Big plan proposed for big empty tract along Cleveland Ave.
Skilled nursing facility, multi-family, office and retail would create an 'urban atmosphere' north of St. Ann's
The vacant fields, wooden barn and quaint farmhouse that sit on Cleveland Avenue at Cooper Road could be replaced with a major mixed-use development featuring retail space, rental housing and a nursing home.
Representatives of the developer and property owner presented a plan for the 95-acre tract to the Westerville Planning Commission Sept. 26, seeking rezoning to a planned development district and approval of a preliminary development plan.
The tract at 198 S. Cleveland Ave. lies north of Mount Carmel St. Ann's Hospital and Chase Bank's John G. McCoy office center along the east side of Cleveland Avenue, south of the Westerview Shopping Center at West Main Street. It is owned by a partnership named RSTLNE LLC.
The developer did not request a vote but rather asked for feedback, particularly on the location of a skilled nursing facility at the center of the planned development.
The preliminary plan showed two-story buildings, with retail on the first floor and offices or apartments on the second, lining Cleveland Avenue, with the parking lots tucked behind.
Moving east, there would be offices behind the retail, the skilled nursing facility, a larger office area and residential, multifamily housing units east and north of Cooper Road.
"Everything is generally conceptual right now," Westerville Senior Planner Bassem Bitar told the commission.
The only known user for the site is the skilled nursing facility. The location for the nursing home has been selected at the center of the site, which makes planning for the rest of the development more complicated, Bitar said.
Bitar said the city's planning staff supported the majority of the plan but would like to see more green space, such as the large pond area planned just south of Cooper Road at Collegeview Road.
"We feel allowing for a mixture of uses is a good idea," Bitar said. "The majority of the concept is buildings and pavement."
Todd Faris, of Faris Planning and Design, said the development was designed to have an "urban atmosphere" mixed-use development with a park-like area near the center.
"It really is mixed use, where you can leave an office next to a restaurant next to multifamily housing," Faris said. "We wanted to do truly mixed use because then it becomes vibrant."
The retail portion of the site is designed to house businesses that nearby residents would want to patronize, Faris said.
"We're not seeing any big boxes. We're seeing neighborhood uses -- delis, coffee shops, places that people would want to walk to," he said.
The developers and their design team have been looking at the city's design standards for State Street and Polaris Parkway to make sure the development would fit with the city's nicer developments.
"We want to make sure we have a high level of design detail on these buildings," Faris said.
Planning Commission members expressed excitement about opportunities for the large, vacant tract of land, but they expressed concern about the placement of a nursing home at its core.
"We want to attract a younger professional to the city," said commission member Matt Whitehead. "This doesn't scream young professional. It screams senior courtyard. The only thing that's missing is the cemetery."
Whitehead encouraged the developers to look at opportunities to take advantage of the sites natural features, such as its borders with woodlands, Otterbein Lake and Alum Creek.
"I think we need to look and explore the opportunities along the woods and the creek," said Whitehead, citing the example of Gahanna's Creekside development.
Commission member Brian Szuch said the preliminary development plan shows a lot of large buildings and large parking lots, which he said was a concern.
"There's just a lot of density and a lot of parking shown on this," Szuch said.
All of the commission members expressed optimism about the future of the site.
"We get a chance to make a statement here on Cleveland Avenue," said commission Chairman Paul Johnson. "I think we have the opportunity to do something profound."