Westerville News & Public Opinion

Proposal for auto dealership rolls with green light

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Architectural rendering of the 35,000-square-foot Volkswagen of Westerville dealership building proposed for the northeast corner of Polaris Parkway and Worthington Road.

The Westerville Planning Commission fueled a tentative proposal for an auto retailer at the northeast corner of Worthington Road and Polaris Parkway when members told developers they would be open to a dealership on the site.

The original planned development text for the 20.6-acre site, which was approved in 2008, prohibits all automobile-related uses, including car dealerships.

However, developer NP Limited has been in talks with city staff and City Council to see if they would be open to modifying the development plan and allowing a car dealership.

City leaders have been concerned with what develops on that corner because it is seen as a "gateway" to Westerville, said Westerville Senior Planner Bassem Bitar.

Representatives of the developer and Florida-based Kuhn Honda Volkswagen made an informal presentation of their plans at the Jan. 22 Westerville Planning Commission meeting.

The new plans would replace a planned 38,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space, which would have been spread among three buildings along the Worthington Road frontage, with a 35,000-square-foot Volkswagen dealership.

The new plan would keep a planned 66,000-square-foot assisted living facility or hotel, but would replace 53,600 square feet of office space with 22,500 square feet of restaurant or retail space and 30,600 square feet of office space.

Through Volkswagen's corporate process, Kuhn Honda Volkswagen earned the rights to a central Ohio dealership, Bitar said.

The company first began talks with Westerville based upon Volkswagen's prototype dealership but it has since worked with an architect and city staff on a new building design that would make a statement on a prominent corner, said Kuhn representative Tim Gulli.

"We came back with something more exciting, incorporating more brick, incorporating the corner feature," Gulli said. "We won't hide who we are. We are a car dealership. We will have cars."

The dealership would be ideal for the already busy corner, Gulli said, because it would not add to traffic woes by drawing in a lot of people at once.

The dealership would expect to service about 750 cars a month and bring in about the same amount of shoppers per month, meaning around 50 people would visit the site each day, Gulli said. There would be about 50 employees.

Most commission members were supportive of the proposed use and the architecture of the dealership building.

"It does work, frankly," said Councilwoman Jenifer French, who serves on the commission. "I like this building. I think it would do a lot for this area, this corner."

There were concerns, however, about having rows of parked cars along Polaris Parkway and about how a car dealership would be integrated with other uses on the site.

"Through the years, I've always said 'no cars up there,' " said commission member Gerald Domanik. "It's a sea of cars with a nice building in it. That's not what we're looking for for the entrance to the city.

"We're looking for some upscale things instead of sandwich shops. What kind of restaurant is going to want to be next to a car dealership?"

However, commission member Brian Szuch said he believes the mix of uses, while segmented, could be viable.

"I see this as kind of subdividing this area and making your development smaller, but I still think they can work together," Szuch said.