Westerville News & Public Opinion

Change in plans panned for Polaris-Worthington tract

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Developers for what originally was proposed as a multiuse development spanning Polaris Parkway at Old Worthington Road want to reorient the retail component away from its residential component to the south.

Officials for NP Limited presented a revised preliminary development plan for a 55-acre portion of a nearly 100-acre site to the Westerville Planning Commission Feb. 27.

The future development lies on the south side of Polaris Parkway west of Old Worthington Road. It is part of the overall development that includes a 500-unit apartment complex north of County Line Road and south of Polaris Parkway that Westerville City Council approved in November.

The retail portion now before the Planning Commission initially was meant to serve that residential area, as shown in the preliminary development plan approved by the city in 2008.

That plan showed a walkable environment for the large apartment complex, with stores lining a new city roadway that will run through the site, connecting County Line Road to Polaris Parkway.

The revised plan reorients the commercial development toward Polaris Parkway, with larger retail stores to the south and smaller outparcels along Polaris Parkway and the new north-south connector.

Two large office buildings would be constructed on the portion of the site east of the connector.

The reorientation of the retail toward Polaris Parkway, and an increase in the amount of parking, is meant to attract retailers to the site, said Franz Geiger, managing partner of NP Limited.

"The face of this development should be toward Polaris Parkway for retail development," Geiger said. "We've concluded that because of the traffic on Polaris Parkway. Traffic's not liked by everybody, but retailers like traffic."

However, city planning officials and members of the Planning Commission said the changes, while relatively minor, drastically change the nature of the site, eliminating the tie-in to the residential component and the walkable feel the city hoped to see created in the multi-family area.

"The overall layout does not significantly change, but the nature of it as to whether it creates a pedestrian-friendly environment had several changes," said Westerville Senior Planner Bassem Bitar.

Problematic are the large scale of the parking lot and the reorientation of the buildings away from the residential development, which are likely to discourage residents of the multifamily development from walking to businesses in the retail portion, Bitar said.

Commission member Brian Szuch, who was on the commission when the original plan was approved, said he sees the proposed changes as a step backward for the development.

"We've essentially given up on any sort of pedestrian connectivity. ... What I see developed is essentially a retail center with big box," Szuch said. "There's nothing on this plan, as I compare it back to the old plan, that I like better. Not a single thing."

Councilwoman Diane Fosselman, who represents Westerville City Council on the commission, said the revised plan eliminates "gateway" to Westerville aspects the original plan looked to create.

"What I was looking for was a statement: 'You are no longer in Columbus, you are in Westerville,' " Fosselman said. "To me, this looks like where Joann Fabric is. This is not Westerville. This is not what I was expecting in this development, and I'm disappointed."

Commission Chairman Paul Johnson said he wants to see the retail portion of the site tie in with the residential component, echoing other members' concerns that the site replicated the other retail strips with big-box anchors that line Polaris Parkway.

"You're going to have a couple thousand people to the south. I don't see the tie-in. I don't see the walkability," Johnson said.

Geiger said work on the revised plan would continue in an attempt to come up with something the city could back.

"We'll try harder. That's all we can do," Geiger said.

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