Olentangy Valley News

Developer calls timeout to consider residents' doubts

Plan for 480 Powell apartments spurs worries about schools, traffic, density

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The Powell Planning and Zoning Commission temporarily tabled a development plan for 480 new apartments to further consider concerns from area residents.

A preliminary development plan to build an apartment complex at the southeast corner of Sawmill Parkway and Seldom Seen Road was presented to the commission at a Feb. 27 meeting. The complex would incorporate commercial outlets along Seldom Seen Road and a restaurant positioned on Sawmill Parkway.

But after residents expressed lingering misgivings about the impact on area traffic and the Olentangy school system, developer Lifestyle Communities asked the commission to table the plan until its March 27 meeting.

"A traffic study needs to be finalized, and there are some things the developer would like to look at from a planning standpoint to see if they can make any changes to make more people happy," said Powell Development Director Dave Betz.

The developer has made some concessions since the project first came before Powell City Council in August. The original proposal called for the construction of 550 apartments on the 39.3-acre lot. That's been whittled down to 480 units.

The density is about eight units higher than allowed under Powell code; the developer is asking for a variance approval.

The city also has pledged to implement road improvements, including extra traffic signals and turn lanes, to assuage concerns about increased traffic along the crowded Sawmill Parkway corridor.

A "significant" buffering zone would limit noise coming from the proposed restaurant, which would include outdoor entertainment space.

Lifestyle Communities also announced the development would include a 40,000 square-foot, "state-of-the-art" medical facility as a commercial component.

The concessions haven't settled fears among some residents, who addressed the Planning and Zoning Commission at the Feb. 25 meeting.

Gerald Hegel lives on Orchard View Place, just west of Sawmill Parkway across from the proposed development site. He said he wants a more-concrete timeline for construction of the road improvements.

"We in the Orchard have the terrible feeling of this being built and all the extra traffic coming out there and nothing has changed with the roads," he said.

Betz said the fears of increased traffic may be slightly overstated. Studies show the residential development would add only 50 percent as much traffic as a commercial development, for which the land originally was zoned, he said.

Lannie Gilliam lives on Ridge Side Drive, south of Seldom Seen Road off North Liberty Street.

He said the lowered density is still too high and worried it could lead to an influx of new students into the crowded Olentangy Local School District.

"That number at 480 (apartments) is a little bit beyond my comfort zone. I think 400 would be sufficient," he said.

Rob Vogt, a real-estate market research consultant, said he expects the development to house only about 11 school-age children, based on experience with similar developments. He said the one- and two-bedroom apartments are more likely to attract young professionals and a few "empty-nesters."

Powell city officials, as well as Olentangy school officials, agree the development won't add many children.

Lifestyle Communities President Michael DeAscentis did acknowledge overarching concerns about a sudden influx of proposed apartment developments in Powell and surrounding communities. At least three other apartment developments within Olentangy school district limits are currently in various stages of planning.

"We're not going to deny the fact that there is a multiplier effect as development occurs in the school district, but we hope that you respect the experts who are giving their opinions about what this project is going to do to the school system," DeAscentis said.

DeAscentis said the district would make money because new tax revenue would outpace any increase in per-pupil spending.

Overall, Vogt said, the development will generate about $180,000 in new revenue for the city. That's down from an estimated $206,000 before the number of units was reduced.

Revenue aside, other residents complained the influx of apartments may spoil Powell's "small-town feel."

Regardless, Betz said a study showed there is a strong demand for upscale rental units in Powell. Rent for these units would average $700 to $1,200 per month.

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