Citing the potential that the "Four Seasons" indoor soccer complex will inundate their neighborhood with increased traffic and overflow parking, a standing-room crowd comprised mostly of residents from the Windmiller Ponds subdivision filled City Hall Dec. 11 to express opposition to the project.
Homestead Development Co. appeared before the Pickerington Planning and Zoning Commission to request approval for a Nonresidential Design Standards Certificate of Appropriateness for the 112,000 square-foot facility it plans to build at 1111 Gray Drive next to the the city's new water tower.
Upon the advice of several commission members who expressed reticence to embrace the project as presented, Homestead's attorney Aaron Underhill said it was best to table the application for fine tuning until January. The Commission agreed, voting 7-0 to table the application.
Attorney David Dye, appearing in behalf of the Windmiller Ponds Homeowner's Association, said the four-field soccer complex, which is adjacent to Windmiller Ponds, is too big for the site.
"(The project) is putting 10 pounds of potatoes in a five-pound bag, complicated by a gas easement," said Dye, who expressed dismay his clients weren't advised about the details.
"This came out of the woodwork," Dye said.
"People were not approached by the applicant or (given) the courtesy to see the plans."
Dye said the proposed soccer complex's proximity to the Diley Road/state Route 256 corridor "is in a difficult location. It's too close to an existing traffic problem."
"Not everything that conceptually fits is appropriate for this site," said Dye, adding the project is "too much, too intense. It's the wrong use at the wrong location."
City Engineer Greg Bachman said a traffic study conducted at the site indicated "there is capacity for this" and projected peak traffic for the complex is "six p.m and beyond, that doesn't correspond to the peak for the rest of the city."
According to Joe Henderson, Pickerington's Development Services director, the site was zoned C-3, which is designated "community commercial," in 1995. It is a designation that allows for a wide variety of uses and is compatible to the area.
"Most of the zoning up and down (Rt.) 256 is commercial use," Henderson said.
Windmiller Ponds was changed from a C-3 to an R-4 "residential" designation in 1999.
Many of the Windmiller Pond residents claimed they weren't aware the adjacent soccer complex site was zoned commercial prior to purchasing their homes in the subdivision.
Many others said the expected constant stream of visitors coming to and from the facility at varying hours will simply overload the area.
"(Cars) are already flying through Gray (Drive)," said Dale McCain.
"They fly through the neighborhood," he said.
"Kids and families (are) outside walking. We can't put speed bumps on Gray.
"There is no way to slow drivers down," McCain said.
"We understand there will be more traffic, but we didn't think it would be on Gray," said Anas Muhammed, a Windmiller Ponds resident.
"Never in our wildest dreams we thought that property would be used for commercial," Muhammed said.
Commission member Doug Blake informed the residents there is little that can be done in regards to the zoning issue or about representations made to them regarding the soccer site property.
"Our dilemma is balancing quality of life with the potential owner of a commercial property they have the right to develop," Blake said.
"This is not a slam dunk. We can't control (that) you were sold a bill of goods on this piece of property," he said.
Dye said he believes the commission does have the power to deny the application because a gas easement running through the site precludes Homestead from landscaping as required.
"It's not a site where they're able to comply 100 percent," Dye said.
"Your code calls for them to screen all parking with landscaping," he said.
"You can't do that with this site. It's not a situation where your hands are tied," Dye said.
Homestead plans to install 219 parking spaces on the 16-acre parcel.
The west and south elevations of the site will need buffering because they adjoin an R-4 residential area and the parking lot will be required to be buffered, however, Columbia Gas will not allow any landscaping or mounding in the easement that runs through the site.
Homestead is also seeking a height variance for the planned 50-foot building because city code has a 35-foot height restriction. Dye said a 50-foot building was too high.
Commission member Brian Bosch said the soccer facility "should be a betterment and not a detraction from the community."
Bosch said he loved the concept of the project and said it would prevent area residents from having to drive all the way to Easton's indoor facility.
Commission member Ted Hackworth advised Homestead to come back in January with a better presentation.
"I'm having a lot of issues with the accuracy of the drawings," Hackworth said.
City Manager Bill Vance said the commission ultimately will have to take into consideration what is good for the entire Pickerington community.
"We're going to get to the point where this is going to be as good as it's going to be," Vance said. "It's going to come down to Planning and Zoning to see whether or not you feel it's in the best interest of entire city, not just one area of it."