Both The Hadler Cos. and Westerville Planning Commission members aired grievances about the progress of plans for a proposed Westerville Square Walmart.

Both The Hadler Cos. and Westerville Planning Commission members aired grievances about the progress of plans for a proposed Westerville Square Walmart.

The Hadler Cos., which owns the Westerville Square shopping center, was before the planning commission Dec. 20 for its second public hearing on plans to renovate the plaza by demolishing three empty storefronts to construct a 108,000-square-foot Walmart.

Plans presented to the commission were the same as those discussed during the commission's October meeting.

Hadler president George Hadler addressed the commission for about 45 minutes, explaining the company's plans and asking the commission and city staff to move quickly on a plan he's prepared to break ground on immediately.

Hadler said his company had submitted plans to the city for the construction of the Walmart and renovation of the center six months ago and has seen little progress or feedback since then.

"We want to work side by side, but this whole thing has kind of gotten hung up, and I'd like to get it off dead center. We're ready to go right now," he said.

Hadler said he has tried to consider city concerns in drafting the center's plans. He said he's asking the city to meet his company halfway in approving them, as some of the elements don't meet overlay standards because of the age of the center.

"I'm not the least bit embarrassed to ask the city to meet us halfway in return," Hadler said. "I can't make this a perfect project."

Hadler said rather than being criticized by residents as a less-than-ideal tenant, Walmart should be considered a "hero" for being committed to the plaza long term, allowing Hadler to safely invest in the project.

The project, which would mean a $14-million investment in five years, would be one of the largest commercial projects to break ground in central Ohio in 2011 and would bring construction jobs, followed by permanent retail jobs, to Westerville, Hadler said.

He asked that the commission move the project forward and not vote to declare the project a major site-plan modification, which would send the plans to city council for three readings, a public hearing and a final vote.

"A major modification doesn't do anything but slow the whole process down," Hadler said. "Where is the sense of delaying the process when we're ready and willing to start today, tomorrow?"

Hadler asked that the city move forward in cooperation with The Hadler Cos.

"We are not the enemy. We are trying to work with everybody," he said. "We want to make it a better shopping environment."

Following Hadler's statements, members of the planning commission criticized him for being disingenuous, saying they offered feedback on the plans during the October meeting. Members said his company chose to react to that feedback by presenting the same plans again two months later.

"I'm a little put off and dismayed by that statement," commission member Brian Szuch said. "Why are we hearing this today? It's the exact same application we heard two months ago."

Commission member Diane Fosselman echoed Szuch's statements.

"We did enumerate some concerns at the last meeting, and I don't see any response to that," Fosselman said.

Members repeated many of the concerns they stated about the plans during the October meeting, including that the plans lack the four-sided architectural elements for which city code calls, a lack of screening from the property for neighbors to the north, a lack of landscaping for the parking lot, that the design for the main entrance to Walmart violates design standards and that the newly constructed Walmart would not match the existing shopping center.

Despite Hadler's request to expedite a decision, commission members said some discussion still must occur and that finding a compromise on the plans could take some time.

"The city gets this packet in June; it's December, and they're asking for a vote. I feel like I have a gun to my head," commission member Matt Whitehead said.

Hadler and the commission said they had hoped the Dec. 20 discussion would clear the air and allow the planning process to move forward with a sense of cooperation.

"It sounds like we're going to see better things coming up, and that's good," commission chairman Gerald Domanik said. "I think we have some good things that can happen. We can get things done when we talk."

Further discussion on plans for the Westerville Square renovations were tabled until the commission's January meeting.

Meanwhile, Hadler said, his company would work to address the commission's concerns.

"If we can address them, we'll address them, and if we can't, we'll tell them why," Hadler said. "We only have so much land to deal with, and we'll do the best we can."