A divided Powell City Council approved plans this week for a controversial mixed-use apartment complex west of the city’s downtown.
Council voted 4-3 at its meeting Tuesday, June 17, to OK the final development plan for the Center at Powell Crossing, a 64-unit apartment complex with two commercial buildings planned at 147 W. Olentangy St.
Although they heard consistent criticism of the project from city residents in recent months, Councilmen Richard Cline, Tom Counts, Mike Crites and Mayor Jim Hrivnak voted in favor of the project.
Cline said the property’s owner had the right to develop his land in any way he desired as long as it was in accordance with the city’s zoning regulations. He also said that prior proposals to develop the site – just west of the CSX railroad tracks – were not as well thought-out as the Center at Powell Crossing.
“The plan, although not perfect by any stretch, is the right use for this particular location,” he said.
Counts said opponents of the development needed to keep the scope of the project in perspective. He said the project will represent 1.5 percent of the city’s housing stock.
“We’re not talking about a significant change in our community,” he said. “We’re talking about a percent and a half of our housing.”
Vice Mayor Brian Lorenz voted against the project’s approval, along with Councilmen Jon Bennehoof and Frank Bertone.
Before the final vote on the complex, Bennehoof attempted to table discussion of the project for the fourth time this year. He said he wanted a more-detailed timeline of when traffic and safety improvements in the area would be completed before voting on it.
“I’m not anti-development,” Bennehoof said. “I’m pro-development at the right time and the right place. I’m not sure we’re at that nexus at the moment.”
The motion to table failed 4-3.
Bennehoof said he also was worried about the lack of a barrier between the apartment complex and the nearby railroad tracks, which he thought should be discussed further.
In reaction to Bennehoof’s concerns, Cline proposed an amendment to the final development plan that required the developer to work with the city to erect some kind of barrier on the eastern property line to discourage people from crossing the railroad tracks. That amendment passed 5-1, with Counts voting “no” and Bennehoof abstaining.
The vote on the project was delayed at prior meetings as the city and the developer discussed potential traffic improvements near the site that could relieve congestion on Olentangy Street. City officials said the developer has agreed to pay to widen the street and add a westbound left-turn lane in front of the complex.
The developer also could pay for additional turn lanes and widening west of the complex, which might involve reimbursement through a tax-increment financing, or TIF, district.
Powell residents cited concerns about increased traffic, high housing density and people “buying into” the Olentangy Local School District to argue against the development.
Developer Charlie Vince said he disagreed with residents who said the apartments would attract “transients” who would not add much to the community.
“They’re not undesirable. They’re just young people who are on their way up for the most part,” he said. “And we’re finding out that there are a lot of older people who don’t want to own a condominium.”
Powell resident Leslie Lopes said the community was overwhelmingly against the development, and council should take note.
“Please don’t marginalize our concerns because we’re just residents and we’re not traffic experts and we’re not development experts,” she said.
Resident Tom Happensack presented council with petitions containing the signatures of hundreds of residents who were opposed to the development. He said Powell has been a successful, growing community for years without apartment developments.
“Adding this and trying to change the character (of the city) is not the appropriate step,” he said.
Cline said he’s been told multiple times over the years that prior developments would “change the character of Powell” if approved.
“I have to tell you my experience tells me otherwise,” he said.