all planned apartments. If all goes according to plans, the Lazelle Road apartments will feed into Olentangy Meadows Elementary School, a relatively crowded school even within a crowded district.
"We'll take care of any new students and take them in, but we'll have to keep an eye on how it affects the financial forecast," Gordon said. "It may be a net revenue for us, but it's going to drive the costs way up if we have to add buildings."
At least three other apartment complexes currently are being planned for the Olentangy school district: one near the former site of Germain Amphitheater, the other two on Sawmill Parkway.