Westerville News & Public Opinion

Casto, M/I plan mixed-use development

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This rendering shows the proposed Village at Central College.

Development heavyweights Casto and M/I Homes have teamed up to propose a large, mixed-use development for the mostly vacant 78 acres at the southeast corner of Central College and Sunbury roads.

Representatives of the two companies presented a request to rezone the property and a preliminary development plan for the site to the Westerville Planning Commission Dec. 18.

The company representatives did not seek a vote, but rather wanted feedback on their plans.

Westerville Senior Planner Bassem Bitar said proper development for the site is key, as it is one of Westerville's most historic neighborhoods.

The area first was settled in the early 1800s, with plans for a college surrounded by a grid-based, traditional village, Bitar said.

Many of the original buildings and streets that developed as part of that plan still exist today, Bitar said, and the area has the highest concentration in Westerville of buildings on the National Register of Historic Places.

"The city always envisioned this area as harkening back to some of its original intent and having kind of a village area," Bitar said.

City officials created a plan for the area in 1997, and developers presented plans in 2005 and 2006 that never materialized, he said.

The current plan shows promise, Bitar said, as it calls for about 20,000 square feet of retail space along Sunbury Road, with different types of multifamily residential units to the east and a traditional single-family suburban development beyond that. The proposal, dubbed the Village at Central College, includes 244 multifamily and 71 single-family units.

Much of the site, which sits within a floodplain, would be preserved as open space. Casto has owned the land since 2004, when the company purchased it with the intent of building a commercial development, said Charlie Fraas, Casto's vice president of development. No cost estimate has yet been attached to the project.

The Village at Central College would feature architecture harkening back to the traditional elements of surrounding historic buildings, though the single-family residential component would look much like other recently constructed developments.

The city's staff would like to see a plan with more of a "village green" concept that could be used both by the development and the historic properties on the west side of Sunbury Road, as well as more diversity in the architecture and more of a traditional village layout, with streets and alleys, Bitar said.

"The issue is getting the details right, and I think everyone is working toward that goal," he said. "We think that the mix of uses is an appropriate use, we think it fits with the original plans for the development. We would like to work to see if we can make it more of a traditional type of development."

Members of the commission were positive about the proposal.

"The community idea or the village idea is wonderful," said commission Chairman Paul Johnson. "I'm very encouraged by what's here. It has a tremendous amount of potential."

Commission member Gerald Domanik said it's the best plan the city has seen for the site, though some more variety in the architecture of the buildings is needed.

"A village is based on different people who built things," Domanik said.

Commission member Brian Szuch encouraged the developers to pull more inspiration from the surrounding historic buildings.

"I think there's a real opportunity to ... do something unique," Szuch said.

Fraas said Casto representatives have been working on the plans with the city for more than a year. They'll consider the feedback from the commission and continue to work with staff to fine-tune the proposal. In the meantime, the commission voted to table the matter pending revisions from the developers.