Upper Arlington News

Rezoning OK'd in narrow council vote

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Upper Arlington City Council moved toward allowing an office development on the site of the city's government headquarters Monday by narrowly approving the rezoning of the Municipal Services Center property.

Following close to three hours of testimony from a parade of residents -- most of whom opposed rezoning 5.36 acres of the MSC site -- council voted 4-3 in favor of the action.

The June 9 move allows for developments such as financial institutions, business and professional offices, insurance carriers, publishers of periodicals and books, and technology, survey and medical research and development firms. Although more than 5 acres were rezoned in keeping with the city's minimum area required by "office and research district" zoning, city officials have said they are targeting approximately 1.34 acres of green space at the northern tip of the MSC property for an office development.

Council President Don Leach, Vice President Debbie Johnson and Councilmen John C. Adams and David DeCapua supported the rezoning, asserting the city must seek all options to generate revenue following the loss of nearly $6 million in income due to the elimination of Ohio's estate tax and cuts to the state's Local Government Fund.

Johnson borrowed from Bob Dylan, saying "times are a-changin'," and added that rezoning the land prior to the formal submission of a development project would ensure the city has control over what is built at the MSC.

"Trust us that the development that goes in there will be right," she said.

Johnson said her vote might be unpopular among residents of the Trouville condominium community, which neighbors the MSC, but her decision was based on what is best for the entire city.

Two "informal" proposals already have been offered for the site.

Trivium Development LLC has proposed a 36,000-square-foot medical office project, half of which would house the Central Ohio Urology Group.

Daimler Group Inc. and Kohr Royer Griffith Inc. have jointly identified the investment firm Morgan Stanley Wealth Advisors and the commercial insurance agency Overmyer Hall Associates as tenants for a proposed 40,000-square-foot office.

According to the Upper Arlington City Manager's Office, those types of projects would bring approximately $160,000 in added income taxes to the city each year.

City officials have said that revenue, as well as an estimated $350,000 in annual income taxes a proposed Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center health-care center at Kingsdale could bring, will help UA address $113 million in infrastructure upgrades that will be needed over the next decade.

"It's real money that pays for real city services," Adams said. "(Development at the MSC) will help us eliminate the need to cut some existing services."

Councilmen Kip Greenhill, Mike Schadek and Erik Yassenoff voted against the rezoning.

Greenhill said he views any land around a municipal building to be "sacred land" and he didn't want people in 25 years to ask, "Why did you ever build your city hall behind a commercial development?"

Schadek and Yassenoff pointed to a letter published in May 2008 in ThisWeek Upper Arlington that was signed by Leach, Yassenoff and three former council members. It stated those officials would oppose any rezoning for commercial development along Tremont toward Kenny Road.

"I made a clear promise, a clear pledge, not to support any commercial rezoning (on Tremont) toward Kenny Road," Yassenoff said.

"My word and your trust -- the residents' trust -- is more important to me than the limited revenue that may come from this development."

Throughout the evening, 31 people spoke before council, with just four expressing their support for the rezoning.

Proponents included two representatives of the city's Community Improvement Corp. -- Chris Smith, Upper Arlington Area Chamber of Commerce board of trustees vice chair, and Frank Ciotola, former Upper Arlington mayor and council president.

"It makes sense," Ciotola said. "We are in financial straits. There's not a single solution. It has to be a combination."

Of the more than 150 people who turned out for the meeting, roughly half left as it became clear there were four council votes in favor of the rezoning.

After the meeting, William Loveland, an attorney representing Trouville residents, said he and his clients "are all very disappointed."

Loveland said his clients had yet to determine a course of action, but noted options included going to court on the grounds the Upper Arlington Board of Zoning Appeals didn't follow its rules for "reconsideration" after first rejecting the MSC rezoning and later approving it.

He added his clients could sue based on a conflict of interest because, he said, council indicated support for the rezoning before it was proposed to BZAP.

Additionally, Loveland said, his clients or others in the city could seek a ballot referendum to overturn the action, or attempt to recall those council members who voted for the rezoning.

"(A recall) doesn't change the (rezoning) outcome, but it might change the attitudes," he said.

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