The Westerville Planning Commission voted to allow the development of two four-story office buildings with retail outlots at the northwest corner of Polaris Parkway and Africa Road.

The Westerville Planning Commission voted to allow the development of two four-story office buildings with retail outlots at the northwest corner of Polaris Parkway and Africa Road.

The plan, presented by Casto and the Daimler Group, will have to go on to Westerville City Council for final approval.

The planning commission unanimously voted Aug. 24 that the preliminary plan should be considered a major modification to the site's original plan, which called for a retail strip center with retail outlots.

Members were split on whether to recommend council approval of the plan, and voted 5-2 to support it. Commission members Paul Johnson and David Berger voted against recommending council approval.

Commission member Brian Szuch cast a yes vote, but said he did so only because the plan is still preliminary, meaning the developers would have to go before the city once again before any buildings are constructed on the site.

The major concern of the commission dealt with plans for a 71-space parking lot directly at the corner of Polaris Parkway and Africa Road.

"Parking on the southeast corner, to me, is the critical feature there. Whatever we agree to, that pretty much puts the nail in the coffin to where we can go in the future," Johnson said. "I frankly do not like the parking on the southeast corner of the parcel."

The developers did present a plan to buffer that parking lot by creating a place for pedestrians between the parking lot and the roadway. The area included shrubberies, trees and a seating wall. Grading behind the area was meant to entirely screen the parking lot from the road.

Commission members said they did not think pedestrians would stop at the busy intersection and said they would prefer to see a building on the corner.

"I'm just wondering how functional it is," commission member Amy Koorn said of the pedestrian plaza. "Traffic on Polaris is heavy and loud. If you're going through the expense and making it otherwise usable, I don't know if it's just going to be eye candy."

Representatives of the Daimler Group said not developing the corner as a retail lot was a concession from Casto, which would build the retail parcels, to allow a visible site line from the road to Daimler's office buildings.

The commission also debated with Casto and Daimler representatives about how many outlots and fast-food restaurants should be permitted on the site before ultimately setting limits of four outlots and one fast-food restaurant with a drive-through.

Daimler Group representative Paul Ghidotti said there is no timeline set for the development, and the company likely will be back before the city with plans for just one building at a time.

The hope was to have a preliminary plan approved to allow the developer to move forward on an office project when the demand for such space once again increases, he said.

"We have plenty of inventory," Ghidotti said. "The office market is not good today."

Planning commission members said there will be many more details that will have to be hashed out regarding the development before final approval is given.

"We got a lot of things to work on. This is a very important development to Westerville. There's been nothing going on out there," commission chairman Gerald Domanik said. "We've got to treat it correctly."

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