Upper Arlington officials are eyeing plans to rezone land at City Hall, which could pave the way for an office or other development on the site.
The Upper Arlington Board of Zoning Appeals will review a request from the city Monday, May 5, to rezone the site where the Upper Arlington Municipal Services Center (MSC) sits from a Residential Community Development District to an Office and Research District (ORC).
That meeting will take place at 6 p.m. at the MSC, 3600 Tremont Road, and will be followed at 7:30 p.m. by an Upper Arlington City Council conference session, where the issue is expected to be discussed.
The rezoning request comes after the city released a "request for interest" (RFI) to developers in March for 1.34 acres of the currently undeveloped northern tip of the MSC property.
"Rezoning the property to ORC will allow the city to better position the site for office development," said Emma Speight, Upper Arlington's community affairs director. "The city has not made the decision to pursue a project at this location."
Speight said the city conducted the RFI process "to determine if there is interest from the development community in partnering with the city to develop the site."
"The city needs to review the RFI responses and determine if any of the proposals are of interest," she said. "City council will need to evaluate the information received during the RFI process and direct staff on appropriate next steps."
As of last month, Speight said the city received two responses to the RFI from Trivium Development and Daimler/Kohr Royer Griffith Development Co. LLC.
She said both have proposed "a general office project" for the site.
"The rezoning is being sought to facilitate potential office development on the undeveloped portion of the site near the Kenny-Tremont intersection," she said. "An office building at the site would include office workers who would pay income tax."
The city's RFI said the MSC site could accommodate 30,000 square feet or more with the expansion of surface parking.
"A determination of parking needs for a proposed office building would be made at the appropriate time," Speight said.
Residents question timeline, hire lawyer
While some at the city are interested in exploring development at the MSC site to generate taxes, some residents said they're concerned about the impact an office or other use could have on the area.
Judi Stillwell, whose Trouville neighborhood abuts the property, said she has many of the typical concerns that come up when a development is planned by one's home, including how the project will affect area traffic, property values and quality of life.
A former Dublin City Councilwoman and member of that city's planning and zoning board, Stillwell also believes Upper Arlington officials haven't been forthcoming about their plans for the MSC site, and fears they are trying to push through the rezoning without proper discourse.
"I understand the city is experiencing severe finance difficulties," Stillwell said. "They obviously, as our governing body, are looking for solutions.
"However, this rezoning has come to us very quickly," she said. "The timeline seems to suggest they want to speed through the rezoning."
Presenting the rezoning to the city BZAP "to be followed immediately by the council meeting, certainly doesn't give us time to talk and raise our concerns," she said.
Trouville residents have hired an attorney, which Stillwell said was done, in part, to ensure communication between residents and the city is open.
But on Tuesday, April 29, she said she was unaware that at least two developers had contacted the city with hopes of developing offices on the MSC site. She said she's also concerned that a change in zoning could yield anything from a large parking garage to a hotel or restaurant.
"I think when you sit down and talk something out together, you gain something," she said. "I'm questioning, 'What's the hurry?' It's not a very large space and this, to me, seems like a case of spot-zoning."
Speight said the city is following all legal and procedural requirements to consider the rezoning.
She added that additional development plans would have to be submitted to the city and public meetings will be held if the rezoning is approved and a project is proposed.
"If it is determined that a proposal should move forward, it will need to go through the standard development review process associated with any commercial project that occurs within the city," Speight said.
Stillwell said she has yet to hear how much revenue an office development might generate for the city, but city officials have held they've lost out on a total of $500,000 in taxes after residents successfully opposed a plan to bring a medical office to the site in 1996.
Michael Kull, whose home on Kennybrook Lane does not neighbor the MSC, echoed many of Stillwell's points.
While site-specific development plans typically aren't addressed publicly until a rezoning is granted, Kull said he thinks the city should provide more detail about what it is targeting.
"At this point, the main concern is more a lack of transparency," he said. "Ignorance is not bliss.
"What are they planning to do? It feels like the steamroller is moving and nobody wants to be steamrolled."
City officials repeatedly have argued that UA is landlocked and had just 4.7 percent of usable land zoned for commercial uses.
"The (greenspace) area does provide a bit of a safety buffer to the (Trouville) neighborhood," he said. "What's the difference between them selling off this or selling off a little bit of Northam Park or selling off Smith Park?"