With Grace Fellowship Church set to move into its new 32,000 square-foot building on the south side of Refugee Road this week, how to deal with the expected traffic generated at the site has resulted in an agreement between the church and the city of Pickerington.
Pickerington's Planning and Zoning Commission Nov. 12 unanimously approved an amendment of the church's site plan that would allow the church to hold off constructing a recommended left turn lane.
The left turn lane addition was previously recommended by the City Engineer's Office because of the traffic the church is projected to generate on Refugee Road during service hours.
Both the city and representatives of Grace Fellowship agreed adding a left turn lane into the site from westbound Refugee Road prior to proposed road improvements associated with the OhioHealth campus were premature.
City Development Services Director Joe Henderson acknowledged that to have Grace Fellowship expend upwards of $180,000 to construct a turn lane "and turn around and bulldoze it over (would) make government look bad."
The amended agreement calls for Grace Fellowship Church to hire a special duty officer to control any traffic that backs up on Refugee on Sunday mornings.
Grace Fellowship representative Chris Smith said the church is planning on hiring a Pickerington Police officer for four hours each Sunday at a projected cost of $37 per hour, which translates into about $7,500 per year.
The agreement also specifies the special duty officer will control traffic at the site until Dec. 31, 2016, or until completion of the Refugee Road improvements, whichever happens first.
The second part of the deal mandates the church is not required to construct a turn lane if a contract for the Refugee Road improvements associated with OhioHealth's project is awarded and valid by June 1, 2016.
If a contract is not awarded for the Refugee Road improvements, Grace Fellowship would then be required to construct, at its own expense, a left turn lane by Dec. 31, 2016.
One condition that was nixed after considerable debate at the meeting would have had Grace Fellowship donating $100,000 to the city of Pickerington.
That money would be used towards the overall improvement of Refugee Road and be in lieu of the requirement the church build a turn lane.
Some Commission members expressed concerns such an agreement would leave the city in the lurch because there was no guarantee in place if for some reason a contract for Refugee Road improvements is not inked.
"This board needs some assurances come Jan. 1, 2017, that there is a turn lane there that solves the issue, either (built) by the city or the church," said Brian Bosch, a member of the Planning and Zoning Commission.
The approved site plan prevents the church from expending monetary resources now to build a turn lane that would likely be taken out once Refugee Road is widened to three lanes in front of the church. The road will be widened to accommodate the 150,000 square-foot OhioHealth campus.
Henderson said OhioHealth's investment in the project is tabbed at $50 million. The health system spent $8 million to purchase the 61-acre property located at the intersection of state Route 256 and Refugee Road.
Henderson said it remains a priority to make sure all traffic issues in the Refugee Road corridor are addressed.
"(OhioHealth) is the biggest development to hit the city," he said.
"We want to make sure we manage that property properly."