Powell City Council vetoed an annexation agreement last week, effectively stopping a planned apartment complex project in its tracks.
At its April 16 meeting, council voted 5-2 against the annexation of 43.88 acres of Liberty Township land into Powell. The plot is located at the southeast corner of Sawmill Parkway and Seldom Seen Road, just behind L.A. Fitness.
Approval of the annexation would not have meant approval of a 480-unit apartment complex proposed for the land.
But annexation would have been the first step toward making the apartment complex, which would also have included some commercial development, a reality for developer Lifestyle Communities.
That was a sticking point for the five members of council who voted against the measure: Sara Marie Brenner, Mike Crites, Jon Bennehoof, Brian Lorenz and Jim Hrivnak.
Only Mayor Richard Cline and Councilman Tom Counts voted in favor of the annexation.
The proposed apartments have been controversial, with many residents worrying the complex was too dense. The density amounted to about eight total units more than allowed under Powell code, so the developer had asked for a variance approval.
Some worried the influx of new residents would exacerbate traffic problems along a congested stretch of Sawmill Parkway and add more students to the crowded Olentangy Local School District.
Zoning for the site had not yet been approved by the city's Planning and Zoning Commission; officials still were negotiating with the developer on the details of the apartment complex.
Even if council had approved the annexation, it still could have rejected the development if it didn't ultimately approve of the plan.
But a majority of council members said they were uncomfortable annexing the land with the development plan still in flux, and without a proposal that conformed to Powell's height and density restrictions.
"I think we would have the cart before the horse to annex this property without knowing what the eventual product would be," Bennehoof said.
Crites said he would be more inclined to approve annexation and zoning for the plot simultaneously.
"I understand they're separate issues, but given the nature of this project and what we've heard to date, I'm concerned with moving ahead prior to having the opportunity to review the zoning plan," he said.
Counts argued vehemently for approval. He said developers deserve the right to make their case to the city's zoning board.
He pointed out that annexation put the city at no risk; the agreement stipulated that if the city and the developer couldn't agree on zoning, the developer could detach from Powell with no financial obligation to the city whatsoever, and no apartments would be built.
"It sends the message that this kind of annexation is not something the city is willing to do," he said.
Cline said he was "confused" by his colleagues' concerns.
He said the developer has been consistent and transparent in presenting its plan to the city. He added the zoning process for controversial developments almost always results in compromises.
Lifestyle Communities retains the option to restart the annexation process by reapplying with the Delaware County Board of Commissioners.
The developer could be back before council in a minimum of 90 days to ask again for annexation, potentially with a more-agreeable development plan.
But Cline said: "I think it is singularly inappropriate to say to the applicant, 'Sorry about your luck. If you're still interested, start over.' "
Calls and emails to Lifestyle Communities officials were not returned before press time.