Westerville News & Public Opinion

Commission questions uses in Cleveland-Cooper project

By ThisWeek Community News  • 

The Westerville Planning Commission once again questioned plans for a large mixed-use development on the open 95 acres that span Cooper Road at Cleveland Avenue.

Developer RSTLNE made its fourth appearance before the Planning Commission Feb. 27 with plans for an urban-style development with a skilled nursing facility at its core.

Members of the commission continued to express concerns about what the additional uses would be for the site, particularly whether they would provide a true mixed-use environment in which different components of the development complement one another.

"The mixture of uses and how they relate is important," Westerville Senior Planner Bassem Bitar told the commission. "We are envisioning this as a mixed-use district. It is different than some other suburban areas."

For the preliminary plan being considered by the commission, the development has been split into three subareas.

The first area lies along Cleveland Avenue and would comprise neighborhood retail, such as coffee shops, and offices with potential second-story residential uses.

Moving east, the middle portion of the east site would center around the skilled nursing facility and include a 4-acre city park.

Otterbein University has purchased 25 acres of the development from Cleveland Avenue to its existing building on Collegeview Road, meaning university-related uses would span the first two subareas. The university is in the process of creating a master plan, which will include feasibility studies on uses for the parcel.

The easternmost portion of the site, between Cooper Road and Alum Creek, would include multifamily residential development.

The preliminary development plan being considered by the commission includes a list of acceptable uses for each portion of the site, but commission members said the lists are too broad to allay concerns about what could be constructed.

"Almost anything is approved on just about any portion of this site," said commission member Brian Szuch. 'There really is almost no differentiation from subarea 1 to subarea 3."

With vague language on acceptable uses within the various subareas and an allotment for 12 residential units per acre density throughout the entire site, there is the potential for an extremely dense multifamily development in the subarea east of Cooper Road, commission member David Berger said.

"That's a lot of units per acre. That's 21 dwelling units per acre on that limited set of acreage. I think that needs a good looking over," Berger said. "There's some refinement, and there needs to be more precision in that language."

Berger also said the skilled nursing facility, the first secured tenant for the site, looks disjointed with the other elements of the preliminary development plan.

"To me, the character of the development quickly goes away" with the skilled nursing facility, Berger said. "It looks like we're taking a pre-existing set of architectural drawings and just plopping them in there without any appreciation for the context or design."

While the plan has progressed in the four months that it has been before the commission, there is still work that needs to be done before the preliminary development plan and the accompanying rezoning can be voted on by the commission and sent to Westerville City Council, said commission member Gerald Domanik.

"If I was sitting on council, I'd probably send it back to us," he said. "This is one of the few places we have left with a clean palate. We've got to get it right. I don't think we have it right yet."

The commission voted unanimously to table the proposal until its March 27 meeting, and representatives of the developer expressed a desire to have a vote then.

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