Despite a flood of residents voicing their concerns and overturning the recommendation of the Westerville Planning Commission, Westerville City Council last month approved a mixed-use housing development along North State Street.
By a 5-2 vote April 15, council rezoned a 23.6-acre tract of land from Rural Residential to Planned Neighborhood District, and also approved the preliminary development plan for the project.
After the project was voted down by the Planning Commission, it required a supermajority to pass at City Council. It got just that with "no" votes from Mayor Diane Fosselman and council Chairman Craig Treneff, and "yes" votes from the other five members.
The ordinance will allow for a development containing both single- and multifamily homes at the property on 645 and 655 N. State St., which was previously only zoned for single-family residential development.
The difference between the area housing single-family homes and multifamily homes was one of the points of discussion of the many residents who spoke in front of council to oppose the development.
"Your task is to make a very difficult decision, a decision that hopefully will improve the city for all of its residents if possible, but at least a majority of its residents," said Village Green resident Michael Clowes. "The question here is, will the proposed rezoning and development plan make Westerville a better place for the majority of its residents?
"Only if you believe it will, is it appropriate to make approximately 100 families worse off, for those in Berkshire Commons, Village Green and Spruce Lane, while making a small group, the current owners and the developers of the property, vastly better off."
Councilman Mike Heyeck, who represents council on the Planning Commission, voted yes in both stages, and said the key to the development is Hoff Road, which is planned to be extended west, from its current dead end at State Street through to Africa Road.
"And that's going to be very important for traffic on State Street, as well as the developments to the west," Heyeck said. "That is the most important to me. The second is the quality of the development and the developer. I had no problem with the quality that was proposed."
Joe Gossett, president of the Berkshire Commons Civic Association, said that approving the ordinance would be a disservice to all the neighboring communities.
"We see no reason to change this zoning," Gossett said. "All of you are our elected officials, and you represent the residents of this city. We ask that you help to reserve the residential area so that our area can continue to be a great place to live."
The North Westerville Plan, which designated the area as residential, allows for multifamily homes if they are used as a buffer between commercial and residential zones. The developers argued this was the case because of commercial use on the east and west sides, but neighbors to the north and south in residential areas said the buffer wasn't appropriate.
"This is a beautiful development. I wish I could pick it up and put it in several places in town," Fosselman said. "I like that it has a smaller number of multifamily, and it's beautifully done with nice materials. But I'm struggling with the appropriateness of it in this location."
But Councilwoman Jenifer French said the document wasn't as black-and-white as some suggest, and believes the buffer assertion is appropriate.
"Just like any document, I think you can read parts of it and interpret it one way, and read other parts and get another interpretation," she said. "I think you have to read it as a whole. You have to parse it out and say, what makes sense? What was the intent of this document? What did the people who drafted it foresee as happening?"
Heyeck said the council hears the public's concerns, but believes the issues that were raised were either inaccurate, or will be solved by the development.
"I think the focus (of public concern) was on multifamily, and I think the quality of the multifamily will be higher end than some of the areas that we currently have, so that was a real focus of the comments we received," he said.
"The second was that there will be more traffic on State Street than we already have. We recognize that State Street has got an issue. But Hoff Road extended will actually help State Street."