Westerville News & Public Opinion

Cooper Road & Cleveland Avenue

Planners worry 95 acres may turn to hodgepodge

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The only certainty for the 95-acre development planned for Cooper Road and Cleveland Avenue at present is a skilled nursing facility at the heart of the site.

The preliminary development plan, tied to a request for rezoning, was reviewed by the Westerville Planning Commission Jan. 23.

It shows many small office buildings surrounding the nursing facility with a multifamily development at the easternmost edge, along Alum Creek and the potential for an 3.7-acre city-owned park on the south side of Cooper Road at Westerview Drive.

Twenty-five of the acres recently were purchased by Otterbein University, which plans to conduct feasibility studies to determine potential uses. Its use is expected to lead to the development of a western campus for the university, growing from Otterbein's existing facilities on Collegeview Avenue.

City planning officials and Todd Faris, who drafted the preliminary development plan for property owner RSTLNE LLC, said they want to see the area turn into a walkable development with a mixture of uses and a gathering space at the centrally located park.

"Right now, everything is so suburban, and we want to make it, not urban, but 'people scale' " and walkable, Faris said.

Westerville Senior Planner Bassem Bitar agreed such a mix would be ideal for the site.

"If the components of the plan do actually fall into place, it could be very exciting," Bitar said. "It's different from most of the large developments we see because it is within walking distance to lots of existing developments."

However, the size of the property makes getting the development trickier, Bitar added.

"The area that we're looking at with these 95 acres is the area of Easton," he said. "If the scale is not right, it doesn't work."

Members of the planning commission expressed doubts that the development would work as shown in the preliminary development plan due to the segmented nature of the site, the amount of small buildings, the recent sale to Otterbein and the fact that there is not one overall developer of the entire site.

"There's not a real kind of overall, bigger scheme of how the thing's laid out," said commission member Brian Szuch. "My concern is that none of this is going to look like it belongs to anything."

Commission member Gerald Domanik said the sale to Otterbein worries him that the developer will continue to parcel out pieces of the project.

"How many more selloffs are we going to have?" Domanik asked. "Is the overall developer starting to get cold feet and saying, 'We should sell this off because things aren't moving fast enough?' "

Councilwoman Diane Fosselman, who sits on the commission, said the selloff to Otterbein concerns her, as well, and she's concerned that the development will be rushed and that more developers will be involved, leading to a hodgepodge look along Cleveland Avenue.

"Now, I'm losing some of my comfort with exactly what that's going to be," Fosselman said. "The last thing I want to see is a bunch of retail extending the entire frontage of Cleveland. I don't want to see fast food lining that. I don't want to see South State Street and what we are trying to fix there now."

Another major concern discussed came from the developer.

The city wants to see a public greenspace at the center of the development, but city officials won't commit to adopting the 3.7-acre park until the development is further along, said Catherine Cunningham, the lawyer representing RSTLNE.

"It will be a park if the city will take it as a park. ... It can't be done as a private matter," Cunningham said.

"We cannot commit, realistically, to the private ownership and maintenance of 3.7 acres in the middle of a site. It's not practical or affordable."

At the request of the developer, The Planning Commission did not vote on the preliminary development plan, instead tabling the matter until its February meeting.

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