Olentangy Valley News

Proposed apartments

Developer hits pause button

Traffic study scheduled before May reconsideration; crowd lambastes proposal

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Powell City Council put off approval of a planned apartment complex last week, but that didn't stop residents from speaking out against it.

At its March 18 meeting, council tabled the second reading of an ordinance approving a final development plan for the Center at Powell Crossing until its May 20 meeting at the request of the project's developers. The mixed-use development would bring four 16-unit apartment buildings and two retail buildings to an 8.3-acre site at 147 W. Olentangy St. near downtown Powell.

"What the developer would like to do is ... to fund and undertake a comprehensive traffic study west of the proposed development to the Four Corners (intersection)," City Manager Steve Lutz said.

He said the proposed study would focus on how the complex could be best developed to mitigate further traffic congestion in the area. The study also would provide information on how the complex, for which the developers would build a new left-turn lane, would fit into the city's planned traffic changes in the area.

A crowd packed into council chambers for the second meeting in a row to discuss the project. In more than an hour of public discussion, no resident spoke in favor of the development.

"I don't think anybody here says, 'We want it,' except for the developer," Powell resident Jennifer Sweet said.

Residents also questioned how an accurate traffic study could be performed when state Route 750 is closed at state Route 315 for a two-month construction project.

Doyle Clear, a traffic engineer with Trans Associates, said residents were confusing a traffic study with a traffic count. He said officials already know how much traffic is coming through the area under normal conditions.

The study would help the apartment complex's developers find the best way to fit the project into the area, not reduce the number of cars traveling on Olentangy Street, he said.

"I am not going to offer to you some magic bullet that's going to get rid of the traffic," he said.

The changes that will be studied include the Murphy Parkway extension, which will provide drivers a new way to bypass downtown Powell, and the queue-cutter traffic signal planned at the railroad tracks just east of the proposed apartments.

At the March 18 meeting, council also discussed plans to improve safety at the railroad tracks.

Council members unanimously approved a plan to use bollards to create a temporary "pork chop," or traffic island, at the intersection of Olentangy and Depot streets just east of the railroad tracks and the planned apartments. The change would prevent left turns onto and off of Depot Street.

City and state officials agree that left turns onto Depot Street need to be prevented to facilitate the installation of the queue-cutter signal, designed to prevent cars from stopping on the tracks. Lutz said the city wants to observe how physically preventing left turns onto and off of Depot Street with the temporary pork chop works before deciding on a permanent solution.

Other proposed solutions include closing off the intersection and making Depot Street a one-way street.

Clear said he hoped the developer, city and Ohio Rail Development Commission officials could work out a "preferred plan"and cost estimate for other potential traffic changes in the area by the time the apartment complex comes back before council in May.

"Once we have the costs that are involved with both the engineering and the construction, then there needs to be some evaluation of how this is all going to be funded," he said.

Sweet said she didn't trust the traffic study to accurately portray potential problems with the construction of an apartment complex in the area.

"We can make a traffic study say whatever we want," she said. "We know what the problem is: We're overcrowded."

Powell resident Patty Resatka said she opposed the apartments because she thinks renters are less likely to give back to the city than homeowners, who have "skin in the game."

She questioned whether renters would volunteer at community events or support local businesses.

"I have to ask what transient dwellers are going to bring to this community," she said.

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