Westerville News & Public Opinion

Westerville's Cleveland-Cooper tract

Commission sends development project on to council

By ThisWeek Community News  • 

Westerville City Council will have the opportunity to weigh in on a development proposed for the 95 acres spanning Cooper Road at Cleveland Avenue.

The Westerville Planning Commission voted 6-1 to send a preliminary development plan for the site on to council with a recommendation to approve.

The development plan splits the plot of land into three zones from west to east.

The first zone, along Cleveland Avenue, would be devoted to retail and offices. The middle component is planned primarily for office space. The easternmost portion is planned primarily for multifamily residential development.

Four acres on the south side of Cooper Road at Collegeview Road would be given to the city for parkland, and 9 acres in the flood plain lining the west bank of Alum Creek also would be given to the city, as a conservation easement.

The development is a joint venture between developer RSTLNE and Otterbein University, which purchased 25 of the site's northern acres earlier this year.

The only use committed to the site at this point is a skilled-nursing facility at the center of the development.

Despite the positive recommendation of the Planning Commission, reservations about the preliminary development plan remained.

Members of the commission originally motioned to table the plan for a fifth time before the developers asked for a vote, hoping to move the measure on to Westerville City Council, which holds final authority.

Planning Commission member Dave Samuelson cast the lone 'no' vote.

The commission's main concerns were that the site would be segmented, with retail strips along Cleveland Avenue and multifamily residential development along Alum Creek, and that the multifamily residential development would be too dense.

"In reality, the Cleveland Avenue frontage is most likely to be the one that attracts the retail," said Westerville Senior Planner Bassem Bitar told the commission March 27. "What we wanted to avoid was having 350 units on the east side (of Cleveland Avenue) based on all of this acreage."

To avoid that, the preliminary development plan includes restrictions that the portion lining Cleveland Avenue cannot comprise more than 50 percent retail and that density will be limited to 10 residential units per acre.

That still concerned Planning Commission members, however, as code for a planned district allows for five residential units, with the city being allowed to increase that based on the quality of the development.

Councilwoman Diane Fosselman, who sits on the commission as City Council's representative, said it's unconventional for the city to weigh in on density at such an early stage in the development process.

"I disagree with granting additional density prior to the final development," Fosselman said. "We just don't know yet what the final development will look like. I'm just not comfortable with anything other than what code is."

Representatives for the developer assured the commission that they were seeking a high-quality development with a complementary mix of uses. The plans have been drafted according to the city's most stringent development standards, said Todd Faris, the designer who drafted the preliminary development plan for RSTLNE.

"We feel that this is a walkable mixed-use environment, and people are going to help drive this," Faris said. "We've really, I think, stepped up to the plate to do a lot of these things that the city would be proud of when it's developed."

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