Powell City Council this month is considering plans to annex a tract of land that could become the site of a controversial apartment complex.
At an April 2 meeting, council members heard the first reading of an ordinance to annex 43.88 acres of land into Powell. The plot, located at the southeast corner of Sawmill Parkway and Seldom Seen Road, just behind L.A. Fitness, currently is part of Liberty Township.
The annexation is scheduled for a second reading and vote at council's meeting Tuesday, April 16.
Approval of the annexation wouldn't mean approval of a 480-unit apartment complex proposed for the land, currently being reviewed by the Powell Planning and Zoning Commission. The plan could be approved at the commission's April 24 meeting.
Council could veto the development if it doesn't ultimately approve of the plan.
But annexation would be the first step toward making the apartment complex, which would also include some commercial development, a reality for developer Lifestyle Communities.
The apartments have been controversial among some residents, who worry the proposed complex is too dense. The density is about eight units higher than allowed under Powell code, so the developer is asking for a variance approval.
Residents have said the influx of new residents would exacerbate traffic problems along a congested stretch of Sawmill Parkway.
Others argue it could add too many new students to the crowded Olentangy Local School District, and some say bringing apartments to Powell will diminish Powell's "small-town" or "family-oriented" feel.
The concerns were enough to convince the planning and zoning commission to table the development plan at its Feb. 27 meeting.
At that time, Powell Development Director Dave Betz said a traffic study needed to be finalized, and the developer was considering tweaks to the plan to ease residents' fears.
The developer has made some concessions since the project first came before City Council in August. The original proposal called for the construction of 550 apartments on the 39.3-acre lot before it was whittled down to 480 units.
The city also has pledged to implement road improvements to assuage concerns, and a "significant" buffering zone would limit noise coming from the complex's commercial component.
David Fisher, the attorney representing Lifestyle Communities, defended the apartment plan at the April 2 council meeting.
"We think we have a very exciting product for development to the city of Powell," Fisher said. "We think it will help add to the housing stock and to the community and bring the kinds of individuals we think you will welcome to your community."
Councilwoman Sara Marie Brenner pledged to oppose the complex, since it's so strongly opposed by residents.
"If this were any other project, I probably wouldn't have a problem with it," Brenner said.
"I have a responsibility to consider the phone calls and emails I'm getting telling me that if we approve this, it's going to be put up for referendum," she said. "There are some people who are just steaming mad who don't want these apartments."
Councilman Jon Bennehoof said he also is concerned about the density of the proposed apartments, adding he's uncomfortable voting to annex the property before the zoning process is finished.
But Councilman Tom Counts said his colleagues are "putting the cart before the horse." He said the land will benefit the city by providing tax revenue if it's annexed, and annexation does not presuppose approval of the apartments.
The terms of the proposed agreement would allow the landowner, Sawmill Seldom Seen LLC, to detach from Powell and return the land to Liberty Township if it doesn't get the zoning it wants.
But there's also the possibility that the landowner could opt to use the plot for commercial development in that case.
"Whenever (the land) gets developed, being in the city is a good thing," Counts said.