The fate of a planned retail and apartment complex just west of the city's downtown rests in the hands of Powell City Council.
Council members heard arguments for and against the development of the Center at Powell Crossing in front of a packed house at a March 4 meeting. The mixed-use development would bring four 16-unit apartment buildings and two multitenant retail buildings to a site just west of the CSX railroad tracks at 147 W. Olentangy St.
The city's Planning and Zoning Commission voted unanimously in February to approve the site's final development plan despite concerns about traffic congestion in the area.
Denise Wible, president of the Olentangy Ridge Civic Association, said almost all of the neighborhood residents she discussed the project with said they were worried about increased traffic in the area.
"We have a lot of congestion," she said. "Powell Road is a parking lot."
Wible said the planned development was "a beautiful project," but added the city needs to fix traffic and safety problems in the area before approving an apartment complex. She said officials also don't know yet how the complex will affect a queue-cutter traffic signal likely to be installed at the railroad tracks to prevent cars from stopping on the rails.
"I urge you to slow down," she said to council. "I don't think that Powell has a plan right now that tells us this is the right time to build -- that this is the right project to be built."
Paul Mohler, who lives just south of the planned development on Wagon Trail North, said he has no qualms about the quality of the project. However, he said he has concerns about a lack of buffering between the complex and nearby houses and the possible increase in traffic.
"It's a well thought-out project," he said. "I just don't know that this is the exact time it needs to be done here."
The Center at Powell Crossing's development team previously agreed to install a left-turn lane at the site and make other changes meant to improve traffic flow.
Other residents voiced concerns about the apartment complex lowering their property values and leading to an increase in crime.
Rent for the apartments, labeled "high end" by the developers, was estimated at $850 per month for one-bedroom apartments and between $900 and $1,000 for two-bedroom apartments in the complex.
Vice Mayor Brian Lorenz said he shared concerns about traffic in the area and added he would like some assurance the retail spaces would not sit empty long after construction.
Still, Lorenz said he was a fan of the mixed-use concept presented by the developer.
"This is a really unique, interesting and exciting project," he said.
Councilman Tom Counts said the site's location -- bounded by railroad tracks to the east, single-family housing to the south and an industrial site to the west -- limited development options. He said developing the site as all single-family housing or retail would be unlikely.
Councilman Richard Cline said he agreed. "When I try to think of what land use would be appropriate for this parcel, I'm hard-pressed to think of a better (project)," he said.
Counts said the developer should not be penalized because the city has problems with traffic congestion.
"I see that issue as not for the developer to solve, but for us as council to solve," he said.
Counts said he thought multifamily housing in downtown Powell would benefit the city's downtown overall.
"I believe that while downtown Powell is extremely vibrant ... it's the addition of housing -- that walkability -- that can bring the vibrancy of the downtown to a new level," he said.
Mohler said Powell officials who support the project should consider it from the point of view of the site's neighbors.
"Would you guys feel the same about this if it was put in your backyard?" he said.
City Council has scheduled a second reading of an ordinance approving the complex's final development plan for its meeting Tuesday, March 18.