Westerville News & Public Opinion

Westerville Planning Commission

Lack of details from Aldi stalls request

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The Aldi grocery chain once again is asking for Westerville's approval of a South State Street site.

The retailer presented a request to rezone the 2.83 acres at 32 Heatherdown Drive from Office/Institutional to Community Commercial to the Westerville Planning Commission July 24.

The site was the home of a Knight's Inn, which was closed and boarded up earlier this year.

Aldi was part of a development presented to the Planning Commission last March for the same site, but Aldi representatives dismissed the notion that this was the same proposal.

"We will now be the sole user and the developer and everything," said Aldi representative Russ White.

Nonetheless, the reaction from the planning commission largely was the same as last year: The plans showed just a corporate model for an Aldi store that did not fit with the South State Street overlay and recent South State Street improvements.

The 16,000-square-foot store would be set on the western-most portion of the site. Though the access would be from Heatherdown Drive, the store would face South State Street, with the parking lot in front.

The preliminary plans Aldi presented don't fit with the South State Street overlay and couldn't be supported by city staff, Westerville Planner Lisa LaMantia said.

If the application moves forward, LaMantia said, the city will have to bring in an architectural consultant to help move Aldi away from its corporate standard and toward the city's overlay standards.

"In the past, the city's really discouraged 'corporate,' the prototypical building," LaMantia said.

Members of the planning commission agreed that the design shown with the application was a problem.

"Whatever goes there should be fronting on Heatherdown, not back facing State Street and then just a big parking lot," said city Councilwoman Diane Fosselman, who sits on the commission. "I think you have a big hurdle before you to get my support."

Another major problem with the proposal, commission members said, is that Aldi is making a rezoning request without submitting a final development plan.

That leaves planning commission members to recommend or not recommend that Westerville City Council approve a rezoning for a property without knowing what the true plans for the site are.

"It's impossible to really consider the zoning question without a detailed site plan in hand," said commission member David Berger.

Commission Chairman Paul Johnson agreed that a two-step process -- seeking a rezoning now and returning to the commission for approval of a final development plan -- was a problem.

"I can't see where the advantage is to the city of Westerville to bifurcate the process," Johnson said.

In light of the negative reaction, a decision was made to table the rezoning request until the commission's August meeting, and Fosselman gave Aldi representatives a strong directive.

"I want you to come back when you have a complete package. I don't want you to come back until you have a complete package," she said.

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