Preferred Living's plan to build a four-story, 76-unit structure at 3140 Riverside Drive won't move forward after Upper Arlington City Council sided with residents who appealed an earlier ruling by the city's Board of Zoning and Planning to allow the project.
Council voted 6-1 to reject Preferred Living's proposal for the Luxe at Roosevelt Apartments during a May 15 hearing, which was held after 142 residents protested BZAP's 4-2 vote last September to permit the project.
"My biggest concern, it's the traffic," council Vice President Kip Greenhill said. "There were not going to be left turns allowed into the property for southbound traffic. I think that would have made for a more dangerous situation on (U.S.) Route 33."
Preferred Living's plan called for two penthouses, 31 two-bedroom apartments and 43 one-bedroom units at the site, which formerly housed Spiro's, Ziggy's Bar & Grille and the Scioto Inn.
It was opposed by the city's planning division staff, which raised concerns about sanitary sewer capacity in the area and about the project's proposed configuration because it wouldn't allow southbound traffic on Riverside Drive – also known as U.S. Route 33 – to turn left into the complex.
The Ohio Department of Transportation recommended the layout, but the planning division staff said the configuration would force motorists trying to access the property from the north to either take circuitous routes to enter the site legally, make illegal U-turns or turn around on private property to legally access the complex.
Traffic access was among the concerns raised by the residents who appealed BZAP's ruling to council. They also maintained the Luxe would produce too much traffic for an already busy corridor and that it wouldn't enhance the residential qualities of the neighborhood.
"Obviously, we were quite pleased," said Terry Camerlengo, a resident who led the appeal.
Camerlengo lauded city Senior Planner Chad Gibson and City Engineer Jackie Thiel for raising concerns about the project's impact on local infrastructure and residents, and he credited council for listening to staff and residents.
"Nobody wants hundreds of round trips and turnarounds through their neighborhood and driveways because the development lacks an inbound left turn," he said. "That was a fundamental flaw of the proposal.
"Additionally, this proposal undermined many of the objectives outlined in the master plan in the city's Uniform Development Ordinance, especially as it pertains to walkability, privacy and exposing residents to hazardous and dangerous conditions," Camerlengo said. "The Preferred Living apartments are very nice, but most of them inhabit industrial parks or commercial settings and lack the nuance to seamlessly fit into an old neighborhood with 100-year-old farmhouses on half-acre lots. This just wasn't a fit."
Vote 'sets precedent'
Preferred Living Chief Development Officer Jared Smith did not say if the company would appeal council's ruling to the Franklin County Common Pleas Court, which would be its only recourse to pursue the Luxe project as proposed. He also did not say if the company would submit modified plans.
"While we are disappointed in the outcome of the initial hearing, we strongly believe that the Luxe at Roosevelt is a viable project that exceeds all requirements of the conditional-use requirement of the (Planned Mixed-Use Development) district," Smith said via email. "It is our belief that this ruling by City Council sets a dangerous precedence in regards to the extreme lack of viability and redevelopment for not only this parcel, but all parcels fronting Riverside Drive in the city of Upper Arlington."
Historically, multifamily housing such as what Preferred Living has proposed has been permitted at the site.
But in 2014, the city changed its zoning requirements so multifamily housing requires special approvals from the city. According to a planning division staff report, that was done "to safeguard potential revenue-generating office and mixed-use sites from being absorbed by a glut of apartments."
The lone council member to vote against the Luxe appeal was David DeCapua, who argued that other, larger multi-family residential projects have been permitted on Riverside Drive.
"The site, by the standard the city is trying to use, is undevelopable," DeCapua said. "It seemed we were trying to hold this developer to a different standard.
"We've allowed other projects, but suddenly, it's 'death, mayhem and destruction of the neighborhood.' We're putting up roadblocks for developers."
DeCapua said he believes council "got caught up in the emotion of the residents" who opposed the Luxe.
"That does not make for good decisions," he said. "We essentially made that area dead (to development) for the next decade.
"We have to learn to do what's in the best interest of the entire community and stop listening to the vocal minority that comes in to usurp everything we do."
Greenhill acknowledged that there is "an economic dead zone" at the site and in areas along Riverside but said he can't support proposals like the Luxe until the city and ODOT determine how to modify the roadway to provide safer property access and through traffic.
"There's so much traffic and it's high-speed traffic," Greenhill said. "We were told (via traffic studies) there would be over 600 vehicle ins and outs of that complex a day.
"Something's got to be done about the road."
Greenhill said the city and ODOT are discussing further study of the Riverside corridor.
Currently, ODOT has planned a $1.63 million project to improve the Route 33-Riverside intersection with Fishinger Road by constructing a second northbound left-turn lane from Route 33 to westbound Fishinger, and a dedicated right-turn lane from southbound Route 33 to westbound Fishinger.
Additionally, plans call for pedestrian crosswalks and a two-way left-turn lane on Route 33 from Nottingham Road north to the dedicated left-turn lane. However, that intersection work isn't expected to begin until spring 2019.
According to traffic studies ODOT conducted in 2015, 24,550 to 31,500 vehicles pass through the Route 33-Fishinger Road intersection each day.