Developers for a proposed J. Liu restaurant and hotel on West Lane Avenue received initial approval from the Upper Arlington Board of Zoning and Planning on April 17.

BZAP members voted 5-1 to support rezoning five properties on Westmont Boulevard from residential uses to a "planned mixed-use district" to facilitate Shanghai Enterprises' plans to build a parking garage and surface parking for a proposed 7,600-square-foot J. Liu restaurant and a 90,864-square-foot Home2 Suites by Hilton at 1640 W. Lane Ave.

The rezoning request will go before Upper Arlington City Council, which ultimately will determine if it will be permitted.

The developer requested the rezoning to create 159 parking spaces for the proposed six-story, mixed-use development at the northeast corner of West Lane Avenue and Westmont Boulevard. The Home2 Suites would be Upper Arlington's second hotel.

Under those plans, a parking garage and surface parking would be built where five houses currently sit at 2480, 2488, 2498, 2506 and 2512 Westmont Blvd.

Shanghai representatives said the parking areas would feature low-level lighting and be screened from neighboring residences with landscaping and fencing. They said lengths were taken to build the restaurant and hotel vertically so as to not push the project farther into the residential area.

"I think when you look at the criteria you're supposed to review and staff has outlined, we meet that criteria," said Jeff Brown, an attorney for the project. "At the end of the day, the way we've laid this building out, by pushing it toward Lane Avenue, is best for everybody."

In addition to the rezoning for parking, BZAP voted 5-1 to approve preliminary development plans for the project.

Final development plans will be brought forward at a later date. The primary issue addressed through the preliminary plan was to reduce the hotel's height from 73 feet, 7 inches, to 63 feet.

Although the approved height was lower than sought by the developer, it's above the 48-foot maximum height permitted by city code and taller than the 55-foot height the city allowed for The Lane apartment development at 1600 W. Lane Ave.

The reduced height was approved after the city's Planning Department staff raised concerns about allowing construction of a 70-foot building in an area where many neighboring properties are two stories tall.

"We still think that 70 feet as compared to 48 feet ... is just too much for this area," said Chad Gibson, Upper Arlington's senior planning officer.

In lobbying for the taller project, Shanghai representatives said they planned to have an inset roof and construction features that would minimize the appearance of height for the building. They also said they previously reduced planned ceiling heights in the restaurant and hotel to make the building shorter.

"We'd like to compress it as much as we can, but we still need a viable space (economically)," said Christopher Meyers, an architect for the project.

BZAP member Daniel Barrington said he was satisfied by measures the development group had taken to bring a high-quality project to the area and to reduce conflicts with nearby residents.

"I had a strong concern about you pushing the building back in the neighborhood," Barrington said. "I like what this does as far as the configuration toward Lane Avenue."

Several residents who live near the site spoke in opposition to the project. Most cited traffic concerns, despite traffic studies conducted by the city and a third-party engineering firm that said there should not be an influx of traffic to residential streets.

The lone BZAP member to oppose the rezoning and preliminary development plan was Kevin Carpenter, who raised concerns about how the project would fit in with neighboring properties.

He also questioned how much the city should allow commercial developments to affect neighborhoods surrounding Lane Avenue.

"Where does the rezoning (for) Lane Avenue end?" Carpenter said. "How far do we anticipate rezoning going into the neighborhood in the future?"

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