Olentangy Valley News

Voters could reverse city's decision on apartments

Potential ballot issues could nix council vote, put residents in charge of shaping city's comprehensive plan

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A group of Powell residents wants voters to decide whether apartments are appropriate for the city's downtown.

The group submitted petitions to the city July 17 that would put two initiatives and a referendum on the Nov. 4 ballot.

One initiative and the referendum both aim at blocking the development of the mixed-use apartment complex known as the Center at Powell Crossing, planned for property near the city's downtown. The second initiative is aimed at putting residents in charge of revising the city's comprehensive plan and could ban future apartment developments in the downtown area.

Tom Happensack, one of the petitioners and the group's spokesman, said the petition process is about giving the city's residents a voice regarding future development.

"We may lose at the ballot, but at least we'll know that's what the (residents) want," he said.

The first initiative would repeal the ordinance that approved the final development plan for the Center at Powell Crossing, the 64-unit apartment complex planned for an 8.3-acre site at 147 W. Olentangy St. Powell City Council approved the plan in a 4-3 vote at its June 17 meeting despite consistently negative feedback from residents.

The referendum would allow city residents to cast a "yes" or "no" vote on the ordinance that approved plans for the Center at Powell Crossing. Happensack said the referendum was proposed as a backup to the first initiative, in case unforeseen legal complications kept it off the ballot.

According to Powell's charter, residents can put initiatives and referendums on the ballot by submitting petitions that have signatures greater than or equal to 10 percent of the number of city voters in the last regular municipal election. That means the petitioners had to submit 238 verified signatures to get an initiative or referendum on the ballot, according to the Delaware County Board of Elections.

The petitioners submitted more than 400 signatures on the petitions for both initiatives and the referendum.

Happensack, a resident of the Bartholomew Run neighborhood, said petitions were circulated over the course of five days in mid-July. He said he and his fellow petitioners had no trouble collecting the necessary number of signatures.

"(It was) absolutely easy," he said. "I didn't have anyone turn me down. If they were home, they signed."

Powell Vice Mayor Brian Lorenz, one of three council members who voted against the Center at Powell Crossing's development plan, said it's "great that we have residents who are taking the initiative ... and really getting involved in city government."

Lorenz said he would support legislation overturning the complex's development plan. He also said that southern Delaware County is at risk of becoming oversaturated with apartment housing.

"People want to live (in Powell) for the quaintness," he said. "You hear it all the time: We're a bedroom community. We want to stay that way."

 

People's plan

The second initiative would add an amendment to the city charter establishing new requirements for the revision of the city's comprehensive plan. The amendment would create a new five-member Comprehensive Plan Commission, which would consist of the presidents of the Bartholomew Run, Grandshire, Liberty Lakes, Murphy Park and Olentangy Ridge homeowners associations, or their designees.

The new commission would hold public workshops on the comprehensive plan starting in January before submitting it to Powell City Council by Sept. 30, 2015. Council would be required to adopt an updated, final plan by March 31, 2016.

The city's comprehensive plan was a point of contention during the debate over the Center at Powell Crossing. Multiple city officials pointed out that the city's comprehensive plan suggested high-density housing as a potential use for the property at 147 W. Olentangy St.

Opponents of the apartment complex said the 20-year-old plan was written before explosions in development, population and traffic in the area, and council should not use it to justify development decisions.

Language in the proposed charter amendment would ban the development of "high-density housing" in the city's Downtown Business District. The amendment also states "the needs and desires of the residents of Powell are the paramount consideration" for the new comprehensive plan.

"We felt like we needed to change the comprehensive plan or future developments are always going to get that stamp of approval going forward," Happensack said.

City officials do not disagree that the plan needs updating. Councilman Mike Crites currently is overseeing an effort to revise the document.

He, Councilman Richard Cline and Planning and Zoning Commission members Donald Emerick, Richard Fusch and Bill Little sit on the executive committee in charge of the comprehensive plan. Thirteen representatives from various neighborhoods in the city make up the steering committee for the new plan.

Those boards have been meeting since early July and have set a goal of completing a new comprehensive plan by the end of 2015.

Officials representing the city and the petitioners said they were not completely sure how the initiative, if passed, would affect the committees that already exist. Crites could not be reached for comment.

Lorenz said he had mixed feelings about the comprehensive plan initiative. He said he wanted the public to have as much involvement in the process of revising the document as possible, but he thought Crites' committee was doing and would continue to do a good job of involving the public.

 

In board's hands

City officials said they received the petitions July 17 and were required to deliver them to the board of elections by Monday, July 28. The board has 10 days to examine the signatures and return the petitions to the city along with the confirmed number of electors who signed the petitions.

Powell City Council then must consider the initiatives and referendum at its next meeting. Council can adopt or reject the petitioners' proposals, or take no action on them.

If council rejects the proposals or takes no action, the initiatives and referendum will go to the ballot.

Powell City Manager Steve Lutz declined to comment on the substance of the petitions, but said council likely would consider them at its Aug. 5 or Aug. 19 meetings.

Happensack said the next step for his group likely will be to form a political action committee to support the initiatives and referendum. He said the petitions should serve as a reminder to city officials about how concerned residents are about the development of apartments in Powell.

"We're hoping that City Council takes us seriously," he said. "I'm not sure they have taken us seriously to this (point)."

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