Westerville needs more apartments, particularly higher-end apartments that appeal to young professionals in the millennial generation -- generally, those who are age 30 and younger.
A recently completed housing study, presented by city staff to Westerville City Council and the Westerville Planning Commission during a Sept. 18 work session, said the city has room for 1,535 more apartment units, half of which should be geared to people younger than 35.
"For years, staff has talked about the need to offer alternate housing," Assistant City Manager Julie Colley said. "It validates what we have seen before."
The study comes as the Westerville Planning Commission considers a 520-unit apartment complex on 54 acres west of Alum Creek and north of County Line Road.
Much of the commission's discussion about the proposed development over the past several months has hinged on whether it is too dense and offers more apartment units than the city could fill.
The study showed a broad marking exists for rental housing in Westerville, where 70 percent of homes are owner-occupied, Colley said. The need is so great that Westerville has room for rental housing at different price points in all different portions of the city, she said.
"This study does not show what should go where. They leave that up to us," she said.
Colley said Westerville should focus on bringing in higher-end housing for young professionals because the city lacks rentals appealing to that age group.
Such developments could appeal to the many people who work in Westerville office developments and would give young professionals an opportunity to "try on" the community so they can look to buy homes in Westerville as they get ready to move beyond rental housing, Colley said.
"If we miss them coming back out of school, and they go to Powell or they go to New Albany, they're going to look (to buy homes) there," councilman Larry Jenkins said. "We need to get them established in a community. Those are the people who are going to be our homebuyers in 10 years."
Although the study showed a need for more rentals for young professionals, concern remained over whether rental housing should be as concentrated as the proposed 520-unit development.
"If that's what we're striving for in this area, we put all of the demand in one location," said councilwoman Diane Fosselman, who also sits on the planning commission.
Although the proposed apartment development is tempting because it would offer housing to young professionals near the entertainment hub of Polaris, the city also needs to consider offering rentals in other parts of the city, such as Uptown, council chairman Mike Heyeck said.
Planning commission member Matt Whitehead agreed.
"They just don't look at Westerville," Whitehead said of young professionals. "Uptown is where it's going to happen. We're between Polaris and Easton, five to 10 minutes, but they want walkable."
Heyeck said the study clearly shows the need for rentals, and he said he believes the proposed development is the best place to start.
"I really think the message is that we're underserved at this point," Heyeck said. "I can't think of a better place to provide service."