Aldi plan for Knights Inn site rests with council
Should discount grocer Aldi still want to build a location at the intersection of South State Street and Heatherdown Boulevard, the company will have to seek approval from Westerville City Council.
Westerville Planning Commission voted 4-2 Sept. 25 to recommend that council approve a rezoning of the property at 32 Heatherdown Drive from Office Institutional to Community Commercial to allow for the grocery store use.
The commission then disapproved a preliminary site plan for the store, with a 3-3 vote. That decision would have to be appealed to council to be overturned.
Commission member Brian Szuch abstained from the two votes because his employer does work for Aldi, he said.
The property currently houses the shuttered Knights Inn buildings.
The commission members who opposed the plan said they were concerned that the plan was too much of a departure from the standards laid out in the South State Street overlay, which call for buildings to be constructed next to the street with parking in the rear.
City Councilwoman Diane Fosselman, who sits on the commission, said motorists traveling up State Street into Westerville would see only the large parking field in front of the store.
"It's still, I think, rather unimpressive," Fosselman said. "When you drive north on State Street, that's what you're going to see, and I don't think that gives a favorable impression."
Commission member Gerald Domanik also disagreed that the site should be zoned Community Commercial, saying that a grocery store doesn't make sense off State Street.
"To me, that's not a grocery store site. It never has been and it never will. It just doesn't fit. I think there are other places it will fit," Domanik said. "I don't think it makes the statement we're looking for."
Aldi representative Russ White defended the plans, saying Aldi has worked closely with city staff over the last two months to break with the corporate model building and design a building that would fit within Westerville design standards.
The location of the building on the site, and its design, reflect the advice Aldi received from city staff and its consultants, White said.
"I hate to say it was an open checkbook, but we really went above and beyond," White said, adding that the building design presented was what was "given" to Aldi by the city's architectural consultants. "We really threw our prototype out the window."
Planning Commission members who voted for the site plan said they struggled with the decision -- between a building that breaks with the overlay, and a desire to to see the dilapidated hotel replaced.
"Do we jump and try to fix it now, or do we wait (for a more desirable application)?" asked commission member Dave Samuelson, who ultimately supported the plans.